Jim Norton has emerged as one of the most versatile and unique voices in comedy. On top of writing and performing standup routines, Norton has done Netflix specials, been in multiple television series, contributed to several radio shows and podcasts, written two New York Times bestselling books and appeared in Netflix’s The Irishman.
Looking forward to his upcoming tour stop at The Queen Wilmington, Norton recently spoke to Delaware Today about his start in comedy, his inspirations and the many rewards and challenges of being a comedian in 2022.
I have. I think it was The Queen last time I was there. I try to do every city once every couple of years so I have a new hour of material. I never want to repeat, so it’s a totally new hour. The pandemic was great for jokes because there were so many things surrounding that. There were always new things coming out and just where we were at, culturally. Coming up with material happened pretty fast.
[Comedy] was honestly just something I always wanted to do that I never thought I would do. I signed up for this New Talent Night in New Jersey in 1990 because I wanted this girl I was dating to think I was cool. If I had known anything about comedy, I would say that’s the last thing you should do if you’re looking to get women. Get into a band. I really screwed up.
I never expected to actually do it. I said, “Eh, I’ll sign up,” and I knew something would prevent me from going through with it, but nothing did. I did it, and I couldn’t believe I did. I just started showing up once a month for New Talent Night, and it was about a year before I got a paid gig.
But what made it happen was just showing up, always writing material, and getting on stage as much as possible.
The run on The Opie and Anthony Show would have to be the favorite. It was an extremely popular show and had an influence on the ways people podcast and attitudes in podcasting. It’s nice to know that we had—maybe some negative influence—but some positives, too.
Lucky Louie, the HBO sitcom which really should’ve gotten more credit. It was very funny. Also, Tough Crowd. One of the greatest compliments I get is that young comedians tell me that they were influenced by it or that they watch it and it means something to them. That always feels great. It also makes me feel old, but I’m happy I’m around to hear that.
Those are the three I can think of that meant the most.
Richard Pryor is the first and the one I loved the most. I wish I had a better answer because every comedian over 30 says Richard Pryor. I’d have to say him, George Carlin, Woody Allen, Robert Klein and Joan Rivers. Those were the five for me that I loved growing up. I would stay up late and watch all those guys, tape their sets, play them back and pretend I was saying those things. I’ve always thought Joan Rivers was underrated. Everybody knows she was great, but she should be mentioned in the top five comics. She should make all of those “top five” lists and unfortunately she doesn’t.
You know, that will change from week to week. It’s really hard to say. Sometimes if my show sucks and I bomb, then radio is my favorite part. If I have a boring show on the radio then I kill that night on stage, standup is my favorite. It’s kind of like a whack-a-mole. One pops up here and one pops up there…that’s my favorite.
But if I had to pick one overall, I’d say standup because the reaction is so immediate and it’s around you. The laughter is almost a physical thing hitting you. You’re in the room with a lot of people making them all laugh. You can even make them laugh about things they disagree with because the joke is good. You don’t have to change opinions but it’s just funny to get people to laugh at things they don’t agree with.
No. I think the “sensitivity” people are displaying is not real. It’s based in a desire to be heard. People are using jokes to springboard into a larger conversation and to do that they say that it’s triggering. If that’s the case, how come nobody is having this discussion about actors and what kind of roles they’re allowed to play, or authors and what subjects they can write books about? I’ll believe that the culture is triggered by jokes when there’s not a line around the block to see It. Nobody complains about John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez or Ted Bundy documentaries. Nobody gets mad at anyone involved. But if you joke about the wrong subject people expect an apology.
I don’t believe that’s really outrage. I think it’s desire for attention and the outrage is just a mask for that. People’s perspective of what is “pushing the envelope” is very selective according to what makes them comfortable, and what their personal circle of “appropriate” is.
I used to go watch Paul Mooney, and there were a lot of things he said that I disagree with. But you know what? I laughed. I never thought he should get in trouble because I didn’t agree with him. A comic’s job is not to change your mind. It’s to express a point of view or to make fun of the world and everything in it. People say, “Being a comedian is a responsibility.” That’s a lie. It’s just an excuse as to why a comedian is punishable. You can’t say “Hey, I don’t like you so you shouldn’t be allowed to say that.” It’s too revealing of a narcissistic motivation. So you have to put a higher motive to it: “You’re dangerous and you’re hurting people.” It’s just not true.
Really hard to say because Pryor is my favorite comedian, and I loved that he talked about his personal life so much, but he and I are extremely different comedians. I love the way Carlin expressed his disgust for people, although I’ll never be as good at it as him. Of course Robert Klein, the way he delivered jokes. It would have to be a combination of those people.
If I had to pick one person as an inspiration in life, it might be Travis Tefft. He’s our radio show producer, and the way he lives his life is how we all strive to be.
Doors open for the show at The Queen at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 4. You can find more details for the show and purchase tickets here.