One of the most sucessful stand-ups working today, Jim Norton is most well known for his role on the HBO sitcom Lucky Louie and as the explicit, brutally honest "third mic" on The Opie and Anthony Show. He's also one of my favorite comics. Download a free track from his Yellow Discipline album here.
When some comedians write books, they simply transcribe their sets. For "Happy Endings-, you opted to write entirely new stories. How did this process differ from writing jokes for a live performance?
First of all, comedians who transcribe their acts and sell it as a book are lazy and should be shot in the face with a sh*t gun. They're looking to milk a few more dollars out of material instead of coming up with new ideas. It's a different writing process because you can go back and correct it fifty times before anyone sees it. A rule of thumb when writing is that whenever you're stuck searching for the proper way to phrase something, 'c*nt' is a fantastic go-to word.
In your stand-up and writing, you talk about prostitutes, masturbation and fat chicks. Some comics would use this material for shock value; with you it seems emotionally honest. Now that you're a successful comedian, do you still connect with your earlier material?
I have never really believed in shock value in comedy. I've watched beheading videos (real hard-on killers), the entire country watched 9-11 footage; nothing a person says in humor is shocking. People who are shocked by humor are lying and looking for attention from the people around them. F*ck them. They're the same self-righteous jizzbuckets who would criticize Tiger Woods ten minutes after they ate a tranny's ass behind their wife's back (an activity I support completely). As far as earlier material, some of it is very primitive and I don't connect with it; I've either outgrown the ideas or the ways I conveyed them. A lot of the early stuff I listened to recently and was surprised at how much of it I still liked it. I always did and still do hate watching myself. I cringe at my creepy, rapid eye blinking and fat neck.
Is it hard to keep performing your material without becoming a persona or character? Is there a difference between Jim Norton, stand-up, and Jim Norton, person?
People only become personas or characters if they aren't being honest onstage. I am. I'm certainly not always right, but I try to be emotionally honest. Personas annoy the sh*t out of me, and most comics who use them have the offstage personality of a cadaver's asshole. I say most because there are guys who are kind of persona-driven but are funny and interesting offstage. But the majority of persona-driven acts should have Molotov cocktails thrown at them. As far as myself is concerned, offstage I'm much more levelheaded and compassionate than I am onstage. I actually want to create a persona that is just like me, but with a stronger chin and fatter cock.
Many comics seem to only view stand-up as a shortcut to less demanding and more lucrative pursuits. Have you ever felt tempted to leave stand-up completely?
Nah, my acting is mediocre at best. I open my eyes too wide when I want to express emotion, which gives me away as an asshole, rookie actor in auditions. I respect guys like Sandler and Jim Carrey, who were both really good comics before they acted full time. Guys who are just using stand up to be noticed for acting rolls I have a particular hatred for. Nothing makes me sicker than some dullard (who's way too good looking to be doing stand up to begin with), wasting everyone's time with his shitty, seven minute 'industry set'.
You have an amazing cameo in Spider-man. How did that come about?
In the audition they requested we improv some man on the street lines about Spider-Man. I figured everyone was praising him, so I said that he stinks. I was hired. They originally asked me to audition as the bulge in the front of his pants, but I kept forgetting my lines and making the 'yummy' noise.
Chuck Palahniuk said "Self-improvement is masturbation." Thoughts?
I'd have to say it's not true, because I never practiced 'self-improvement' while watching German shit videos.
You've appeared on Leno, you've also come to his defense with some very rational, levelheaded arguments. Looking back on the Leno/Conan situation, do you think there's a reason the politics of Late Night became such a big deal?
I wanted to spit on people who were killing Jay for this. And by that, I don't mean people who love Conan or Letterman and dislike Jay, I mean these ignorant babies who thought Jay should just 'retire' while he's number one. The guy works harder than anyone, is tremendously successful and people still find a reason to shit on him. Fucking dickheads. And I'd say that even if I didn't know him. It became huge news because of the high profile nature of those jobs; both of those guys are in our living rooms for five hours a week. That said, I thought it was hilarious that this asshole country was almost polarized into civil war over two millionaire comedians on late night television. We really are a nation of shitty priority-havers.
You've performed all over the country at every level of stand-up – is there a size of venue or audience with which you're most comfortable?
Four or five hundred people in a comedy club is the perfect size and energy, for a theater about a thousand or twelve hundred. You want there to be enough people where it feels like an event, but not too many where you have to treat every joke like you're the headline act at Ozzfest.
Who are the comics (if any) working today that can always make you laugh?
I think Colin Quinn is the funniest stand up working. I have never seen him onstage and not laughed. Of course Attell and Chris Rock are both brilliant as well. I try not to watch comedians at all, because it depresses me when I see great comics saying things that didn't even occur to me. Sit down at the Comedy Cellar in New York and watch Dave Attell on the Friday late show; you'll want to blow your fucking brains out.
YouTube, MySpace, and the Internet in general have they been helpful to comedy?
For the most part, yes, although a lot of my stuff that's on YouTube is audio from Opie & Anthony. You hate for your new jokes to show up there because then people see them before they see you live in a club, but I haven't noticed that hurting live performances for me. I think overall they've been great, they give a lot of exposure to people, which in a way greatly loosens the stranglehold the dummies that currently run show business have on making people famous.
One of your hobbies is taking photos with celebrities. Has this gotten any easier as you've become more successful? Is there any particular celebrity you want but have been unable to get so far?
My moderate success as an entertainer has nothing to do with it, the fact I point a .45 at them helps get the photos done. One picture I badly wanted was Bobby Fischer, but I won't be getting that one, since he went, as mother used to say, bye-bye in the box. I'd love one with Robert DeNiro, although if I had to choose, number one on my celebrity pic list would be an 8 × 10 of Megan Fox using my face as a bicycle seat. (Or Kathy Bates, if Megan's unavailable).