Raw, wry and uproarious, Jim Norton has been treading the boards of standup since the early ’90s, carving a name for himself through his countless performances on TV (most visibly as a comedy correspondent for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno), radio (he’s a regular on The Opie & Anthony Radio Show), and his own bestselling books, comedy specials, film appearances and live shows (he recently launched the Anti-Social Comedy Tour, which marked the return of Artie Lange).
Norton is currently doing a string of gigs at New York’s famed Carolines on Broadway through April 1, and also in April will hit Washington, D.C., Newport, Kentucky and Cleveland, Ohio, where he will tape his next one-hour special, Please Be Offended, for EPIX and Comedy Central. In part one of this exclusive interview, I spoke with the New Jersey-born wit about preparing for the special, touring with the now-sober Lange, and his severe self-doubt that comes with—or despite of—his success.
Tell us about your upcoming plans.
I’m warming up for a special, so I have these Carolines shows and I’m in Washington, D.C. for a couple of weeks. These are all to warm up for the hour special that I’m shooting in Cleveland on April 28th.
So the Carolines dates are more of a test run for the special?
The material’s all new from the last special. I’m going to give you pretty much what the special is. There might be a few differences here and there, but I think at this point I’m just running through the special, making little changes here and there, a few tweaks here and there, but I pretty much know what it’s going to be. So now it’s just a matter of the redundancy of it, preparing for actually taping it.
I saw you on the Anti-Social Comedy Tour at the Borgata in Atlantic City, and I mean this in the best possible way: Your set was the most “normal,” or least misanthropic.
Is this a new direction for you, in terms of your material going to the more “bigger world” kind of stuff?
No, I’ve always kind of gone back and forth. I fluctuate—one set will be really dirty, and then one set will be clean. And not from night to night, but from year to year. I’ll do an hour that will have a little political stuff and social stuff in it, and then I start doing the sexual stuff. It all depends on where I am in my life.
When I’m single, I do more sexual stuff because I tend to be out doing more sh*t, like perverted stuff. But I try to go back and forth. I’m always trying to do a certain amount of topical stuff, because the dirty stuff just gets dirty if that’s all I’m doing; I don’t enjoy just doing that. The second CD I did was called Trinkets I Own Made From Gorilla Hands—a lot of that was not dirty at all, you know? I try to go back and forth with it.
Tell us some more about the special and the decision to do it in Cleveland.
I wanted to do it in Cleveland because I have a really big fan base there and I haven’t been there in two years. It’s really one of those markets where the crowds are just really just savage and aggressive; they’re very, very good for me. They’re like Boston crowds in a way—they’re really hardcore Opie & Anthony fans, and that’s what I wanted to tape. And I don’t think a lot of things are being taped in Cleveland, so I wanted to go there and tape something—it’s just important to me and my fans. You don’t want to tape something where they’re just showing up; you really want them to be there to see you.
It becomes an event.
Yeah, you want it to be an event. Absolutely.
Do you have a title for it?
Yeah. it’s called Please Be Offended.
For your next Anti-Social Comedy tour date in June, I noticed that Nick DiPaolo will be performing with you guys instead of Doug Stanhope. Was it intended from the start for this to be a flexible lineup?
We always knew it was going to rotate. Doug said from the beginning that he didn’t want to do the entire tour. We had talked to Nick about doing some dates, but a lot of these guys just want to just bounce in and out, because it’s hard for anybody to commit to a tour when these guys have their own sh*t going on, you know?
What was up with the outfit Doug was wearing at the Borgata show? He looked like a used car salesman from the early ’70s.
Hard to say, Doug is nuts. Doug is really crazy, so you never know what he’s really thinking. I’m just happy he had pants on, you know? I’m glad he showed up with some clothing. The fact that it was a mismatched outfit was fine with me that as long as his dick and balls weren’t hanging out, I was okay with it. He’s absolutely an odd guy.
How did Artie Lange get involved?
He and I had talked a while ago about doing these, and then he kind of had his share of trouble [Lange attempted suicide in early 2010 and ended his association with The Howard Stern Show—Ed.] and he kind of laid low for a while. And I saw him at the [Comedy] Cellar, and he told me about a gig we did together once years ago at the Tower Theater in Philly, and it was Howard [Stern] fans and Opie & Anthony fans, and everybody got along.
Howard’s fans treat me well and O&A fans treat him well. So [Artie] goes, “Dude, why don’t we just do some more gigs? Let’s go out and make some money.” So we did Anti-Social, he wanted to do them and he was psyched to do them. A lot of people, including Howard’s fans, were just happy to see Artie back; I feel like they never had closure with him. Like, he was just there and all of a sudden he was just gone. So the response to him was very, very warm; they were really happy that he was out and about, doing okay. And he was great onstage—he was comfortable and relaxed and funny, and he talked about what happened, so it was great to have him on those shows, and he’s doing a lot of them with us.
It’s good to have him back. How is it being with him on this tour? What have you observed about his behavior and personality since he’s been through so much?
The first time I worked with him, he was a great guy to work with. And he’s just happy that we’re all sober, because he’s sober, and he doesn’t want to be with guys that are getting high and drinking, you know? With him, he sees that we’re all sober, so it makes it easier for him to know that there’s not going to be constant temptation. So he’s been very mellow on the road, you know? He just kind of hangs out, happy to see the fans.
Tell us about your comedy correspondence stuff with The Tonight Show.
I’ve done a lot of stuff for them. I did the Grammys, I’ve done spring breaks, the opening games for football. They have me go out once a month to either a good studio or to go out and do “man on the street” stuff. It’s always horrifying, because you spend a day or two taping these things, and then you’re like, “Oh, God, am I going to completely suck? Are they going to find six good minutes out of this?” and I have no faith in any of my own performances. So I’m always horrified until I see it going smoothly.
But you’ve done so much at this point. People know what to expect when they see you.
You might be right, dude, but I literally feel like an abject failure, and I feel like nobody recognizes me. I’m really bizarre; I feel like I’ve done literally nothing in 20 years. It’s a really weird thing to feel. Maybe other performers do, too, but I feel like when I’m on The Tonight Show I feel like nobody will remember me; when I’m on Opie & Anthony, nobody will give a sh*t. It’s just this thing I tell myself, which may be silly, but it’s where my head is at. So I never feel like I’m succeeding. Ever.
A lot of comedy has its roots in inadequacy.
Your books were best sellers. Even in your own words, those were surprise successes. Do you have a third one planned?
Yeah, I really want to do another one. It’s something about relationships; I just don’t know exactly what. And the book market—you know, the economy took a turn for the worse and the book market suffered. So I want to do another one, I’m just not sure when. But I absolutely want to do another one; that’s certainly on the agenda.
Read part two here.
Jim Norton performs at Carolines on Broadway through April 1, the DC Improv in Washington, D.C. April 12-14, The Funny Bone in Newport, Kentucky April 19-21, and the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland on April 28. Jim hosts the next Anti-Social Comedy Tour at Comix @ Foxwoods in Ledyard, Connecticut on June 9. For more information and tickets, visit Jim online at www.eatabullet.com.
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