How famous do you think I am, dammit?” He may well be one of the biggest comedians in the UK, selling 400,000 tickets across Europe over the past 18 months alone, but Jimmy Carr has no need of handlers to pick up his calls. “I can answer a phone,” he insists, as we sit down to talk about his upcoming Dubai gigs.
Taking place on Wednesday August 12 (a new date added after a sell-out), Thursday August 13 and Friday 14 as part of Dubai Summer Surprises 2020, Carr’s stand-up shows – part of his Terribly Funny tour – will mark the first big gigs in Dubai since the emirate emerged from COVID-19 lockdown.
And maybe that’s the other reason comedy’s reputedly hardest-working man is straight on the phone himself. It’s been a long, boring few months for comic who normally takes “maybe one day off a week”.
“It’s been weird to just sit at home. I’ve written loads and loads of stuff, but nothing’s gone on, performance-wise,” he explains.
Now aged 47, Carr began his career in comedy in 2000, and has since become one of the most recognisable British comics on television, hosting panel shows including 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Big Fat Quiz of the Year.
“I’ve got something of a reputation for working a lot. I normally work about 250 nights a year.
“I’m glad I’ve got these gigs in now in Dubai, because it feels like that’s the end of it – back to work. I’ve got that back-to-school excitement. I get to go and do a gig. Brilliant!”
Carr’s jokes are renowned for cutting incredibly close to the bone – and he’s not known for offering apologies.
“They’re just jokes. I don’t think anyone is particularly interested in my views. I’m not telling anyone what to think about anything,” he says. “If you’re at my show and you’re not laughing, you shouldn’t be at my show. There’s nothing else going on.”
And Carr fans in Dubai can expect a complete work of the comic’s excoriating, unedited zingers when he brings Terribly Funny to town.
“It’s pretty brutal,” he says. “It’s my sense of humour, which is fairly dark. It’s the same as every other show I’ve done, except for every single word – so it’s all new jokes.
“There are going to be lots and lots of one-liners. There should be three laughs a minute, minimum,” he adds.
While it’s not his first trip – “We went over for Christmas there one year, it was lovely. I think we stayed at the One&Only because we’re oh-so-fancy” – it’ll be his first time performing a gig in Dubai.
“Lots of my friends have been out – Michael McIntyre, Kevin Bridges, Eddie Izzard, Dara Ó Briain – people really like playing Dubai. They really like doing the gig,” he continues. “My holiday got cancelled earlier this year in the middle of lockdown, so it feels as well for me like a little bit of a holiday.”
With Carr spending the majority of the past few months at home writing, is 2021 likely to be a big year for new projects and material?
“I think 2021, 2022, 2023… It’s going to be a big time for entertainment. We spend our lives looking at screens, right?
“You wake up in the morning, you look at the phone, and then you get in the car and you look at the sat-nav, when you get to the office you look at a computer, when you get home you look at a screen for entertainment… It’s screen, screen, screen, screen, screen.
“Going out for live performances now, for music and comedy, it feels like that’s going to be so popular after everyone’s had to go without for a few months.”
And he counts himself among those who have had to go without, from both sides, describing it as “a weird time”.
“You work for Time Out. Going out and having things to do, and places to go, I think it’s incredibly important.”
Perhaps unexpectedly, it turns out the man with one of the darkest senses of humour in comedy is instinctively inclined to look on the bright side – even when discussing how he feels about the state of the world right now.
“I’m naturally an optimist. I really like [cognitive psychologist and author] Steven Pinker. He’s super smart. He wrote this book called Enlightenment Now, and in that he basically says we live in the best world there has ever been.
“By any metric you look at, it’s a better world now than it was ten years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago – you can go back in time, but it just keeps on getting better,”Carr explains.
And he’s enthusiastic about the timing of show as a means of getting people through an incontrovertibly grim year.
“I might be wrong, but I think people want to go out and laugh about this terrible thing that’s happened.
“Globally, we’ve had so many people die, it’s affected everyone’s lives and livelihoods, and I think comedy is a way of processing.”
Though the Dubai gigs mean a return to a city he has some sense of, he is – wisely – not letting that inform what he expects from this particular trip.
“The thing about Dubai is, if you say you’ve been there, if it was more than five years ago, you haven’t been there. They go, ‘no-no, we’ve rebuilt all of that. That’s all gone’.”
One thing that’s a guaranteed constant, however, is Carr’s recollection of “exceptional” shopping – and never more so than during Dubai Summer Surprises, now in its 23rd year. “A two-month shopping festival? I’ll buy some stuff while I’m there, why not?”
He’s also keen for new experiences in the city. “I’ve been doing a little bit of research – people are saying the FIVE [Palm Jumeirah] is kind of the party spot?” We’re almost at a loss to explain quite how on-the-money he is.
“It’s all new to me – the great thing about gigging internationally is that you arrive and it forces you to chat to everyone. You can’t be a passive tourist and just look at stuff,” he says.
“I love food – I know there are a couple of incredible international chefs who have opened places in Dubai. You work for Time Out – what’s the place to go?”
While there are dozens of world-beating restaurants from global culinary talents, we find ourselves insisting Carr checks out the city’s many Middle Eastern restaurants, and make time for a shawarma (“Do they do good shawarma?” Does a camel have a hump.).
Only partly because Carr’s role switch to interviewer has caught us completely off guard. And only partly to stop ourselves offering a private tour of Dubai’s best street foods, in case thinks we’re trying to abduct him.
Regardless, he knows he’s come to the right place for a recommendation.
“Of course, the founder of Time Out [Tony Elliott] very sadly died last week. What an incredible magazine – it’s an incredible magazine.
“It’s all about city and culture and eating and comedy and theatre and music… All the stuff I love. I’m sorry for the loss of your founder. It’s a great institution.”
It is, we agree, all about celebrating the best of cities around the world, and the places and experiences that make them unique – something Carr is a big advocate of.
“Going out and having things to do, and places to go, it’s the lifeblood of a city,” he agrees. “So coming and doing these gigs there is kind of special.
“And if it sells out – we’ll put more dates on, don’t worry about it.”
After a low-energy start to the year, it’s clear Carr is raring to go – all the way through the new decade.
“I’m just going to go out and tour – that’s the thing I’ve really missed. I like doing TV shows, I like writing, but really playing live, it’s such a privilege. The thing about this pandemic is that it makes you realise how much you enjoy your job – even if you work in an office, and it’s just the social side.”
And even after very convivial half-hour on the phone, potty-mouth all ours, Carr’s look-on-the-bright-side outlook is so at odds with his searing stage persona, it still surprises. More importantly, it infects.
“Comedy has a proper, grown-up function. It is a way to process terrible, bad things. And this [pandemic] is a bad thing,” he says.
“I’m a laughter therapist and I’m coming to help.”
Lead the way, sir.
Doors open 7pm. Wed Aug 12, Thu Aug 13 and Fri Aug 14. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.800tickets.com.