A true bastion of free speech, stand-up comedian Jim Norton — the man on Opie and Anthony’s third mic — knows his way around a groan inducing joke– not to mention the “casual encounters” section on Craig’s List.
Photos by Heidi Kikel for Punchline Magazine
When we arrive at his apartment, comedian Jim Norton is sitting at his computer, intently studying the script for the 2007 AVN Awards — that’s the Oscars of the adult film world — in which he’s prepping to co-host with porn star Jessica Drake. By the time you read this, that glorious event will be recent history. When he gets up, it’s hard to miss the obvious: the formerly squishy comic is now quite trim– something he attributes to a run-in with a cranky masseuse (see interview below) and spending hours every week beating the hell out of the heavy bag at the gym.
You’d never guess that a guy who makes much of his living telling rooms full of strangers about his poor self image as in, “I should be milked into a bucket and then raped with a bottle rocket; I’m a little fat-titted nothing” and his sexual deviancy “I would gladly lay back and let Britney Spears shit in my mouth, and then hand her a thousand dollars and wipe my own cum off my stomach”**) would keep such a tidy place. But he does. Though it’s not lit right now, there’s even a cinnamon sugar-scented candle next to his couch.
His walls are sparingly adorned with a few things. There’s a framed photo of Richard Pryor and one of Norton with the band KISS in makeup– though it’s not the real Ace Frehley in the photo, which is a bummer since Ace is his favorite member. “If he were dead, I’d get a picture of me and his fucking corpse,” Norton says.
Then there’s a mounted, signed vinyl copy of Black Sabbath’s 1973 album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath given to Norton by a fan. Finally — the crown jewel of his collection — next to his front door, there’s a giant photo of a smiling Norton in a tux with all the members of Black Sabbath at their induction ceremony to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I look like a fucking dope in that photo,” he says. Typical Norton. Despite all his success, he’s always shitting on himself.
Throughout his 17-year career, the 38-year-old New Jersey native has brought self-deprecating humor to a whole new and frighteningly graphic level. It’s probably his way of staying grounded since right now he has every reason to be a snobby prick.
Between his daily morning gig manning the third mic at the wildly popular Opie & Anthony Show on both XM and terrestrial radio, headlining theaters and comedy clubs across the country, appearing in his own HBO One Night Stand and scoring a starring role on Lucky Louie (the underappreciated and prematurely canceled HBO sitcom created by stand-up comedian Louis CK) Norton has become one of the nation’s most visible and beloved comics.
Due to that undeniable fact, Punchline Magazine has been keeping a close eye on Norton. We were there over the summer at a stop on the Opie & Anthony Traveling Virus tour, where Norton took to a golf cart and mooned the masses in the parking lot. We saw him accept the “most original comic” prize at the Cringe Humor awards at Carolines in New York City.
We were there when he headlined for 2,000 people at the Hammerstein Ballroom during the New York Comedy Festival and again at more than a few of his during-the-week Comedy Cellar appearances, where he stays in stage-shape and sometimes bombs.
After watching Norton on stage and spending some time with him; it’s also evident on his two CDs, Yellow Discipline and Trinkets I Own Made from Gorilla Hands — it becomes obvious that it’s not all dick jokes. Those do figure somewhat prominently into his act, his repertoire is actually quite vast and much smarter than he’d ever admit out loud.
So now, because the world needs more Norton, we present to you the Jim Norton Punchline Magazine interview. Enjoy.
There’s lots of comics out there that say shocking things. Obviously that’s not the only part of the formula to being funny. You do these things, but you really bring something unique to that. What do you think it is about your comedy that makes such a connection with your fans?
I think they know I’m being honest. I really don’t think you can shock people with comedy. I mean if people can handle the news, what some dumbbell is saying with a microphone shouldn’t be shocking, it should just be really funny.
And I’m really honest about what I think is going to be funny. I think that’s the key. You can’t go out there and try to shock people like, hey man, just go out and say “pussy fart” and expect people to recoil and then think you’re really funny. You know what I mean? You have to be funny as well. If you want to be shocking, that’s one thing, but you have to have good jokes. And I think my fans know that I’m being honest with them or as honest as I can be. And I’m always trying to bring new material out. I think they know I’m not trying to shock them, I’m trying to make them laugh.
When you’re honest on stage, it’s usually about how you hate yourself. It’s pretty common for comedians to be self-deprecating. But you’ve brought that self-deprecating quality to an entirely new level.
Everything is exaggerated a little bit, but the self-doubt and the self-loathing is certainly a big part of my psyche. And to me, it’s almost like I’m taking these things that bother me the most and I’m just exposing them onstage– like my feelings about myself. I am insecure. I really do hate looking in the mirror sometimes. And I think a lot of people feel that way, but I’ve just decided to talk about it.
And I think people are uncomfortable with it, but I think people laugh because they relate to it. Anyone who’s honest with themselves relates to the self-hatred or the self-doubt a little bit. So those are just the things that my mind says to me, you know? You’re worthless, you’re a fat little pig, terrible– you know what I mean? So it’s like I’m just trying to repeat them. I’m just kind of repeating what I’ve heard from myself.
And you feel your audience can connect with those types of feelings?
Oh, the ones that are there to see me absolutely can. I know they can. Guys that are Jim Norton fans, they’re all messes and they relate to the fact that I feel the exact same way about myself. I think they know it’s real. What I’m telling them is real. Even though I know it’s not rational, I know it’s a lie that my mind is telling me this stuff, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still the things that you hear. I know it’s bullshit. I know I’m a nice guy, and I’m OK looking, I’m average. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s not what my mind tells me.
Is there a sense of ‘Let me say these things before people judge me for these things anyway?’
Yeah, a lot of times I think if I expose it, you can’t hurt me with it. I think that’s a big thing. If I feel that if I put it out there, well then you can’t come at me with it because I’ve already brought it to your attention. It’s just a protective thing, I suppose.
You once said something like, ‘Stand-up is all that keeps me from picking up a rifle and shooting people.’ What did you mean by that?
It’s a way of getting out my dislike for people and my hatred for the way things are in a healthy, therapeutic way. It’s like emotionally vomiting. You’re telling people the things you hate about them. And half the people I’m talking about are in the audience. You’re getting it off your chest. It feels good to get it off your chest. It feels good to just say what you want to say and to have people know how you feel. There’s something really great about that. Now they know how I feel. Whether it changes things or not doesn’t matter, because at least I’ve said it.
In your act, you talk a lot about things that make you angry. What aggravates you the most?
Yeah, and this notion that comedians are supposed to obey the courtesies of society. People expect you to be funny and yet they have all these little asterisks they put next to what you said. Or they want you to be funny and yet not offensive. They don’t want you to violate their political ideologies, their religious ideologies. So I think that’s the thing I hate more than anything– even more than the Religious Right and the way they crush free speech. I hate political correctness. I think it really hurts comedy. And I think that people under the age of 25 are so caught up in it and they just don’t realize what dumb fucking robots they are.
The younger generation is worse than older people?
College students are the worst. They think they’re just a fucking bright oasis of free speech, and they’re the most restrictive little douche bags in the country. They’re the worst; they really are. They used to be something different, and now they’re horrible. I mean it’s really easy to trash Bush and the Republicans. Yeah, we know they’re bad, OK. The fucking Left to me has been so fucking horrible. But the college kids hide behind hate speech. If you make fun of gay people, it’s hate speech. They’re just fucking phonies. They’re as phony as the fucking Religious Right.
So it seems like the more liberal-minded younger people are, the more frightened they are of doing and saying things that could offend?
Well, most of them have superiority complexes. They don’t like to say that they do. These little white kids, they really do feel like blacks are children and minorities need to be coddled, and they’re afraid that if a comic is saying something racist, that it’s a reflection on them and the way they really feel. They’re just fucking fraudulent. They make me sick. And they can be that way, that’s fine. Sometimes colleges will even give you a list of things you can’t talk about when you perform at their fucking school.
Yeah, dude, you don’t understand how bad they are. And all colleges don’t do this. I’m not saying all of them do. But it’s come up, where they say, ‘You can’t make fun of this and you can’t make fun of that. We really would rather you don’t do that.’ The military is doing that in some cases. It’s just disgusting– disgusting.
Before you get there do they talk to you, or is it the day of the show?
Both. I do so few colleges now that I kind of don’t have to deal with that anymore. They know what they’re getting when I come.
They’re booking you for a reason.
Yeah, I would never agree to that process now. But it’s just disgusting how if a black Muslim was speaking there, they would never dare try to tell him what he could or couldn’t say. But if a comic is performing, they think it’s OK to try and tell them what they should talk about and what they shouldn’t. If a musician were performing there, they would never, ever tell him what content he can and cannot cover. And with comedy, they feel like their creative input is needed. Bullshit. This is not just colleges. It’s all audiences.
Right. People will more likely look at art on canvas or music as real art and they don’t see stand-up like that.
Exactly. And meanwhile, stand-ups can’t live on the same song for 20 fucking years. You know what I mean? Jokes are contingent upon catching you off-guard to some degree. So the key to fucking getting what I need out of an audience is to catch them off-guard, for them not to see the punch line coming, or to hit them as a surprise, to a certain degree. Musicians don;t have that. So not only do they give fucking musicians complete creative freedom, but they allow musicians to hang on the same X amount of songs forever. And I’m not shitting on musicians, I’m just shitting on the way fucking audiences have this thing with comedians.
As far as keeping people on their toes with your jokes, do you have a strict writing regimen where you sit down and try to focus on using that technique or any other techniques?
I wish I did, bro. My regimen is I’m onstage every night. So a lot of times I’ll think of a concept I want to talk about– like I just started seeing somebody, and I’m like I want to talk about this fight we had or whatever. But then I won’t even allow myself to think too much about it before I go on. I’ll just think it through onstage at the Comedy Cellar [in New York City]. It’s really weird.
To me, creatively, that’s the way I work. That’s like my writing sessions now– the four nights a week I’m out at the Cellar, always trying material. And then on the other three nights I go out and do road gigs. Like I’ll go out and make my living. I mean, I’ll think of things and write them down, but I work best when I’m just comfortable onstage.
What would you say is the worst part about doing stand-up comedy?
The fact that every night, you’re starting with a clean slate. From one set to the other — and now I’ll be dramatic — you’re great or you suck. The other night at Stand-Up New York, I’m working on this five-minute set, I’m timing it out and seeing if it flows. And it killed at Stand-Up New York. And then I went to the Cellar and I died a horrible death. And that’s the way it is for us.
I’m sure musicians have that, too, and actors have that, too, but the response you want from stand-up is so completely direct. You’re yanking an emotion out of people, and it’s immediately apparent if you’re getting what you want. Yes or no, they laugh, they don’t laugh. So you immediately have fucking feedback. So you’ll get this immediate great feedback, and then 10 minutes later you go downtown, with the same material, and get much different feedback.
So you always have this sense of doubt with stuff, like no matter how many good shows you have in a row, if you have one or two dog shit sets in a row, you’re like ‘I am a fucking unfunny bag of vomit. I fucking suck.’ It’s because that low self-esteem is always there just waiting for a fucking chance to actually pop out and run the show, always. And it’s always waiting for an opportunity to just make you miserable.
When did you know you wanted to do stand-up full time?
I was 12. I saw Richard Pryor. I kind of knew that’s what I wanted to do, you know what I mean? I was always funny. I made them laugh in class. So when I saw him doing it, I’m like, oh, that’s where you go with this. I was 12 years old. I wish I had a more original answer, but every comic says Pryor.
When you talk about it in your act, you make it sound like you definitely didn’t have a blast as a child. Did you have a rough childhood?
My parents were nice. They took really good care of me. I was kind of spoiled. I was just a little douche, you know? I didn’t have to go to the school of hard knocks. I mean, my sexual addiction started very young, but that was my own fault. My mother and father were normal folks.
Your sexual addiction?
Yeah. I was a dirty little boy.
Just anyone I could get to suck my dick, I’d get to suck my dick. Second grade. I was really awful.
Yeah, I was a dirty boy.
How did that happen?
I don’t know. There must have been something in the water, or one really good molester. Because there was a bunch of us in the neighborhood who were fuckin’ involved in it, you know?
Yeah. First grade, second grade, third grade.
I know. I still remember the first time a girl put her ass in my face. Her name was Janice. She was a year older than me. I still remember how that ass felt on my face. It was lovely. It changed my life.
But your family is pretty normal and your parents are still together?
Still living, still married. I have a sister and a nephew. I don’t know what happened. I fucking just went off. I discovered prostitution and alcohol. I always liked to run away and escape to feel better, you know?
What were you escaping? Because it sounds like you had a pretty decent upbringing.
Low self-esteem. It was all low self-esteem, self-hatred, self-loathing shit. Every fucking comedian has it. We’re all a bunch of self-hating little jack-offs. I attempted suicide when I was like a senior in high school for attention. And I went to rehab like a little douche bag.
What did you go to rehab for?
Alcohol and drugs. Then I got sober when I was 18.
So you were a senior in high school when you attempted suicide?
Yeah. I was 18. It wasn’t a real attempt though.
How did you attempt it?
Wrist cutting. It was that phony, fucking-notice-me shit. I was a little melodramatic asshole.
At that point were you an unpopular guy?
No. People liked me because I was funny, but I was kind of weird. Kind of a white homeboy before it was fashionable. I was a real suburban embarrassment.
Were your parents supportive when you decided to do stand-up?
Yeah. I was three years sober. They were just happy I was doing something constructive. They’ve always been real supportive. That’s why I love my parents. A lot of guys have shit families.
Would you ever have kids yourself?
I’m not going to fucking have children, you know what I mean? They’re just awful. I don’t like any of them. I don’t know why anybody would want that little fucking shitbox in the house. I want nothing to do with kids. They’re awful. That’s why I’d never be a good pedophile, because I just fucking hate them so much. I hate to fucking have to talk to them. I hate them.
You currently have a girlfriend now, right?
Yeah. A very nice girl. I’m just hoping I don’t fuck it up, you know? I’ve liked her for a long time. She’s a nice girl. It’s fucking creepy. I don’t know what to do.
So you’re completely reformed?
Yeah. I mean, let’s hope so. I don’t think she’ll piss on me, so I’ve got to be nice.
You grew up in Jersey, right?
Yeah. In central New Jersey, North Brunswick and Edison. Then I moved to North Jersey. I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 30. I was a fucking homebody. I moved in with [comedian] Jim Florentine. He would have threesomes, and I’d get to watch. I watched him getting blown one time. I was hiding behind the bathroom door jerking off, and I got caught. It kind of wrecked things. I’m a pig. I love Florentine.
When you started stand-up, what other jobs were you doing?
Warehouse work. I drove a forklift. I did all kinds of warehouse and dog shit work. It was awful. It’s hard work, man. Then I just started doing open mics when I was 21. I’m very lucky to still be doing comedy.
I would imagine that you probably have a good amount of strange fans.
Have they done any bizarre things in your presence?
No but they instant message a lot, and they send a lot of weird e-mails. They offer to let me fuck their wives. That’s a very weird offer. But I’m accessible, so there’s no thrill in stalking me, really, because they know where I am.
They have your instant message address?
Yeah. I give it out on the air. I have a private one too. They know where to find me on MySpace and the Comedy Cellar. There’s no thrill in shooting me, I don’t think, because I’m not like the President, you know?
I’d never become an elitist as a comedian with the public. I can’t. I’m lucky. I’ve been on both sides. I have fans, and also I am a fan of a lot of people. So I know what it’s like to get blown off and shit. It hurts and it makes you feel bad. So I try real hard not to do it. I have a good relationship with them. I’m not scared of them. I don’t care how nuts they are. And some of them are motherfuckin’ nuts.
Talk to me a little bit about Opie and Anthony, and how the show has affected your stand-up career.
It made me a draw. I’m such a scumbag on that show, and they let me be one. It’s great. They never ask me to be a nice guy. I fuckin’ talk about piss, fucking hookers and they’re like ‘All right, fine.’ They never once asked me not to talk about something. So I attract people who are of a similar ilk.
That’s why my fucking fans are weirdos, because they find that shit amusing. I realize we’re kind of specific. We try to be like pop culture-savvy, I guess to appeal to a little more broad of an audience, but once you start getting into rape and pedophile stuff, you lose a certain percentage of distinguished listeners. But Opie and Anthony have been very good to me.
It seems like they’re very flexible, and they really encourage your stand-up, and they’re always kind of promoting you.
Yeah, they’re very good, man. I was loyal to them when we got kicked off the air. I never went to competitors, or people that they hated. They took good care of me, so I never turned on them either. There’s not that much loyalty in show business. It’s nice to have fucking people who are loyal to you. They’ve been good to me.
They seem like decent guys.
Oh, they’re great. But they have their moments. (laughs)
What happened with Lucky Louie? Did HBO cite any reasons why they canceled the show?
They never gave me one. I think it was a bad move for them. We had a good amount of viewers. I loved doing Lucky Louie. I just didn’t like the critics. I hate critics. I fucking hate them.
It seems a lot of critics are in it to be negative.
They’re elitist cunts. They are. They’re elitist cunts. They’re fucking phony motherfuckers. That’s why I hate them. I have no respect for them.
What’s an average day like for Jim Norton?
I get up at 5:15 a.m. I walk in the studio door at like five to six, sometimes when the opening music is playing. I’m home by noon, usually. I’ll usually look at Craig’s List and jerk off for a few hours. It’s awful. I try to sleep, work out, come and do a stand-up spot at night and I’m usually in bed by one in the morning, if possible. I don’t get much sleep.
It doesn’t sound like it.
No, man, it’s bad. My schedule is awful. If I didn’t jerk off, I’d get six hours, eight hours a night. I just can’t keep my hand off my dick. I’m like a fucking chimp.
But you’re working out. I noticed you look a lot slimmer.
Yeah, man. I’ve been trying. I had a message therapist in LA. She didn’t want to jerk me off. And then she kind of implied that she wasn’t attracted to me. And I looked at my mushy body and I’m like yeah, I’ve got to do some work.
So that was it?
Yeah. She was awful. She was an ex-fat chick, getting back at men. I hated her. She was an ex fatty. She just wanted to turn a guy down.
You’re run-in with this masseuse is what inspired you?
Yeah. Like this ex-fat pig wanted $1,000 to jerk me off.
I would have given her $30. It’s like, ‘Fucking eat some more S’mores. Chew on that, fatso. Have a Mallomar, you fat cunt.’
For more information on Jim Norton, check out www.eatabullet.com and www.foundrymusic.com.
**This joke is from a few years ago when Britney Spears wasn’t such a skank. It’s unclear whether Jim Norton still feels this way. Jim?