Jimmy Carr Has His Own Arts Emergency

Last night I had the great fortune of attending the Arts Emergency show at the Hackney Empire. It was a bit of a last minute affair, an ex-colleague of my partner’s happens to be the sister of Joe Dunthorne, (uber cool author)so we booked seats and had what turned out to be a first class evening out. The venue for this particularly impressive charitable drive was perfect, given its history of having been rescued by lefty arts leaders Roland and Claire Muldoon in the 1960s.

I’m a bit out of the loop with many of the current arts trends and names, so this was a real eye opener and a night of great inspiration to plough on with recording and performing my own music.

Josie Long hosted this evening of comedy, poetry, music and literature; she has a wonderful self-effacing energy with an Orpington-turned-street clipped style of speaking. Her spirit is silly, consciously childlike and she is a wonderful observer of all things that brighten and lighten the soul. Her interpretation of Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’ in 1930s film noir voice is a touch of genius, as is her inclusion of Dennis Skinner’s Black Rod heckles. Josie, in her sailor dress and pink trainers, compered the night with the perfect balance of inviting us to support the ‘Arts Emergency’ campaign and her own creativity. I never felt for a second the whole focus of the night was to part with cash for the charity (which I did, happily) but more as a passionate semi-political drive to keep the arts alive and kicking, despite what the conservative (they don’t even deserve a capital letter in my humble opinion) government are trying to do.

I’d love to review every act of the night but I simply don’t have the time so I’ll breeze through the newsworthy moments and those of particular personal enjoyment.

Mark Watson, bordering on nervous wreck, brimming with anxiety that seeps into neuroticism as he tells us about his new foray into performing comedy whilst sober. Mark has given up imbibing copious amounts of wine pre-show, the main benefit of this, he says is “that you don’t have to wait an 1-2 hours to go for a wee”. It’s all in the delivery with Mr Watson, he barely stops to breathe, he tells us how he hates to share food “Tapas style” but feels pressured into it by his (assumedly middle-class?) peers. He is on a mission to eat more healthily but this causes him great distress, he talks about a vegan who is horrified about his consumption of cow’s milk and how he cares more about how wonderful humans are, “a dog didn’t build Hackney Empire”! I will go and see Mark perform again, he is like running at 18kph on a tread mill and not knowing when your trainer will let you slow down, brilliant, energising and utterly refreshing.

An old favourite of mine graces the stage next, Stephen K. Amos. Delightful, as always. He tell us stories of racism in the 1970′s on the comedy circuit, he re-enacts conversations between his parents, his place on the green is a brilliant mix of comedy and information, I am a huge fan of anecdotal comedy, especially with Stephen’s dulcet tones. The highlight of his sketch is a depiction of an all inclusive holiday he took to Thailand. To paraphrase, “I was drunk by 5pm on the free booze and the next morning a Thai waitress (Amos treats us to his glittering Thai accent) said to me”. “You Samuel L Jackson, you tear down the place last night”. What bothered Stephen more is that Samuel is 62.

The first half of this event struck a greater chord with me than the second, it aligned more to my humour, background and character and none more than with the Ted Hughes award winner Kate Tempest, a woman whose thoughts are primarily concerned with betterment, very much like my own. ’13 Commandments’ is an unashamed plea to all to make your life a workplace of self-improvement and understanding of love. By the time my son reaches his teens, he will have this in large poster print on his wall, hopefully he will want to graffiti it on himself. “Study” she tells us, “study, use the books”. Her message is strong and clear and embodies truths all of us can identify with. For self-enjoyment I plan to write music and sing Kate’s lyrics, she makes me want to pour out all the soul and blues I have bubbling inside, her voices wrenches, her body follows and her heart isn’t on her sleeve, she sprays it all around.

Greg Jenner from ‘Horrible Histories’ used gay marriage to give us a delicately animated history of how humans force cultural change with the vehicle of matrimony being one of those all important markers. He accounts on the first weddings conducted in ancient Egypt and has no difficulty in teaching us (not that the predominantly middle class, arty, mostly lefty Hackney Empire audience needed it) just how important history is.

In the second half we were gifted to a reading from Joe Dunthorne’s ‘Submarine’. If you haven’t read it or seen the film, read it, then see the film. It is a beautiful delineation of a young man and his family’s struggles with mental health issues littered with the much-needed humour these topics often need. The mood in ‘Submarine’ is subdued with undercurrents of teenage confusion and awareness. The highlight of Joe’s reading is when he tells us about Oliver forcing himself to be sick on the bonnet of his neighbour’s yellow Lotus Elise, only for it to be washed away by torrential rain a few hours later, Oliver sees this as a punishment for the alarm going off every time an HGV passes ‘certainly not acceptable behaviour for an area like this’.

I didn’t fare well in the second half concentration-wise, it wasn’t for a lack of entertainment but for a lack of sleep the night before and the seats in the upper circle being particularly uncomfortable. I’ve never been great at sitting still for long periods, far better on the stage and backstage than in the audience!

Josie introduced Jimmy Carr as our final act of the evening. The applause is considerable but I had apprehensions about how this particular crowd would receive Jimmy, these didn’t go unfounded. Jimmy rolled out his brand of humour: say something shocking, wait; say something even more shocking, wait. The way Mr Carr deals with hecklers is far more entertaining than the content of his material, his natural wry sharpness lends itself to calming even the most irate customer, even if by the end of his set he had to appeal to his greatest hater to just enjoy the charity occasion. Within minutes of his set starting a loud voice from the back of the upper circle screams ‘pay your taxes like we do’. No surprise that one came up. Jimmy ignores it, he carries on talking about fat women, coming in women’s faces, choking them on spunk etc, etc. Typically funny from posh boy to posh boy, “who thinks I’m posh?” Jimmy says, (I do), “I’m not posh, I went to one of the worst colleges in Cambridge”. Great line.

The front of the stalls start up with the heckling, a few vociferous women are shouting “misogynist”, “we hate you”, “you’re a cunt”, “go home, nobody wants you here”. Jimmy pitches the audience off against these objectors, the response is mixed. This is a tough crowd, judging by the hair styles and tweed in the city wardrobes in the queue outside they’re a pretty educated, opinionated bunch. It almost seems like he has lost the stage when he comes out with “this is turning into a town hall meeting, not an arts night”. Much needed, given the tension rising in the room.

Jimmy is graceful, he said he would usually resort to jokes about “shagging family members” but as it is a charity night, that might not be the “right thing to do”. Jimmy Carr with a conscience, my oh my. He takes on the audience instead, they didn’t let him get through his set. He offered us 15 jokes in 15 minutes, he got to around joke 11 before the intense heckling engaged him.

To finish the set, he asked us what we wanted, did we want another joke? No. A man in the front row wanted a song, so Mr Carr sung us the first verse and chorus of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’. Ice breakers usually come at the start of the night, not the end. Jimmy signed off by saying that even though there were plenty who ‘hate him’, he was happy to be on the stage to support Arts Emergency and is thoroughly supporting of their cause. Goodnight Jimmy, I’m sure you’ll spend more of the next few years behind a TV camera than on the boards.

Josie came on to wish us goodbye and was lost for words at some of the crowd’s reaction to Jimmy, she said she wasn’t a good enough comedian to deal with the fall out from that, which is very funny in itself. They booked Jimmy because he is a huge name of fame but his acerbic style and attitude towards paying taxes didn’t sit well for a fair proportion of the audience. But it did make for cracking entertainment.

Josie spoke all night about never giving up on your art, I’ve battled for years with thinking I should re-train so I can get a ‘proper job’. It is a horrible feeling to deny everything I feel is right for me, I wish I had known a group like this 10 years ago. Arts Emergency is the perfect inspiration for me to keep chipping away at my music, I have the support of my family but I’ve never given myself permission to just go for it, maybe now I will. Thanks Josie and Arts Emergency, you may have just, in the words of Fontella Bass, rescued me.

Other acts who featured in the Arts-Rescue melee of talent:
Tim Key
Isy Suttie
Kate Tempest
Robin Ince
Kevin Eldon
Jo Neary
The British Humanist Association Choir
Brigitte Aphrodite and the VOBs