Comedian Jimmy Carr under fire for 'abhorrent' anti-Roma Holocaust joke

In his new comedy special, Carr joked about the genocide of the Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust, who were targeted for total extermination by the Nazis alongside Jews.

 Jimmy Carr (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Jimmy Carr
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

British comedian Jimmy Carr has come under fire for a Holocaust joke aimed at Romani people which he made during his new Netflix comedy special, His Dark Material.

The comedy special first aired on Christmas Day but the specific clip referring to the Holocaust gained widespread attention after a clip was shared on social media on Friday afternoon, The Guardian reported. 

When people talk about the Holocaust, they talk about the tragedy and horror of 6 million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine," said Carr to a laughing audience. "But they never mention the thousands of G****s that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives.”

Several British anti-hate groups including the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Hope Not Hate have responded to Carr's quip, condemning him for joking about the persecution of the Roma and Sinti people, who were targeted for total extermination alongside Jews by the Nazis.

Historians estimate that between 220,000 - 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, roughly 50% of their total population in Europe at the time. 

 Monument to the Memory of the Holocaust of the Romani (Gypsies) in the site of German Nazi crimes during second world war, Borzęcin village, Brzesko County, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Monument to the Memory of the Holocaust of the Romani (Gypsies) in the site of German Nazi crimes during second world war, Borzęcin village, Brzesko County, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"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," said Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in a written statement. 

"Hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people suffered prejudice, slave labor, sterilization and mass murder simply because of their identity - these are not experiences for mockery.

"The widespread ignorance of this recent history needs to be addressed and we urge everyone to learn more about the past and the experiences of Roma people today. Roma and Sinti people still face dreadful prejudice as this incident shows."

Hope Not Hate, a British anti-fascism and anti-racism campaign group called comedy an "amazing tool for progressive change," saying it was "such a shame that Jimmy Carr decided to use his platform to celebrate the murder of one of the most marginalized groups in society." They also shared a petition started by The Traveller Movement - a British charity working with Romani and Traveller communities - calling for Netflix to remove the segment "celebrating the Romani Genocide" from the comedy special.

Netflix however, has so far failed to respond both to this petition and other similar ones calling for the removal of the show from their catalog. 

During the special, Carr, who is neither Jewish nor Romani, went on to defend himself, saying it was how he chooses to "never forget," the Holocaust, calling his own joke "f****** funny," and "edgy as hell."

“There is an educational quality. Like everyone in the room knows 6 million Jewish people lost their lives to the Nazis during the second world war," he said to his audience, who had applauded the joke moments before. "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, his defense did not reassure anti-hate organizations and Holocaust trusts, including the Auschwitz Memorial, which has urged the comedian to "learn about the fate of some 23,000 Roma and Sinti deported to Auschwitz," adding that it was "sad to hear words that can fuel prejudice, hurt people, and defile memory of their tragedy."

Additionally, Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series which Carr's comedy special pulled its name from, tweeted condemning Carr's quip, saying "his 'joke' about the Holocaust is abominable, sickening, and I'd be very glad if he called his show something else from now on."

Carr's comments reached the political sphere as well, and British culture secretary Nadine Dorries and Labour Party MP Nadia Whittome have condemned Carr's comments, both urging for legal change which would regulate the content put up on streaming sites such as Netflix.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Dorries said that the government is "looking at legislation via the media bill, which would bring into scope those comments from other video-on-demand streaming outlets like Netflix." 

Whittome, meanwhile, shared that she had reached out to the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for an update on the progress being made to enforce regulations on streaming outlets, and said that she had written to Netflix requesting the removal of Carr's comments from the show.

Roma communities across Europe and the UK still face persecution today, and, unlike Jewish Holocaust survivors, they never received war reparations from the German government, and their communities today are still at an educational and economic disadvantage compared to other ethnic groups in Europe and the UK.

A 2019 Pew Research poll found that the majority of Europe still holds strong prejudices against the minority group, showing that 83% of Italians, 76% of Slovaks, 72% of Greeks, 68% of Bulgarians, 66% of Czechs, 61% of Lithuanians, 61% of Hungarians, 54% of Ukrainians, 52% of Russians, 51% of Poles, 44% of French, 40% of Spaniards, and 37% of Germans held unfavorable views of Roma.

Neither Carr nor Netflix have commented on the incident so far.