Jimmy Carr Really Needs You to Know How ‘Edgy’ He Is


On the off chance you’re not already familiar with the work of Jimmy Carr, he makes it very clear in the teasers for his new Netflix special Natural Born Killer that he not only “identif[ies] as a comedian,” but he is an edgy one.

If you missed the trailers—or his Instagram post in which he preemptively apologizes to “[insert aggrieved party name here]”—don’t worry, because Carr drives the point home the second the special begins. Opening with “people say you can’t joke about anything these days—watch me now,” the comic goes on to use a litany of buzzwords associated with anti-wokeness. Jokes that “might get me canceled” and a segment of deliberately “controversial jokes” ensure that Carr’s agenda is not lost in translation.

The idea that Carr has to pre-warn his audience feels borderline insulting and becomes boring very quickly. He somehow manages to spoil his own punchlines by letting the audience’s imagination run wild, auto-filling his own jokes in the same fashion for which he criticizes Apple’s autocorrect feature. Carr’s teaser plays off the idea that you can say something and not mean it, and his constant announcements seem to be his way of ensuring his comedy doesn’t get conflated with his actual beliefs.

The anti-woke, free speech defenders seem painfully aware that they might have passed their prime. In performing “edgy” comedy, Carr groups himself with the rag-tag brigade that includes comedians like Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle, who have become parasites of the culture war.

This group has a strong, single-issue manifesto: defending comedy as they know it. They tell the same jokes in different formats. Something about vegans, something about cancel culture, way too many jokes about pedophilia, and plenty of quips at the expense of any given marginalized group.

Often these jokes aren’t as edgy as their tellers hope. They are no worse than something that would appear in Cards Against Humanity, or during a casual scroll through X. They feel cheap, relying on slurs for shock factor rather than putting the effort into a well-told joke. Any attempt at a political statement feels more suitable for Fox News than it does a Netflix special as Carr compiles unverifiable anecdotes about trans people.

They rely on a scattergun approach. It can feel increasingly hypocritical to see comedians like Gervais criticize the very audience he has pandered to during his three stints hosting the Golden Globes. Or to see Jimmy Carr flit from pro-abortion, anti-gun liberal to slur-slinging TERF.

“Edgy” comedians can, of course, be hilarious. People like Anthony Jeselnik, Frankie Boyle, and Daniel Sloss have built entire careers on alienating their audiences. You just have to be willing to take risks, like when Nish Kumar was booed off stage after criticizing Brexit.

Carr is worried that he lost his edge in becoming a dad but the reality is that it happened long before that. In seeking to appeal to an audience it seems he doesn’t even like that much, he is echoing the sentiment of the mainstream, telling the same transphobic jokes overheard at every pub in the U.K.

This is not to say that Jimmy Carr’s show is a total failure. Parts of it are deeply profound. The final 10 minutes represent some of the best of Carr’s work as he educates a 19-year-old boy on the rules of consent, making up for the failure of sex education systems country-wide. Despite the serious subject matter, it is gut-wrenchingly funny.

That closing bit feels like a breakthrough moment where he comes into his own, telling the jokes that he finds funny rather than what he thinks his anti-woke audience will enjoy. There are glimpses of this throughout the show, like when he mocks an anti-vaxxer, the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling, or the rate of shootings in the U.S.

Good comedy should be challenging for the comedian and the audience. It is refreshing to see Carr occasionally push back against the box he has put himself in over the last few years. But at the same time, it is disheartening when he slips back into the same patterns. His overriding desire to impress his audience tarnishes his comedy.

There are distinct moments when this becomes obvious in the special, like when he asks if they want to hear his rape fantasy and one man shouts “yeah” enthusiastically before the punchline has been delivered. His audience seemingly revels in his bigotry in a way they don’t in his moments of introspection.

If telling himself that his critics are part of the zombified wokerati mob helps Carr maintain his ignorance to the consequences of his comedy (ie. normalizing casual transphobia in a society riddled with it), then so be it. We all need to find a way to sleep at night.

The inherent narcissism of edgy comedians tells them they are on the losing end of a culture war, allowing them to continue blaming the viewer for their fledgling careers, rather than their own half-assed jokes. Maybe in another universe Carr would have cultivated a more understanding, empathetic audience. He would tell different jokes and pick different targets. But in this universe, it’s a real shame that this is all he’s got to offer.

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