Considered one of the fiercest comics working today, Jim Norton explores the most taboo aspects of American society, like sex, race, and censorship. He also is the co-host of the Opie with Jim Norton radio show on Sirius XM and the host of the Jim Norton Show on VICE. He recently stopped by the Addison Improv near Dallas, TX, as part of his American Degenerate tour. Norton sat down with one of our Travesty correspondents for the following interview.
How is it in Dallas?
Hot! But I like it here. I come every couple of years. They’re a great crowd, a great fucking crowd.
What is the most memorable experience you have had any time here in Dallas?
Probably having my picture taken in Dealey Plaza on the X where Kennedy was shot. It’s gotta be that. Either that, or I got blown in the bathroom here [Jim gestures to a small staff bathroom across the hall] one time after a gig. Those are the two.
What is the craziest experience you have had on the road, period?
Oh my God, really hard to say. I mean, I was getting blown in Vegas while Andrew Dice Clay, Kenny [Jim’s road manager], and this guy Happy Face, the other body guard, I caught them all peaking from my bathroom watching me, and I lost my erection. That was kinda creepy. Another time I was eating a girl’s pussy in front of Bob Kelly while he took photos. That was kinda creepy. You’ll have to give me more time to think about it. Those are just the two off the top of my head. Oh, and Rich Vos telling a waitress to go look at my cock in a broom closet, and she did. That was kinda weird.
Was it part of a bet?
No, he just goes, “You gotta see his dick. Go look at his dick.” He was just trying to get me laid. He’s a good guy.
Both you and Rich Vos participated in Last Comic Standing. Why did you decide to compete in it?
My managers were against it because it was a reality show. But radio had been cancelled. I had been fired from radio. So I was really depressed and frustrated and didn’t know what was going to happen with my career, so I wanted to do something. I decided to do that. It didn’t end up going anywhere because I had to leave because I had two MTV pilots that would have interfered with the house time [the final 10 contestants stay in a house and compete]. The timing would have been off because I had signed a contract with Viacom. So yeah, it was one of those things. I only did two episodes. That’s all it was honestly.
What were the two pilots you had signed on for with MTV?
One was called Camp Cool, and one was called Stupid Bets. Neither was a hit. [Laughs]
Were you on as a writer as well?
No, they let me put in some of my ideas in there, but it was mostly just, y’know, you show up and do what they tell ya, unfortunately.
What was Camp Cool about?
Me and this guy Al…I forget his last name. He was on Punk’d. Black guy on Punk’d.
Not Al Sharpton?
No, I wish it was Al Sharpton. That would’ve been great. Camp Douche we would’ve called it. It also had Vanessa Minnillo. I can’t remember. If you can find Al’s name, he was on Punk’d. [Upon further research by the Texas Travesty correspondent, the name is Al Shearer] And we were just helping all these young guys who weren’t good at meeting girls. So all helped them with one part, and Vanessa helped with another part. I think I helped them with low self-esteem and shit like that.
So like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?
I wouldn’t put like that, but yeah.
You’re back on radio now with the Opie with Jim Norton Show. Your contracts are up after October. Any thoughts of renewing it?
There are definitely thoughts of it. I don’t know what we’ll do. I mean I like making money, I like having a steady gig. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. It’s funny; every interview has asked that and I wish I had a better answer. I just don’t know.
What do you like about radio versus stand-up or like acting?
Radio is kind of a comfortable flow, y’know. There’s no pressure to get to it. You can meander, your thoughts can meander. You can really walk through a thought and explore a thought, or explore something a lot more than stand-up ‘cause you need an immediate reaction with stand-up. So radio is so much fun to do just for that. It also depends a lot on who you are working with.
How was it being able to bounce off of people like Opie, Anthony, and a lineup of amazing comedians like Louis CK and Patrice O’Neal?
I’m comfortable with doing that. That’s kind of how I came up with the Comedy Cellar. Guys just fucking with each other and riffing on each other and attacking each other, like Rich Vos and Bobby Kelly. Just brutal, y’know, so you get very used to having to be on defense all the time, and then being on offense immediately. So bouncing off the guys on the radio was just kind of a natural extension of that shit, which was, y’know, just mocking each other relentlessly and, y’know, always trying to brutalize each other at the Comedy Cellar table, calling each other out for bullshit…Patrice was probably my favorite person to do it with. Even though Patrice was loud and would talk over everyone. I always had a fun give and take with him. And I’m not saying that just because he’s dead, like I really did love doing it with him. I was with Patrice when I met Richard Pryor, the only time I’ve ever met him at the Comedy Store. I mean, that affected me, obviously, because he was my hero that I was meeting, and he happened to be there for that.
How did that come about?
Richard was doing a set, this was 1996, so I happened to be in LA and me and Patrice happened to be managed by the same people at the time, and we went out there for a terrible showcase that we did. And so we went and met Pryor, and he came in, and I didn’t take pictures with people back then, but he was sitting there and I walked over. He signed three autographs that night, he was too sick but I got the third autograph. He stopped and said, “I can’t sign.” So I asked his wife to help me get one ‘cause I’m a comedian from the East coast, I’ll never be able to see him again. And she was like, “Richard, one more Richard.” And so he signed it for me, and I lit a cigarette, and it was just a nice moment, and I’m really glad I went over and did that. I wish I had known him, but unfortunately I didn’t. Meeting [George] Carlin was amazing, working with him on Tough Crowd that one time. In hindsight, when I look back on those days on Tough Crowd with Colin [Quinn], Patrice, Nick [DiPaolo], and Keith [Robinson], the fact that I made these guys laugh I look back on as such an amazing part of my career. But in that moment I didn’t realize what it was.
Were you super nervous before that, like “Oh my God, Carlin’s the king”?
Yeah, we all were. Me, Nick, Colin, and [Greg] Giraldo did that episode. And we would all talk over each other, but when George Carlin was on, everyone kind of bowed down. And he was great! He was really nice. He wanted to come down and rehearse with everybody. He did not want any special treatment. He wanted to write jokes for the topic. Carlin was fucking awesome! He also showed, how dare me ever be arrogant, when this guy was humble working with comedians because he was the best.
What was the impetus or inspiration behind the Jim Norton Show on Vice?
I always wanted to do a talk show. I love the idea of interviewing people. I like the idea of talking like an adult, and not do it in a seven minute segment like on TV where they have commercials they have to get to. And they have to hit the plug, hit the plug [Jim snaps his fingers after each time he says ‘plug’]. I like the idea of just being able to fuck around and have a comfortable, real conversation and go off book and see where it winds up. Like what the old shows used to do, like Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas, guys who I really loved. I just wanted to do a talk show where I could do sketches that I think are funny, where I could ask questions that I want to ask without a lot of network interference, and I got that from Vice.
What was your experience like at Middlesex College?
One semester. I got a B and three F’s. I got a B in English. I got an F in Problems and Statistics, an F in Science, and an F in Western Civilization.
Yeah. I sucked.
Well how did you get the B though?
That B was merciful because my English teacher knew that I was newly sober. So I think he was taking mercy on me. It was probably more of a D performance.
What’s your writing process like?
I go on stage at the Cellar and if I want to talk about something I’ll bounce it around on stage. Or I’ll text myself a joke idea or something. But by and large I go on stage at the Comedy Cellar and just try it and work through it. It’s sloppy, I wish it was neater but that’s how I do it.
When did you decide to focus on self-deprecating humor?
It was just what was natural for me, and the other comedians seemed to like it. So when the other comedians liked it, it made me feel good, and I was like, “Oh, ok, this is the direction I should go in.” But not on purpose. It just felt natural to say that stuff. It was what’s funny to them.
I remember one interview where you mentioned you got a signed napkin from Sam Kinnison. How did that all come about?
It was an open mic in a place called Rascals in New Jersey. It’s in South Jersey. And he came out to talk to some of the young comedians. He was doing the big room, and we were doing the little bar area open mic outside, and he came out to talk to us outside for a couple of minutes. And he was very nice. I wish I had longer with him. I wish I had gotten a photo with him, like Pryor. But I did get him to sign something. He was nice. I’m happy I met him. I’m lucky I got to meet him.
How did you meet Louis CK?
Louis I met when I first started coming into New York and working. The guys who were nicest to me, I was a nobody, but the guys who were nicest to me that were established were Colin Quinn, Louis CK, and Marc Maron. Those are the three respected comedians that really treated me nicely from day one. So really Louis was a good friend to me since ’96. He’s always treated me amazingly well. I love him. He is one of my favorite people.
Thank you so much for your time!
Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.