Good thing Mzansi has a dark sense of humour: Jimmy Carr's coming
The UK comic famed for cracking wise about unfunny stuff is bringing his 'Best of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits World Tour' to South Africa
British comedian Jimmy Carr says it is a "pleasing irony that many comics battle depression". He would know: after many years of therapy, he trained as a psychotherapist to better understand mental illness.
"The first question you might ask a comedian is 'Which of your parents was sick?'" (His mother died of pancreatitis.)
"Whether someone close to them was physically or mentally ill, you'll find often that comics had to make things OK or make the peace by being funny."
It doesn't make painful situations go away for the individual, however. "Depression and anxiety is the downside of being creative people. You can't turn off your brain, but the result is often beautiful," Carr says.
The comedian, who diagnoses laughter to deal with the anxieties of life, says he's possibly become more controversial than less so in the past 15 years, because there is so much more dark matter in the world.
"There are huge sensitivities in the world. We know paedophilia is monstrous, especially right now. But what laughter is, and what comedy is, is a release of tension. Releasing it is a great way of letting go, not sitting around wringing our hands about it."
It stands to reason, then, that his comedy is popular in SA, where local comics also tend to highlight our myriad mental, social and economic problems by making us laugh at them.
Carr, who is a fan and friend of comedians David Kau and John Vlismas, says the darker the material, the more important it is to bring the topics into the open.
"The horrific, unspoken ... laughter is one way to deal with those very dark things. It is no good to stress how terrible things are, you need to be speaking about it," he says.
Some might find Carr "triggering" as people are wont to say about sensitive issues these days.
"I happen to have a dark sense of humour, you don't get to choose that, it is within you. It is not unlike a sexual preference or love for certain foods, we laugh as a reflex. Similarly, some people appreciate my humour ... the very smart ones," he says.
I am essentially like a drug dealer, except it is endorphins from laughter that I'm sellingComedian Jimmy Carr
While therapy is a need for countries like ours with a traumatic past, Carr says comedy is the last safe space where freedom of speech exists, without any agenda but to uplift the mood.
"I applaud social media justice warriors, but comedy is not about changing the way people vote and live. Intention counts for a lot. I just want to make people laugh for two hours. Look, I am essentially like a drug dealer, except it is endorphins from laughter that I'm selling and since people have them already and I just release them, nobody can stop me at customs," he says.
I ask a random question suggested by a colleague (how would you cover up a murder?) to see if he really can make light of just about anything. He responds in his Cambridge-posh accent: "That feels like a very South African question. Well, I know I wouldn't have to cover up the evidence too much down there, because I could pay someone off if I got caught. It is the South African way, isn't it?"
He laughs his low-pitched, whiny wheeze, which usually follows one of the deadpan, sarcastic, morbid or sick jokes that have earned him millions of sarcastic, morbid, sick fans around the world.
It is not that all Carr fans are sociopaths, but there is that side of society that has an appreciation for the dark side - you know, people who laugh at death or disability jokes.
Like the one that got him into oodles of trouble in the UK (not for sensitive readers): "Say what you like about those servicemen amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're going to have a f***ing good Paralympic team in 2012."
It is standard-issue Carr - an absolutely tasteless, offensive one-liner that happens to be so witty that you laugh at the preposterousness.
Expect jokes about sex work, paedophilia, disability, homosexuality, "fat people and children", redheads and refugees.
Later this month, we can expect 200 of his best, in two hours. The Best of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits World Tour has kept him more in the air than on the ground for most of the past year. The show has taken him on 114 flights, give or take, and boy are his arms tired ...
Incidentally, the Paralympian joke, which had the British public up in arms a few years ago, might have shown a bit of foresight.
"I visited Headley Court, a medical rehabilitation centre for the military, and one of the people showing me around, right at the end, said he was wearing prosthetics and that he had actually participated and won gold medals in the Paralympics after he'd had both legs blown off in Afghanistan. He was absolutely proud of himself. Isn't that ironic?"
SEE JIMMY CARR IN SA
Catch Jimmy Carr's The Best of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits World Tour at the Teatro @ Montecasino, Johannesburg on September 21 and 22, and the Grand Arena, GrandWest, Cape Town. Tickets from R425 per person at Computicket. Age restriction: PGL - not suitable for under 16s