Comedy is a funny thing (Note: I’m 50% proud of that joke and 50% disgusted with myself for leaving it in). So many particulars go into whether something is funny or not to a particular person. Demographics, experiences, privilege, context, and mood all factor in to whether or not a particular arrangement of words, inflections, and pauses will result in laughter. Furthermore, because novelty is often so crucial to a joke, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the same comedy special twice in the same way. The second time around, it’s no longer a game of subverted expectations. The enjoyment becomes entwined with your memories of laughing. Give it enough times, and all you’re left with is a smirk and a memory.
Even though I’ve never seen Funny Business before (it came out less than a week ago as of the writing of this sentence), it often felt like I had. I’m sure part of it is the 8 or so Jimmy Carr specials I watched in succession around the turn of the decade. The other, and I think bigger, part of the story is that since that time, I also discovered reddit.
Jimmy Carr’s style is made up of quick, short jokes with an intentional disregard for good taste. It’s made up of shocking turns of phrase that play with taboo subjects, up to and including rape, incest, pedophilia, and mental retardation (and sometimes combinations of all the above).
Reddit, as the so-called front page of the Internet, is a site largely organized by democracy. The general idea is that through voting (either upwards or downwards), the cream will rise to the top. As such, if you go to a thread about jokes, it won’t take long to find something funny. If you go to a thread asking for people’s favourite dark jokes, it feels like you’re reading a Jimmy Carr special. The most upvoted jokes are short, shocking, and, thanks to the anonymity of the site, unconstrained by filters of taste.
I know that I’m doing ballet on a tightrope here and I want to be clear that I am not accusing Jimmy Carr of plagiarism, it’s just that I, in my own subjective experience, feel like I’ve seen a bunch of this before. Which sucks. Because there’s a reason that I put so much time into the aforementioned Jimmy Carr binge. I think he’s an entertaining performer who uses language skillfully and spends enough time during his act rationalizing its type of humour that it feels okay to laugh.
And I did still laugh at Funny Business but it wasn’t at the crowd banter about audience members’ moms, or the bits where he’s rhyming off sex positions. For me, the humour came from the content and turns of phrase I’ve never encountered before – sometimes for its shocking subject matter but also sometimes because it was just clever.
With all this being said, the performance of stand-up comedy makes for an altogether better experience than reading off the screen. The community of comedy – even if it’s shared with people in a filmed audience who saw the show months ago – creates a safe space for laughter. It gives you permission to genuinely enjoy a joke. I envy the people who can heartily laugh out loud to themselves in a social vacuum but I’m just not one of them.
So yeah, I enjoyed Funny Business but not as much as I would have five years ago. So while I was laughing, I was also kind of sad. But it’s not you, Jimmy, it’s me.
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