Jimmy Carr recalls how childhood battle with meningitis inspired his first joke

Jimmy Carr has revealed how his childhood battle with meningitis led him to make his mother laugh for the first time.

The stand-up comedian, 51, contracted the disease when he was three years old.

Appearing on today’s (16 April) episode of the podcast Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wake with Kathy Burke, Carr said: “‘You’ve got to be cruel to be kind’… I think that is the first thing I ever said that my mother thought was funny.”

He explained: “I had meningitis when I was a child. So my first memory is a lumbar puncture in Limerick in the General [Hospital], and they had to do a lumbar puncture.

“And I was three, I think, and… I was always told it was very close to death. And the doctor sort of went, ‘It’s going to be very painful’. And somehow I’d heard the phrase, and I went, ‘You’ve got to be cruel to be kind’, in a little child’s voice.”

Burke responded: “I find that very moving.”

Carr added: “And I kind of appreciated that thing of life, because I was always told, ‘Oh, you nearly didn’t make it’.”

His mother Nora Mary Carr was a nurse who died in 2001, at the age of 57.

Jimmy Carr in New York in November 2023 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bob Woodruff Foundation)

Carr’s new stand-up special, Natural Born Killer, premieres on Netflix today.

In a teaser trailer, Carr joked about being “cancelled” over the content of his comedy.

“The next time I get cancelled over a joke, the next time I upset people with a joke, I’m going to come out on the day of the cancellation, I’m going to make a statement, a public statement. I’m going to say, I’ve rehearsed this, I’m going to say – I’m sorry,” ending the sentence in a mocking tone.

“And the people that I’ve offended will say: ‘You don’t really mean that apology.’ And I’ll say: ‘So you’re saying I can say something and not mean it? Now you’re getting it!”

The 8 Out of 10 Cats presenter was widely criticised in 2021 for a joke he made in the Netflix comedy special His Dark Material about the Holocaust.

The comedian said: “When people talk about the Holocaust, they talk about the tragedy and horror of six million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of gypsies that were killed by the Nazis.”

Carr then adds: “No one ever talks about that because no one wants to talk about the positives.”

David Baddiel was among those to call out Carr for the controversial joke, suggesting it was “indefensible”.

Baddiel added that: “Jimmy is a close friend of mine and a brilliant stand-up in general”, but said that: “Makes no difference to how I feel or think about this specific joke.”