Even Jimmy Carr has his limits when it comes to the subjects of his jokes.
The acerbic comedian who has included remarks about disabled children and soldier amputees in his past routines has revealed the one thing that is off limits: the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans lost their lives.
Speaking on Desert Island Discs which airs on Radio 4 today, the comedian and host of comedy panel game 8 out of 10 Cats told Kirsty Young: “I think anything is fair game for comedy. Pretty much. There’s things in very specific locales that you cannot joke about, but everything else is kind of fine. It’s how you do it. It’s the intent. I would say the one thing you can never joke about in the UK, is Hillsborough. It’s a tragedy that has touched people in a very specific way and I cannot imagine anyone ever coming up with a joke about that.”
He added: “You can joke about religion and I do often. You can joke about death, you can joke about murders, and you can joke about disasters. If comedy has any purpose it does help people cope with stuff and make it okay.”
In 2009, Carr joked that as a result of the large number of servicemen amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, “we are going to have a f***ing good Paralympic team in 2012”. In 2011 he said: “Why are they called Sunshine Variety Coaches when all the kids on them look the same?”
As with many of his off-colour jokes, both quips drew outrage from the public and various charities and even his mentioning of the word Hillsborough in this context may cause people a sharp intake of breath. But he defended his material on Desert Island Discs.
“I’m not shouting these jokes through people’s letterboxes. They’ve come to see the show. They’re literally buying into it. When they’re taken out of context and reprinted in the paper, then there’s a big media storm.
“You learn early on, never defend a joke. Because it’s a joke, it’s not a statement. They’ve got the right to be offended. Just because they’re offended doesn’t make them right. There should be reasoned debate.”
The comedian also reveals that the 2012 scandal when he was revealed to have put a large amount of money in a legal tax scheme could have been “career ending”.
“That’s the worst-case scenario. Even worst case scenario I’ve had a pretty good run in showbiz terms.”
He added that comments made by former Prime Minister David Cameron about his tax affairs in 2012 meant that he couldn’t let the furore die away.
“If the Prime Minister of the country that you live in breaks off from the G20 summit in Mexico – he’s in a meeting with the 19 most important people in the world and he comes out and makes a press statement about your tax affairs – that is going to need dealing with right now. I got advice from friends but most of the advice was ‘you just keep quiet, this will go away in a couple of days’ but as soon as the Prime Minister comments on something like that you’ve got to get out in front of it.
“And also you need to own it. Sometimes when footballers are involved in these things people go, ‘Well, he probably didn’t know what was going on and he got advice.’ I don’t think anyone was buying that line with me. I think people thought ‘he probably knew what he was doing’. If someone comes to you and says, ‘Look, do you want to pay less tax, it’s totally legal, you can do this thing, and if it ever comes up you just have to pay them,’ you go ‘yeah, fine’.
“In the end you make good, you have to go back and say ‘right, I’ll pay every penny of tax I’ve ever owed’. The greatest thing it taught me was if you have a friend in trouble – call. If you have a friend in the paper and they’re having a problem with something but you don’t know what to say or someone’s just died or been diagnosed with something – call.”
The ardent atheist also admitted that he was reluctant to accept the traditional gift to the castaway – The Bible along with the Complete Works of Shakespeare.
“I mean, we could start the fire, couldn’t we?”
Desert Islands Discs is on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11.15am