Say what you like about Jimmy Carr, co-writer of this book, he works hard; I don’t just mean that he appears to have cloned himself in order to present loads of panel shows and ‘Top 100’ shows on channel 4, but I know from personal experience that he works at it – I used to dabble with stand-up, and on almost every occasion I did a gig about six years ago, Carr was also there. I’ll freely admit that I don’t really care for much of his material (it’s all a bit calculated for my tastes), but I’ll cheerfully doff my cap to his work ethic.
Anyway, this book, co-written by Carr and long-time friend Lucy Greeves, sets about analysing jokes and how they work.. It’s a bold aim, and one that they pull off with a fair degree of success, to my mind.
They look at the actual nature of what physiologically causes laughter, how various jokes are constructed, what makes a person want to become a comedian, and the usual issue of whether comedy is invariably laughing at someone or something. I wasn’t entirely convinced by one of the chapters – on ‘ironically offensive jokes’ – as it felt like too much of a get-out for Carr’s material, really (as Stewart Lee pointed out, if you can legitimately claim that Jim Davidson’s nicked a joke of yours and used it in his act, and it doesn’t stand out a mile, you might want to reconsider your material).
Still, that’s a small-ish complaint, and there’s a lot to enjoy in this book (not least the fact that – for the first time in my reading about him – they as good as say that Peter Kay doesn’t do jokes so much as a kind of shared cheerful experience; something which I feel is very true indeed). Even if you’re not interested in the arguments and observations being put forward, the foot of each page has a joke on it, and the chapters are ‘followed ’ by examples of jokes of the style being discussed. Making it like an amalgam of a serious analysis and a joke book, as it were.
If you’re interested in comedy, either as a spectator or would-be practitioner, there’s a lot of good stuff in this book, and so I’d recommend it. Though the current hardback (yes, the form I read it in; I know, look at me with my posh books) and the forthcoming paperback both have a drawing of a nude Carr on the front cover, making it rather embarrassing to read in public.