Comedy's overgrown schoolboy

 

'You've got arrested development, haven't you?" says Jimmy Carr after I tell him what I want to talk about.

"It's like the first day at sixth-form college for the rest of your life. You can go up to people and say: 'Have you got the first single by The Smiths? Oh yeah? Well have you got the ultra-rare bootleg version? No? I thought as much'."

If we have completely failed to adapt to the adult world, at least we are in good company. Jimmy Carr is like an overgrown public schoolboy: he is polite, courteous and well turned-out, but terrible things come out of his mouth at inopportune moments. This summer he was hosting an awards ceremony for Mojo magazine and mortally offended Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "I was a bit worried about that, because he looks quite scary on the album covers, but then he came up to collect his award and, of course, he was tiny," says Carr.

It's hard to make an initial impression of Carr. His flat in north London is so neat and tidy that it is almost empty. In the living room are two sofas, an enormous television and some remote-controlled blinds he is particularly proud of. "I'm obsessed with TV," he says. "How wrong our parents were when they said we should only watch an hour a day."

Carr got into comedy after a giving up his job in marketing at a large oil company, and he says there is nothing contrived about his act. "As soon as I did my first five minutes of stand-up I knew that I would rather be a failure at comedy than a success in marketing. There is a temptation to say that you're planning ahead in order to capture the zeitgeist. Bulls--t. I didn't plan to be the rude middle-class comedian. You write a certain type of joke that you find funny, and mine happen to be often rude."

The gamble has paid off. Alongside working on TV projects and playing sell-out gigs, he has released a DVD, Jimmy Carr Live, and has a Sunday-morning show on a London radio station. "I enjoy that, because it's the closest I get to a real job, because I get free CDs and I'm a classic indie kid at heart. You can also bask in reflected glory: you stick on a single by the Foo Fighters and you get e-mails saying how great that was, as if you actually made it."

The first music Carr got excited about was Prince. "It sounded cool and funky and a million miles away from the home counties, where I was from," he says. "But that was the only funk artist I knew about. Years later I heard Sly and the Family Stone, who hadn't had a hit in my lifetime, and I remember thinking: 'They seem to have got all their ideas from Prince. Hang on a minute . . .' " Then he discovered The Smiths and Lloyd Cole, the latter principally because Carr looks a bit like him. "Lloyd Cole was great, because he gave hope for young men with fat faces. But that's why I got into comedy, just like most comedians: I'm too ugly to be a leading man and I can't be in a band because I'm not cool enough."

One contemporary Carr admires is Daniel Kitson. "We couldn't be more different in our approach, but he's a huge inspiration to me because he's so brave and he has great artistic integrity. He will get up with five minutes of material and do an hour of brilliantly funny comedy just from interacting with the audience. . . . I like Bob Monkhouse's approach of being in love with jokes, so I suppose what I'm doing is old fashioned and slightly childish: jokes are things that you make, like a crossword, and once you have done them they are in the ether. Nothing gives me more pleasure than people retelling my own jokes to me. You think it would be annoying, but it's great." ... - Guardian service