Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer review – a moral vacuum laughing at his own jokes

<span>Jimmy Carr ‘seems desperate for the audience to believe that he is a paedophile.’</span><span>Photograph: Netflix</span>
Jimmy Carr ‘seems desperate for the audience to believe that he is a paedophile.’Photograph: Netflix

The darting eyes are new. As a young man, Jimmy Carr never had so much trouble keeping his eyeballs under control. In Natural Born Killer, the comedian’s new Netflix show, his pupils bounce from one side to the other so frequently it is like watching a game of table tennis. Or, as Carr might say in his affected working-class voice: “Watchin’ a game of fuckin’ table tennis.”

Why does Carr think he needs to swaddle his punchlines in frantic eye movement? Well, the man’s material is so edgy that he actually has to scan the room in case the woke police are in. “This next joke might get me cancelled,” he says at one point, like a teenager smelling his farts and chuckling that he could get thrown out of a sleepover. If delivering material that might as well have been cribbed from a Jim Davidson set can get you “cancelled” (“There’s a reason men propose on their knees – they’ve fucking given up”), Carr might well be.

But it’s hard to “cancel” someone who doesn’t believe in anything. A moral vacuum lies at the heart of Carr’s act. What does he think? Who is his show for? Hearing how many of his jokes he laughs at – a horribly depressing affectation that was absent from Carr’s early standup – it would be tempting to say that the target audience for the show is the 51-year-old himself. His lonely honk is occasionally the only one we hear, like a goose wondering where his friends have gone.

At several stages, Carr wants to see whether his audience can stomach his material. He is a bright man and indulging this pantomime routine demeans everyone involved – especially when the jokes are poking fun at transgender people, vegans and people with special needs. Netflix is swamped with standup routines about trans people; does Carr use his platform to introduce nuance? Or does he say that his pronouns are he, he, he, because he identifies as a comedian?

You have to swim through the show’s cliches to find an original gag to keep you afloat. Did you know dads are lazy? That women know how to wrap their hair in a towel? And that people from Norfolk marry their own relatives? It feels as though Carr, once a clever comedian with surprising punchlines that didn’t rely on the word “fuck”, is aware that his tired material puts him at one end of a spectrum in 21st-century comedy. At a time when standups are displaying so much invention – when Stewart Lee is turning the art form inside out; when Joe Lycett is using his comedy for mischievous good; when Sara Pascoe is refusing to dumb down her material – is this time for Carr to pivot to something thoughtful and playful? No, he thinks, far better to double down on the brand and attract the people who really will laugh at jokes like: “My girlfriend snores quite a lot. But luckily I’ve got these noise-cancelling fists.” No one can deny that that sounds like a joke, but who’s likely to laugh at it? Someone who thinks the concept of beating your wife is inherently funny, or someone who actually likes comedy?

A strange feature of Natural Born Killer is the impression with which Carr wants to leave his audience. He seems desperate for us to believe that he is, among other things, a rapist and a paedophile. One joke – one Carr no doubt considers edgy – ends with him dismissing a 23-year-old woman because when he mistakenly thought she was a child he was interested in shagging her. Carr could portray himself as any version of himself; why is he obsessed with masquerading as a paedophile? If it’s “just a joke”, why isn’t it a better joke?

Most bafflingly, Carr uses his special to moralise about subjects such as rape and abortion in a way that is impossible to take seriously because of the material it follows. “D’you wanna know my rape fantasy? Someone goes to jail for rape,” comes nine irony-free seconds after he has joked about fancying his chances of not getting caught raping someone because so few rapists are convicted.

After showing, then immediately burying, glimpses of himself as a man with insights about fatherhood, Carr ends the show with a faux pep talk on sex to a teenage boy. Following some vaguely commendable bits on consent, he decides to end with the line: “Don’t stick your dick in crazy.” There is no hidden depth to this pearl of wisdom. It is exactly as it seems. And so the special comes to a close at an even lower point than it began, with a millionaire telling an impressionable young man that if a woman seems mad, he shouldn’t have sex with her. It’s just a joke!

  • Jimmy Carr: Natural Born Killer is on Netflix now