Jimmy Carr Reveals How Death Of His Mum Helped Him To Quit Drinking


In Saturday's Mail, in the first extract from his new book, top comedian Jimmy Carr told how badly the public shaming over his tax avoidance affected him.
Today, he reveals how he overcame his problem drinking.
Ever met someone really fun, the life and soul of the party, a madman, a drinking machine? And then you find out he works in middle management for a large, grey oil company?
That was me.

In my experience, the opposite to addiction isn't sobriety, it's purpose. Once you've got something to do and someone to be, the need to distract yourself diminishes.
I used to be a fun drunk, a little too fun: I remember drinking pints of White Russians at a party and jumping over rooftops with scant regard for personal safety.

I don't remember much else about that night. That's the thing about being a black-out drunk: a distinct lack of detail.
I'd go crazy at the weekend. Looking back, I realise it was 'problem drinking'. The amount was never the problem, it was the reason behind it.
Why was drinking the thing I looked forward to doing?
I'd go crazy at the weekend.

Looking back, I realise it was 'problem drinking'. The amount was never the problem, it was the reason behind it. Why was drinking the thing I looked forward to doing?
What are you addicted to: money, sex, alcohol, power, control?
If you don't think you're an addict, look at your interests. What do you think about all the time? Whatever it is, that's your drug. For me, it was comedy. As soon as I got exposed to stand-up, I got hooked. It's all I could think about, it's all I wanted to do and see.
After that, for the first 12 years of my career, I didn't drink at all.

There's no great 'rock bottom' story — I just wasn't getting out of my head because, for the first time, I actually liked being in my head.
People are constantly telling you to 'live in the moment' and 'live every day as if it's your last'.
That's terrible advice. Your last day will probably be tearful goodbyes to loved ones and screaming in pain. Much better to 'live every day as if you're going to do something great in 20 years'.
When, after a show, I got asked, 'Do you want to come for a drink and some delicious cocaine?', my answer was always along the lines of, 'Thank you, but I've had such a lovely day, I want to do it all again tomorrow.' There are some amazing comics you've never heard of because they had so much fun. Maybe it was worth it.

They were living in the moment, living for today. Do you know what day it is today for those comics? It's 'tomorrow'.
When my mum was seriously ill with the pancreatic cancer that later killed her, I was no longer drinking. But for a time I was lost.
It's hard to describe your mum without it sounding weird.

Anything you say about your mother feels a little Psycho, like you're sitting in a rocking-chair wearing her clothes.
There are photos of my mother when she was a young woman, very much of the era, sort of like Jackie O. Mum had raven-black hair, porcelain skin, high cheekbones and a good jawline.

She was a looker and took care of herself.
My mother, Nora Mary Carr (née Lawlor), was a nurse. She trained at the Regional Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, and came to London in the early 1970s. She was one of those migrant workers, you know the ones: 'These immigrant nurses, they come over here saving our lives.'
She was, how can I put this, f***ing hilarious.

Any innate talent I have in me, I got from her. I don't know what she'd make of my stage act, but I think she'd want a credit and royalties.
Fun, loud and inappropriately sweary, she was the life and soul. She had a literally breathtaking laugh.
If you really got her good, she'd fall completely silent, eyes half closed as she slowly rocked back and forth, looking like she was having some sort of fit. To be clear, this isn't what killed her — but what a way to go.
My mother used to sing the Beach Boys tune God Only Knows to me: 'God only knows what I'd be without you.' She changed the lyric (without permission from the music publisher I might add) to '.

. . where I'd be without you'. She sang it to me a lot.
Of course, as a child I took that to mean I was a precious thing, I was loved. Looking back, I can't help but wonder about the other possible meaning. 'Where would I be without these kids holding me back?' It reminds me of all she sacrificed to care for us.
There's something about being loved unconditionally that's like self-confidence, or rather it's a sense of security, where if you have it, great self-confidence doesn't matter as much.

In showbusiness, there's a lot of rejection. Being loved unconditionally doesn't make that go away, it just makes it easier to deal with when you have that firm foundation.
We were close. I suppose a therapist would tell you I was 'enmeshed', a surrogate partner for my mother.

Maybe. Maybe we were too close, but I don't see it negatively. She gave me self-confidence and a sense of humour — what's not to love? You're either going to be too close to your child or too distant. I'd say f***ing up on the side of too much love is the way to go.
My mother, Nora Mary Carr (née Lawlor), was a nurse.

She trained at the Regional Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, and came to London in the early 1970s. She was one of those migrant workers, you know the ones: 'These immigrant nurses, they come over here saving our lives.'
Having three kids, two of them 16 months apart, that can be hard on a body.

The great sacrifice mothers give is their bodies. Later on, my mother put on weight and was never happy with the way she looked. I have very few pictures of her because she would invariably tear the photos up and throw them away, saying, 'I look like a whore at a christening' — one of her favourite phrases.
What I remember about her was that she was clearly attractive to people and she was different.

She stood out and it wasn't just her accent. She was not a run-of-the-mill 'mum', she had a magnetism, she was special.
She was loud, personable, engaging, she would talk to anyone and everyone. She was tactile and a hugger. My friends used to come over just to visit her.
I'd come home and they'd be in the kitchen, drinking coffee and chatting.

I liked it. I liked that the most important person in my life was strange and unusual. My mum didn't get to have an interesting life, but she lived the life she had magnificently.
It didn't occur to me that my mum was depressed. People are complicated.
On one hand my mother would laugh all the time. She would make things fun and had the magic ability of making everything seem OK. I didn't know she was also desperate and lonely and felt unloved. I thought it was normal for your mother to be in a bathrobe, just exhausted all the time.

I guess I never got over wanting to make my mum happy. (Paging Dr Freud, is this why I do what I do?)
We listened to a lot of music. I remember my mother would take us to a record store on the Farnham Road in Slough and we'd buy singles.

We'd take them home and play them and dance around.
She had this weird dance where she would sort of groove with her hands up in a fist and I know, because it's exactly how I dance. It would be songs like Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, or Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes or The Obvious Child by Paul Simon.
Sometimes I'll hear something and think, 'Mum would love that.'
'Home isn't a place, it's a person.' Well, my mother was my home and when she died, the grief pretty much broke me.
She was young — in her mid-50s — when she died in St Thomas' Hospital, London. Opposite the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames: you could scarcely find a more picturesque spot to watch a loved one fade away and die.
Twenty years later and I still feel the waves of grief.

I'll find myself driving the route I took to visit her in hospital, and it'll hit me. I'm right back there in 2001.
She died in September, just before 9/11. It felt like the sky was falling and the world was ending.
Pancreatitis isn't a fun way to die.

There are false dawns, you're in and out of intensive care. It must have been hard for my mother to get the news.
As a nurse, she'd have known the prognosis all too well. I remember at the end, another nurse told me that I should call my brothers.
She said that my mother had around five hours left.

Imagine that. The nurse had seen so many people die that she could say, with accuracy, what was coming and when.
Mercifully, because she knew the signs it allowed us all to be there at the end.
If you can be with a loved one when they die, you should.

Bearing witness to a death is an incredibly intimate thing.
You should be there, not because it's easy — it isn't — but because one day you'll want someone to hold your hand.
There's a cliché that all comedians are depressed.
In my opinion, it's amazing not how many comics have killed themselves, but how many haven't. Because, here's my amateur Freud theory: I think comedians have often had to look after a sick parent (either physically or psychologically).
It's a good question to ask a comic: 'Who was sick in your life, your mum or dad?'
Having to please a sick parent, that's my story.

My mum struggled with depression throughout my childhood. I grew up in an environment where I needed to make things OK at home.
I remember one Christmas being in the kitchen doing nothing, not helping at all while my mother was cooking.
I said: 'Well, you know what, I should get out of the way, I might watch a movie.' And she said, 'No, stay there, you're here for vibes.'
The Sad Clown Paradox is where mental disorder meets comedy. It's a never-ending cycle where a child takes on additional responsibilities, which evokes a need for acceptance and creates mental health issues, which in turn leads to a need to self-medicate with humour.
Rinse and repeat enough times and what you get is a comedian. My question: why is this not called the Jimmy Carr Syndrome?
I'd argue that a lot of depressed people are drawn to comedy as a coping mechanism to deal with depression.
I'd also argue that the tools of stand-up comedy can help you to cope.
You could argue that Jimmy likes to argue.

But I'd argue I don't.
Depression can be just as deadly as cancer — just look at the suicide rate. Suicide is a symptom of depression. It's strange that we don't always think of it that way because the connection is undeniable.
In the same way that cancer can be thought of as the body's immune system attacking itself, suicide is a result of our minds turning on us.

And there but for the grace of God, and an encyclopaedic memory for jokes, go I. When my mother died, I lost my purpose within my family, which was cheering up mum. And I just pivoted slightly and, instead of trying to cheer one person up, I tried to cheer everyone up.
I was drawn to comedy like a moth, out of the darkness into a dazzling bright limelight.
The limelight never got any brighter than at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert in 2012. My manager called and said, 'They need some comedians to do little bits between the performing artists.

You just need to do five minutes while they change over the drum kit for Grace Jones.'
How could I say no to that?
So that day, Peter Kay, Lee Mack, Rob Brydon, Miranda Hart and I were just hanging out for the day with some A-listers.
Everyone was there — Elton John, Shirley Bassey, Andrew Lloyd Webber, anyone you could think of who was famous at the time.
Obviously, I wasn't going to do anything edgy, The Queen is going to be there, and I'm a professional. But what I wasn't expecting was to be able to see the Queen. There she was, front and centre.

She'd got really good seats, I guess she knows a guy.
I opened by saying: 'Everyone is really nervous backstage, because we're going to meet the Queen later, and what's the etiquette?' And I said, looking directly at the Queen, 'Just call me Mr Carr.'
Then I introduced Grace Jones, who was wearing a hula hoop.

Job done.
Later, backstage, I'm in a line-up next to Peter Kay. He and I had a discussion once, comparing our experiences of being famous. People assume I'm going to be acerbic and sharp when they meet me, so they're surprised when I'm actually pretty friendly.
But for Peter Kay, who's a charming dude, it's a nightmare.

People are disappointed if they're not invited over for Christmas.
On this occasion Peter was dressed as a Beefeater — always great — waiting for the Queen to arrive, and who joins us? Sir Paul McCartney.
I started a conversation with Paul (he's Paul now, what am I like?) about the lyrics of Blackbird.

And Peter, who had been listening in, said, 'Can't we talk about something normal?'
Like it was normal to be there with a bunch of people you'd usually see in a wax museum. But point taken.
So I said to Paul, 'I live in St John's Wood, you live around the corner from me, right?' And he went, 'Yeah, yeah.' And we talked about where the best place to get breakfast near us was.

I look at Peter Kay. Normal enough for you? (Actually, Paul recommended a great little breakfast place. Paul really knows his tofu scramble.)
When the Queen finally came along, I did the obligatory 'that reminds me, I've got to buy stamps' joke.
It raised a smile (fair enough, she'd heard it before from Jimmy Tarbuck at the Royal Variety Performance in the 1960s).
At the party inside the Palace afterwards, I'm getting drunk and then there's a tap on my shoulder. I knew I didn't belong there.

A tap on the shoulder means I'm getting kicked out, right? I had finally said the wrong thing to the wrong guy. I accepted my fate.
It was Prince William. He reached out his hand and he said: 'Mr Carr.' 
Adapted from Before & Laughter by Jimmy Carr, published on September 30 by Quercus at £20.

© Jimmy Carr 2021. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid to October 2, 2021; UK P&P free on orders over £20), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20 
  Why the Hyena's my spirit animalI went on a safari to see the Big Five, and it was pretty great.

If you don't believe in a god, getting that close to nature feels pretty special.
The coolest animal that stood out for me wasn't the lion (lions are lazy — you heard me, Simba) and it wasn't the elephant (I don't care how much you poach elephants —you'll never properly cook them like that).
No, the coolest animal, bar none, the rock star of the Serengeti — drum-roll please — is the hyena.
The hyena is my spirit animal and not just because of its remarkable and beautiful laugh, but because it's a by-any-means-necessary, get-the-job-done, results-driven survivor.
If you were to ask a hyena, 'What is your preferred method of hunting?' it will say, 'What have you got?

We can work in teams or we can go it alone, we'll hunt in the day or at night.'
'What will you eat?'
'We will eat anything: fresh, carrion, half-dead, weak, ill . . . if it's food, we'll eat it. We will do whatever we are broke need to do to survive.'
Hyenas know how to compromise.

Whereas all those endangered animals, they're picky idiots. If they're not willing to be flexible about food (I'm talking to you, Mr Panda), I don't care about them.
I tell you what's not endangered — the hyena.
The hyena is my spirit animal and not just because of its remarkable and beautiful laugh, but because it's a by-any-means-necessary, get-the-job-done, results-driven survivor
  Day I barged into The Boss's dressing roomIn 2018 I did a show called Stand Up for Heroes, in aid of wounded servicemen, at Madison Square Garden — not the main room, you understand, the little theatre on the side which has a capacity of just 5,600.
That year the line-up included Bruce Springsteen.
My picture was on the wall, so they recognised me when I arrived.

They said, 'Hello, Mr Carr' and they pointed at the stairs. 'Your dressing room is up there and so is the Green Room.'
At the top of the stairs, I saw an open door and as I entered, right in front of me, I saw a vision in double denim and I thought, 'I might as well be friendly, we're on the same bill, I guess I'll hang out with 'The Boss'.'
I walked up to him and said, 'Hi, I'm Jimmy, I'm one of the comics, I'm on tonight.

I listened to your Desert Island Discs on Radio 4.'
And then we chatted about how great the format is for Desert Island Discs and his stage show and his book.
I grabbed a bottle of sparkling water and ate some carrots and hummus from the craft table.
I'd pulled up a chair and was very relaxed.
After about 15 minutes I glanced up and I saw a sign on the door, which was still open, and where it should have said 'Green Room', it said 'Bruce Springsteen'.
I said, 'Is this the Green Room or your dressing room?'
And he goes, 'It's my dressing room.'
And I said, 'Oh.

I should probably go, shouldn't I?'
And he went, 'Yeah.'
What do you do? Are you going to be embarrassed for the rest of the day or are you going to lean into it? I leaned into it.
After about 15 minutes I glanced up and I saw a sign on the door, which was still open, and where it should have said 'Green Room', it said 'Bruce Springsteen'
After my soundcheck, I was wandering past his room and I could hear him and his wife, Patti, singing.
I popped my head around the door and said, 'Yeah, 'practice makes perfect', keep at it.'
He laughed.
I asked, 'Are you, uh, how many songs are you thinking of doing tonight?'
He said, 'I'm going to do five songs.'
'Are you going to do covers or your own stuff?'
'My own stuff.'
I drew in a sharp breath and exhaled.
I shook my head and went, 'Well, if you're sure.'
It was fun. He was a genuinely funny, great guy.
He offered me tickets to see his show — there's a reason he's The Boss.