Comedian Jim Norton Tells Us Why He Has No Issue Sharing His Dark Perversions With Audiences.
By now, you should know the name. But, on the off-chance that you don't, you'll recognize the face.
Thanks to a steady stream of stand-up specials and regular appearances on Louie and The Tonight Show over the last few years, Jim Norton's been a tough guy to miss.
And, once you've spotted his mug, it's a tough one to forget — in large part because of the things that come out of his mouth. As comics go, Norton sits comfortably on the more cringe-inducing end of the spectrum. He'll say pretty much anything — from too-honest reveals about his sexual perversions to sometimes off-the-wall opinions about current events — in the name of earning a laugh.
It's a formula that's clearly done well for the New York-based comedian. But it's also one that's got some of his like-minded friends in trouble. Recently, Anthony Cumia, Norton's collaborator on the Opie & Anthony show since 2000, was fired by Sirius XM after he unleashed a race-fueled rant on Twitter. In turn, Norton's earned something of a promotion on the show, which is now called Opie with Jim Norton Still: Norton's not exactly thrilled about the way all that stuff played out.
Below — and in advance of Norton's three-night run at the Addison Improv that starts tonight (get your tickets here) — we speak with Norton about just that situation, as well as his new show for Vice, among other things.
So, obviously, you've got this date coming up here in Dallas. Is that part of a larger tour or is that just a one-off thing?
Well, I'm going out every couple of weeks now, I just started up again. So I did San Francisco recently, and now Dallas, and I'm gonna do a few more, like, Syracuse, and Columbus, Ohio. So I'm starting to go back on the road again pretty regularly actually.
Well, you've certainly kind of had a big presence and an increasing profile over these last couple years. You said you're going back on the road. Does that mean that's something you've put a little bit on the back burner?
Well, I took myself off for a few months, not long. I just gave myself the summer to relax, refresh the act, and I’ll eventually like to film my new hour sometime soon — I’m not sure exactly when. But I wanted to give myself some time to work on some topical stuff before I got ready to go back out. But I love where I'm at material-wise.
I think it's safe to say that you've always dabbled in the cringe-ier levels of material. How did that kind of come into being your sense of style? Did you kind of fall into that, or did you grow up with that sense of humor?
Y'know, it's kind of just my sense of humor. I never did anything different with stand-up. I never intended on being cringe-y. I think the audiences have just gotten more sensitive, I haven't changed or gone out of my way to bother them or to offend them. But, y'know, the fact that people are ever offended to humor is silly to me. Like, with what's going on in Ferguson: If people can handle that, they can handle jokes about it or anything else.
It's weird, though: I would almost argue that given the internet and things like that, that people would be a little less sensitive to this crazier stuff.
You'd think so right? But, honestly, people are just hyper-sensitive now. They like to feel offended. It's a really weird, weird sense of entitlement people have.
But are you going for that? Are you trying to get the “ooh” before the “haha” or anything like that?
No. No! I hate when they “ooh.” I want them laugh! Because, I mean, when they “ooh,” all that says is that they are being dishonest or they're putting on a show for their neighbor. I never want them to “ooh.” I've never “ooh”-ed at a comedian. I don't understand that.
You mentioned the Ferguson thing, and I know you've got a history of talking about some current event stuff, between your appearances on Colin Quinn's show back in the day, and certainly on the radio with Opie & Anthony as well. Does that play a part of the current act that you're bringing out?
Well, yeah. I don't have anything on Ferguson yet but I always try to keep it very topical, y'know. I get bored if I don’t.
Well, I did want to speak with you about one particularly cringe-worthy current event: In the wake of his Twitter tirade, you've taken over for Anthony Cumia on the air, serving as a more official host as part of the Opie & Anthony. The name, even, is now officially Opie with Jim Norton. I imagine that's just gotta be kind of a bizarre scenario for you.
Yeah. I don't look at it like taking over, I honestly don't. I look at it like there's still a vacant seat that is Anthony's — and Opie and I are just doing the best we can to fill that time.
How do you feel about how that is going?
Well, look: It's a very, very tough situation. I think we're doing OK under the circumstances. It's a very, very tough thing to expect us to do because Anthony was so important and so funny. We were all thrown into this awful situation. And it stinks. We obviously want him there, and it was beyond our control so we're just doing the best we can with it. But, no, I don't feel like I'm taking Anthony's chair at all. His chair is still open.
Obviously, you guys have been working together for a long time now. But, without Anthony, I'd assume there's just a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities that have to now fall elsewhere.
Oh yeah! But Opie has the most training. Opie was the only one of us with any background in radio. I'm a high school dropout, and so is Anthony. Opie actually graduated from college in communications and had a radio background. He found Anthony — and he found me.
How long has it been that you have been with the show now? Over 10 years, right?
Yeah. I started with them in about 2000. I was with them when they got fired the first time, and I was with them when they got fired the second time. I've been through a lot of stuff with them.
But you've also been through a lot of stuff with a lot of different people. I think it's safe to say that you've had a lot of help throughout your career, what with your roles on Louie and Lucky Louie, your time with Opie & Anthony, your appearances on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn and Inside Amy Schumer and the remotes you did for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Those are some great gigs. How do they happen?
Well, those are my friends. In all honesty, I think those are just my friends. They like me as a friend and they think I can do a good job. So those basically are just, like, guys looking out for me who I've been friends with for a long time.
And they have to know what you bring to the table – like all the cringe-y, self-deprecating stuff, which is what's become your calling card. How much is that an act versus your day-to-day when you're talking about your penis size and sexual parameters?
I mean, the parameters are all true! I'm just telling the truth about of what I've experienced because that's what I own. That's mine. And the shame that comes with that stuff is what keeps other people from talking about it. I'm not married, I don't have kids. Everyone's talks about that, what's “relatable.” What I talk about is relatable in a different way. It's relatable to more exclusive people, sure. But, hey, I figure it's my experience. And I try to do it honestly. And that's what I have to share.
Well, not everyone is married and has kids, I'm not married, I don't have kids.
Right. So I talk about the sexual stuff. To me, it's funny that people are so ashamed of it. People think that sex is an easy laugh, but telling the embarrassing truth is not easy. A lot of people don't do it. Y'know, a lot of people pretend that they don't understand what you're talking about, when they really do.
I guess it's easy to say that you kind of have a self-effacing sense of humor, but the way you're talking about it now it almost sounds like it's more honesty — and maybe proud is the wrong word — but certainly honesty more so than self-deprecation. Is that right?
Absolutely. The self-deprecation that comes up, those are just the thoughts that we all have. Like, when I have those thoughts, I just voice them. And people go, “Why are you being so self-deprecating?” I'm just saying what I thought in that moment. Like, I'll do a joke and it won't work and I'll be like “Oh god, I should be killed.” But, like, everybody has a weird negative thought about themselves. Y'know, if you write an article or something: You might look at it and see a misspelling, and you're gonna be like “Oh, I'm such an asshole! Why didn't I catch that?” Y'know what I mean? It's those things that everybody thinks. It sounds like I'm being extra deprecating but I'm just voicing it as it comes, that's all it is.
It's almost like you don't have an inner monologue.
Yeah, it just kind flies out! But, believe me, there's so much stuff that I don't say.
I feel like a lot of stand-up can so often be such an act, people trying to take on a different persona. But yours is fairly devoid of that.
Yeah. I mean, there's nothing worse than some cool guy trying to act like he's a nerd, y'know what I mean? A lot of guys try to embrace that, and hide their arrogance and hide the fact that they really find themselves delightful and delicious. They pretend that they're humble nerds. I think a lot of people like themselves more than they want to admit — and they pretend they don't like themselves because they think it's an attractive or interesting quality. If you look at certain alternative guys, when you just watch their persona, they just pretend to be awkward. But they're just faking the awkwardness. It's like, “Listen, you know girls want to fuck you. C'mon.”
You mentioned earlier that you're working toward an hour-long special. With this string of shows we're talking about here, what can people expect?
I'll be doing an hour. I talk about Anthony being fired, I talk about Paula Deen getting in trouble. I talk about Jonah Hill, Donald Sterling. Just everything that's been happening. It's very topical. It's all stuff from like the last year of news. None of it is stuff people will have heard in my last special.
Does the radio gig help you with the current events stuff, just because you're thinking about it every day?
Yeah, that's actually true. It's a thing where you force your mind to concentrate on things that are happening every day, just because you're forced to be talking about it. So you're always reading the paper, you're always thinking about an angle and you're always formulating an opinion — whatever it is — because you just know you're going to have to talk about it on the air in an opinionated way. So it's kind of hard to avoid what's going on. You have to talk about it every day. In 2005, I did my first half hour and I just kind of talked about my life. But I still talked about political correctness. I've always tried to do current events, just because, otherwise, I get really bored.
There's a danger that the material gets old when you're talking about current events, though.
Well, that's why you can only do it for a short amount of time. I only do material for about a year, then I shoot it, and then I'm done. If you go back over my specials, you'll look at, say, the last one I did, American Degenerate, I talked about the shootings — from school shootings to the theater shootings and all of that stuff — and then I dropped it as soon as it was done. I try not to let it get stale. I think, for a year, you can still talk about anything, so long as you tie it in right.
Well, that's definitely a popular talking point in comedy these days, the idea of dropping material after a year and coming up with all new stuff.
And you definitely subscribe to that theory.
But it's mostly out of boredom! People come out to see me every time I come through because usually they know it's going to be a totally new act. Like, at least every year, or maybe a year and a half, I change the act. I had a whole new hour in 10 months this year — I'm not bragging, there was just a lot of stuff going on and it's been a completely crazy news year, and when that's happening, you can turn stuff over really fast.
And you've got this new show with Vice that allows you to talk about some of this stuff in another forum, too.
Yeah. We've only done four episodes so far, but people seem to really like it, so hopefully we'll do more. It's an uncensored talk show. It's pretty funny, I think.
One last question: In Louie, there've been a couple of scenes where you've been sitting around and playing poker. You any good at cards?
No! I'm fucking horrible. I am truly awful and I stay away.
So that's not a true-to-life situation then.
Not at all! If you could see the cards I'm putting down, you'd realize I just don't know what I'm doing.
Jim Norton performs August 21, 22 and 23 at the Addison Improv. Get your tickets here.