Culture

No Laughing Matter

Comedian Jimmy Carr (NBC)
When ‘That’s not funny’ leads to ‘That’s really not funny’

Comedy ain’t what it used to be. Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, among others, have said that they’d never do stand-up on a campus these days because the ultra-PC students are so easily offended. Since Joan Rivers’ untimely death in 2014 robbed us of a bold, antic counterweight to all things PC, three other female comics who once fearlessly provoked in every direction have caved in to the zeitgeist. “You have to listen to the college-aged, because they lead the revolution,” Sarah Silverman solemnly told Vanity Fair last summer. “They’re pretty much always on the right side of history.” Last December, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Amy Schumer repudiated her own on-stage persona, saying, “I used to play a character onstage, really irreverent, kind of a racist. . . . I played this very privileged, white Republican chick. And that’s not who I am. . . . I did not grow up with money. I’m a Democrat.” And Chelsea Handler, who on her nightly E! gabfest — from which she walked away in 2014 — was determinedly facetious about absolutely everything, resurfaced earlier this year in four “serious” Netflix documentaries about topics such as race (that one featured Al Sharpton, no less) and is currently hosting a thrice-weekly Netflix outing on which she seeks to “educate” herself by chatting with people like Senator Barbara Boxer, Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, and Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

I’ve mentioned Joan Rivers. Her demise followed those of two other non-PC greats, Greg Giraldo in 2010 and Patrice O’Neal in 2011. O’Neal was highly political, but also sui generis: He led with his strong, even angry, views on race, sex, and government, which, far from being calculated to please or appease anybody, challenged the ideological assumptions of all comers, and thus forced everyone to think — and made them laugh out loud while they were thinking. You don’t see much of that anymore. On the contrary, in the last year or so, several popular stand-ups have released specials crammed with material that’s at once lame, tame, and drenched with pathetic virtue signaling.

Patton Oswalt, in Talking for Clapping, went to painful lengths to make clear that he’s not racist or homophobic; Ralphie May, in Unruly, was thoroughly preoccupied with race and sexual orientation — and 100 percent innocuous. Bafflingly, the most successful comic these days is the thoroughly insipid Aziz Ansari, who actually focus-group-tested his routine. One barometer of the new normal on the humor front is Howard Stern, whom the best stand-ups used to revere for his bold skewering of sanctimonious lefty celebs, but who now embraces the odious likes of Lena Dunham while banning from his show the brilliantly edgy Gilbert Gottfried, for decades his funniest and most frequent guest.

The most successful comic these days is the thoroughly insipid Aziz Ansari, who actually focus-group-tested his routine.

In this atmosphere, it’s good to have a few real comedians, such as Gottfried, Doug Stanhope, Dave Attell, Nick DiPaolo, Colin Quinn, Norm MacDonald, and Artie Lange, who still tell it like it is in uniquely risible ways — all to the detriment of their market value in the eyes of many PC-blindered TV and movie execs. A few weeks ago I might have included on this list the British comic Jimmy Carr. I’d recently seen one of his specials and two or three of his talk-show sets, on which he rattled off one scabrous, side-splitting joke after another on pretty much every ticklish subject you can imagine, from incest to rape to Stephen Hawking’s ALS. He seemed utterly indifferent to audience sensitivities and wasn’t remotely political. He has said that he prides himself on not being scared to go anywhere, and I found him immensely entertaining. So when I saw that he was coming to Oslo (he’s famously hard-working, doing scores of shows every year all over the English-speaking world and northern Europe), I booked tickets.

#share#Carr’s Oslo show took place in a huge, 1,400-seat venue — the old opera house, now called Folketeatret. It was sold out. When he stepped onstage, he got a massive ovation. And then he dove into his act. He began with material geared for the local audience, targeting what he represented as Norway’s insufficiently generous policy toward the “refugees” flooding into Europe from Syria and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Of course, Norway has been welcoming and subsidizing Muslim immigrants for a generation, with severely negative consequences. The Syrian crisis has sent all this into overdrive: Families have been thrown out of their homes to accommodate the newcomers; tiny villages have been overwhelmed by veritable armies of young Arab men who’ve been plopped down in their midst and settled there at taxpayer expense. They’re still coming in, and things are obviously going to get even worse. But Carr’s line was that Norwegians are being inhospitable. Sitting there listening to this, I couldn’t help reflecting that in his own country, the kind of policies he was promoting have made things even worse than they are in Norway — they’ve quashed speech freedoms, turned more and more urban areas into no-go zones, led to such outrages as the official cover-up of the Rotherham child-rape gangs, and subjected the British people, in a range of ways, to the chilling reality of what has variously been called “stealth jihad” or “creeping sharia.” Norway may still have time to reverse course and save itself; the U.K. may already be beyond rescue.

I was appalled by Carr’s glib, PC drivel. But I was pretty much alone. Almost the entire audience, which consisted not of the kind of ordinary, hard-working Norwegians who oppose mass immigration but of affluent-looking, snappily dressed, patently urban 20-somethings (I didn’t see a single non-white face), laughed and applauded lustily. Plainly, these kids were the spawn of the privileged, pro-immigration left-wing elite and will soon join that elite themselves. (Carr, I surmised, has advisers at his tour stops who know his demographic and know exactly what kind of material will get them going.)

The audience were the spawn of the privileged, pro-immigration left-wing elite and will soon join that elite themselves.

Carr singled out for mockery Sylvi Listhaug, the Progress Party politician who was appointed last December to the newly formed position of Minister of Migration and Integration, and who, among those aforementioned ordinary hard-working Norwegians, has already become something of a folk hero for seeking to stem the Muslim tide that threatens to overwhelm their land of 5 million. Carr obviously doesn’t know a thing about Listhaug, but that didn’t keep him from ridiculing her at length. In a country where the Progress Party is the No. 1 routine target of TV comedy, none of his jabs were remotely fresh. And it certainly wasn’t funny. But the crowd, again, loved it.

After spending several minutes on the Progress Party, Carr turned to religion. He asked if anyone present was a Christian. Some people’s hands went up. He proceeded to make fun of them for being suckers. His Christianity remarks went on for another several minutes, until one brave soul in the balcony shouted out: “Make a joke about Islam!” This suggestion seemed to put the otherwise smooth Carr off his stride. He moved on, settling into the kind of jests that had made me want to see him live. There were some laughs. But the show turned out to last over two hours – including a 20-minute intermission – and instead of the tight, snappy sets I’d seen on TV, what I saw was terribly padded-out, including a lot of uninteresting back-and-forth with audience members.

At the end, Carr finally addressed the Unspeakable Subject about which he’d earlier refused to wisecrack. He asked us if we knew about Charlie Hebdo. He said that its editors had been killed for doing just what he does — making jokes. And who had killed them? Muslims? Jihadists? Terrorists? No, Carr didn’t use any of those words. I don’t remember exactly what word he did use; it was some general term like “maniacs” or “jackasses.” He then announced that his last joke would be a tribute to Charlie Hebdo. So he went ahead and told it. And I didn’t get it. It involved a reference to some children’s game that I’d never heard of — perhaps it’s an English game that never made it to the States, or an English name for some game I do know. In any event, the thrust of the joke was that when you go into a mosque and you see the rows of men prostrated in prayer, it reminds you of kids playing that game.

#related#And that was it. That was the joke. I didn’t find it side-splitting, to say the least, and even the rest of the audience, which had been eating out of his hand all evening, plainly found it anticlimactic. But the main point is that he genuinely seemed to think that this feeble gag amounted to a courageous poke at the Religion of Peace. At a time when Norway, Britain, and most of Western Europe are experiencing what (it’s increasingly clear) can only be called conquest, this was as close as this supposedly fearless comic dared come to making the invaders a butt of his humor.

You expect to walk out of a two-hour comedy show with a light step and a grin on your face, but I shambled out of there in a deep funk, reflecting that what I’d just experienced was even worse than a display of PC straitjacketing; it was another example of the relentless advance and terrifying efficacy of creeping sharia on absolutely every social, cultural, and political front. During his time onstage, Carr had effectively demonstrated that he was prepared to make light of anything — anything, that is, except the one thing that’s on every European mind right now; the one thing that causes millions of Europeans to spend their days feeling scared, confused, intimidated, impotent, paralyzed, and profoundly uncertain about their future; the one thing, that is, that’s crying out to be skewered.

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