Jim Norton: "You Have to Go Down Swinging"
Ever been to Disney World? Nice isn't it? There's candy, rides, lovable characters come to life. It's just wholesome, good-for-all-ages fun.
Jim Norton is the opposite of Disney World.
If the 45-year-old had his own theme park, it would be filled with horny prostitutes frolicking in and out of various sexual fetish-themed rides. Splash Mountain would run yellow. The rooms of Cinderella's Castle would be converted into seedy massage parlors. Goofy would try to sell you drugs.
Actually, that sounds kind of fun. But it's beside the point.
Fans of Norton know him from his role on the immensely popular radio show, The Opie & Anthony Show, and various television appearances. He's also written two books, Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch and I Hate Your Guts, which reached No. 4 and No. 13 respectively on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.
Though the foundation that allowed the tower of Norton to be erected is no doubt his brutally honest, filthy, at times uncomfortable, but ultimately hilarious standup. It's tough to describe Norton on stage. He's in a league of his own when it comes to exposing his own faults, fetishes, and personal life. As Norton said in our interview, the first person he always goes after is himself.
His most recent special, American Degenerate, is available on Netflix now. If you haven't seen it, send the kids out of the house, turn the volume up, and enjoy.
You'll be seeing more of Norton very soon online as well. He recently shot four episodes of his own talk show that will be airing on Vice in the next couple weeks. His co-host is adult film actress and transgendered woman, Bailey Jay.
But you'll get a chance to see Norton in a much higher resolution tonight through Saturday, when he comes down to the West Palm Beach Improv.
Read our interview with Jim, then do yourself a favor and go see him. And don't forget to keep your mouth shut during the show. He'd appreciate it.
New Times: So are you back touring now?
Jim Norton: I'm just gearing up again. I had taken off for a couple of months because I have a talk show coming out on Vice. So I started concentrating on that. We shot four episodes of that so we'll see what happens.
How did that come about?
I know Shane (Smith) and all those guys who run it, and they've all come to see me perform a few times. We've hung out and they're really good dudes, and I saw Shane at UFC back in December. And he said, "Hey we were supposed to do something and we never did it." And we started talking, and he called my manager and now we're in business. It's really great.
So you've done interviews before, and you're very familiar with radio, but I imagine hosting a talk show is much different than that.
It is, yeah, but it's fun. We do a monologue, a sketch, and I talk to my co-host for a little bit, then bring out the guest. But the shows ended up being an hour because the interviews were really, really very relaxing and kind of easy to do. It was weird having the whole thing on my shoulders but I kind of preferred it. I like knowing that, good or bad, it all depended on what I did.
Something you said on American Degenerate that stuck with me was about how standup is really the only art form where people feel the need to actively voice their disapproval. I think you gave the example of no one goes to an art gallery with a towel and starts covering up paintings. Why do you think standup invites that more so than other genres and art forms?
I'm not sure exactly why they do, but they really do think that they're part of the creative process, and that their opinion on the content or approval of the content matters, and it does not.
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But that's why I have such a dislike of people who blog about being offended, because these are the same people that would defend Robert Mapplethorpe or any other controversial form of the arts. No comedian looks at the days of Lenny Bruce getting in trouble for making fun of the Catholic Church as a great day for comedy. We all look at that like, wow people were real assholes then.
But we're doing the same thing now just with different subjects. You can make fun of the church and nobody cares, but you can't make fun of other things. There are other sacred cows now that will get you in trouble. Even though it's not legal trouble, it's still trouble.
On the surface, it does seem like a lot of progress has been made, but people can still lose their careers over one joke that was recorded in the basement of a comedy club. It's still a dangerous world out there for comedians. Do you feel that at all?
Sure. Look at All in the Family. We think we're so progressive as a society, but you could not do All in the Family today. There were things you could say on TV in 1976 that you can not say on TV now. How is that a progressive, free-thinking country? It's never going to change and it's a losing battle, and I know it's a losing battle. But you have to go down swinging. You have to go down speaking your mind about it.
Does it frustrate you when you see a comedian get forced into issuing an apology for a joke? It seems it's happening a lot lately and it doesn't seem too helpful in the fight against political correctness.
If you're sorry about something and you want to say you're sorry, there's nothing wrong with that. Look, it's easy for me to say don't apologize, but I don't have millions of dollars at stake like Tosh or Tracy Morgan did at those times. A lot of times it's just easier just go, "Hey, sorry," and save yourself a few million dollars. So, I can't be a liar and say that I wouldn't do it.
My problem is with the people who actually want the apology. I don't know why they feel they need that. Someone saying they're sorry to save a few million bucks -- that's just smart. You have to be an idiot to not do that. But I don't understand why people want one. Why they think it's important, I have no idea.
There's an incredible amount of honesty in your stand up, especially when you talk about yourself. What was the process like to get to that point of being so open on stage?
It was a lot of disappointing sets. And I realized that the stuff I felt the best about was the honest stuff and the personal stuff. It was unsatisfying to do the other stuff. It didn't feel good. And not that there's anything wrong with doing observational humor, but for me there was so many things in my personal life that needed to be made fun of. I just felt like a liar if I didn't address them.
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