Comedian Jimmy Carr has been criticised for an “abhorrent” joke he made about the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community in his most recent Netflix special.
The show, called Jimmy Carr: His Dark Material, was released on Netflix on Christmas Day, but has been generating criticism after a clip was posted and shared online on Friday.
In it, Carr tells the audience "strap in everybody, are you ready?" He then talks soberly about the "tragedy and horror" of the Holocaust before going on to attempt a joke about the deaths of thousands of gypsies also killed by the Nazis. The remark is met with laughter from the audience.
Carr’s comment has been condemned by organisations such as Hope not Hate, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, The Traveller Movement and the Auschwitz Memorial, which encouraged the comedian “to learn about the fate of some 23 thousand Roma & Sinti deported to Auschwitz” in a tweet to its 1.2 million followers.
Meanwhile, Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, called Carr’s comment “abhorrent”.
“We are absolutely appalled at Jimmy Carr’s comment about persecution suffered by Roma and Sinti people under Nazi oppression, and horrified that gales of laughter followed his remarks.
“Hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people suffered prejudice, slave labour, sterilisation and mass murder simply because of their identity – these are not experiences for mockery.”
The Traveller Movement has launched a petition, titled The Holocaust is Not a Laughing Matter, calling on Netflix to remove the segments of Carr’s show that “celebrate the Romani genocide”. So far, 3,528 people, out of a target of 5,000, have signed it.
“Hundreds of thousands of Gypsies, Roma, and Traveller people were killed in the Holocaust,” the petition reads. “Historians estimate that as much as 25-50 per cent of the entire Romani and Sinti population of Europe were victims of genocide at the hands of the Nazis, a crime of almost unimaginable proportions.
“We appreciate that comedy is subjective but in our view when punchlines are indistinguishable from the genuinely-held views of fascists and Neo-Nazis, a line has very clearly been crossed. Ethnic Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers experience sustained and widespread discrimination in contemporary society – with recent polling indicating as many as 50 per cent of people hold negative opinions of them, and material like this normalises further discrimination, and even violence, against already marginalised communities.”
Carr has regularly drawn criticism for his jokes, which have in the past targeted people with Down syndrome, amputee veterans and people with dwarfism. Last April, he predicted that he would “probably get cancelled” when he returned to stand-up after Covid-19 lockdowns.
In His Dark Material, Carr goes on to acknowledge the controversial nature of his Holocaust joke, saying he thinks it is “edgy” and holds educational value. “There is an educational quality. Like everyone in the room knows six million Jewish people lost their lives to the Nazis during the Second World War. But a lot of people don’t know, because it’s not really taught in our schools, that the Nazis also killed, in their thousands, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
However, these justifications are not carrying any weight with The Traveller Movement, which says: “We acknowledge that Jimmy Carr highlighted the widespread ignorance that exists with regard to non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but it was nevertheless incredibly crass for him to claim his ‘joke’ therefore had an 'educational quality'. If this was the case, he would have used his considerable platform to raise awareness of Roma Holocaust Memorial Day to his 6.7m followers. To our knowledge, that has never happened. That speaks volumes.
“There is no legitimate basis for this 'joke', and no positive to its inclusion which outweighs the profoundly negative impact it produces.”
Carr performed three sell-out shows at the Dubai World Trade Centre in August and, while in the UAE, spoke to The National about his contentious approach to comedy. “There’s no point in being controversial for the sake of it, you have to be funny. First and foremost funny. And if it happens to have a bit of edge, great.
“The audience decides. The audience is the genius. It decides what is and what isn’t funny, and what is and what isn’t acceptable. This is not my first rodeo, I’ve done thousands of gigs so you get a sense of what the audience will and won’t go with.”