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[EXCLUSIVE] Jim Norton talks to us about his new special, bloggers and joke thieves

[EXCLUSIVE] Jim Norton talks to us about his new special, bloggers and joke thieves
Angie Frissore

Comedian Jim Norton is gearing up for the premiere of his brand new special on EPIX on August 23rd. American Degenerate, which was taped back in March at Boston’s Somerville Theatre, marks the third one—hour special from the Opie & Anthony co-host and proves why Norton is one of the most sought-after talents performing today.

A true comedy Renaissance man, Norton has achieved success in almost every form of media regardless of its guidelines, all the while maintaining his own uncompromising, take-no-prisoners comedic voice. His devoted fanbase spans the entire comedy spectrum, from gritty, unfiltered Opie & Anthony listeners to the broader Leno audience and everyone in between. In addition to his stand-up, Norton is a contributing writer for Esquire magazine, and the author of the books I Hate Your Guts (2008) and Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch (2007), both of which spent several weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. He is also a regular correspondent on The Tonight ShowThe Late Show With David LettermanLate night With Jimmy FallonJimmy Kimmel Live, Fox News’ Red EyeHannity, and Joy Behar.

He has also recently made his mark as a talking head on various talk shows, contributing to hot-button topics with his unapologetic, yet calm and rational logic. Norton recently made headlines with his appearance on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell where he debated rape jokes with blogger Lindy West.

By far Norton’s best body of work to date, American Degenerate offers fans an absolutely gut-busting hour of self-deprecating personal stories, awkward moments, and scathing social commentary – all within a setting that is very close to Norton’s heart (the comedian has amassed an enormous Boston fanbase and loves performing there). In celebration of the special’s premiere, Norton took some time to chat with me about Degenerate, the rise of the offended blogger, and that Patrice O’Neal joke thief.

AF: How are you doing, Jim?

JN: Good, good. Thanks for talking to me.

AF: My pleasure. I have to say, I watched American Degenerate last night and, hands down, probably the funniest I’ve seen at least this year – probably longer than that.JN: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that. Yeah, I’m pretty happy with this one, and I’m usually never happy with anything. So, I thank you.

AF: I was literally howling with laughter, which I haven’t done in ages.

JN: Oh, great! Thank you, that’s so nice to hear.

AF: And, being from Boston, it’s always exciting when someone records a show here, so seeing you at the Somerville Theatre makes it that much more special.

JN: Yeah, I really love to work in Boston, you know what I mean? It’s one of my best markets, and it was right before the bombing. I wish it was after so I could have addressed it, you know. But it was really, really good. I love working up there. I wanted to tape in Boston the year before, for Please Be Offended, but it just wasn’t possible, so I’m happy I was able to do it.

AF: And your fans were obviously just as happy since the shows sold out in what, minutes?

JN: Yeah, both shows sold out pretty quickly.

AF: Can’t beat that.

JN: I’m definitely happy.

AF: So there are two main things I wanted to pick your brain on that are going on right now. You had addressed this in your special a little bit; the issue of these bloggers that are routinely getting more and more offended at comedy shows, which is a hot button for me too. I wrote a piece not too long ago about that, in support of comedy. Do you find that comics are sort of adjusting themselves with a little bit of uneasiness in regards to this?

JN: Here’s what I think:  I think comedians are more prepared to defend what they’ve said. A lot of times, you always just kind of say whatever you want, and now you realize you may have to defend anything even remotely controversial. So I think comedians are a bit more prepared about defending themselves.I wanted to stress something about this special, because Lindy West (from Jezebel) and I had this debate on W. Kamau Bell’s show, and I disagreed with her stance, but I like her. I genuinely like her. And this special was taped before I had ever heard of her – this was taped before we debated, before I ever read her, so this was not in reference to her. I want to make it clear – I feel bad almost that she and I had this debate, and we kind of remained friends after. I don’t want it to seem like I would be duplicitous enough to have a friendly debate with her and then address blogging harshly like I was being a cocksucker to her. You know what I’m saying? I want that to be clear that this was not addressed towards her; this was towards…the woman who blogged about the Tosh jokes, I don’t know who she is. I don’t know if she was ever named.

AF: I don’t think she was.

JN: Yeah, okay.

AF: I was thinking about this earlier today. I had a very staunch feminist friend of mine actually apologize on Facebook, saying, you know, comedy is comedy and she shouldn’t take it so seriously.

JN: That’s really all it is, you know?

AF: It really is. I grew up with Sam Kinison – I watched him when I was eight years old, and I didn’t end up any worse for wear because of it.

JN: Well, what’s offensive – that’s a word that’s transitory. What’s okay today is not okay tomorrow, and what’s edgy and won’t get you in trouble is edgy today and will get you in trouble tomorrow. What really bothers me about the rape arguments is to imply that by doing rape jokes, you don’t take rape seriously. I do pedophile jokes, and I think pedophiles should be executed. I do drunk driving jokes, I do a tremendous amount of harsh humor, and they say, ‘Well, humor shouldn’t minimalize.” Humor should do whatever you want it to do in that joke. Sometimes you minimalize a horrible thing. If you’re doing it and the motive is to be funny, it does not mean that you don’t value the real experience or that you don’t take the real experience seriously. There’s a poster out right now [for a movie] called Two Guns. Why does nobody think that Denzel and Mark Wahlberg are pointing real guns? Because they understand it’s a movie poster. So, even though a comedian expresses their real views, we exaggerate. We get ridiculous; we twist things; we make fun of the things that we actually care about. Why are we not looked at in the same way as that movie poster where you understand, ‘Yeah, we’re saying something, but it’s in the context of a performance and the idea is to be funny,’? You know what I’m saying? It drives me crazy that comics are being called out and yet they still show people shooting each other in movies. It makes me sick.

AF: Exactly, it’s a very big double standard.

JN: The only thing I said that I regret, and honestly, I don’t even regret it, is that I kind of minimalized bloggers. And in fairness, they do have – and I never said that they shouldn’t have the right – but I came off with a resentful tone. But you know what? They really are no different than comedians. They’re just expressing their opinion like we are. So what they do is just as valid as what we do. Looking back on it, I kind of wish I didn’t come off like I was minimalizing the validity of them expressing their opinion, even though I completely disagree with it. Does that make sense?

AF: It does, and I think in your defense, because you did so while on stage, surrounded by your fans, I think it’s a little less viewed that way outwardly – almost like you were in a safe place to do so.

JN: Okay. Yeah, I think so. I hope so.

AF: Now over to another hot topic – Kain Carter, the YouTube guy who is literally stealing material verbatim from Patrice O’Neal. What are your thoughts on this guy?

JN: You know, I haven’t listened…I heard a few of the jokes, and I watched Kain Carter’s defense video, when he came out recently and said, ‘I’m not a comic.’When you look at music, you have guys taking from each other all the time and sampling. But when it’s done, you know that they’re sampling. You know that it’s coming from someplace else. He should have credited Patrice to begin with, or directed people. But now that all this stuff is happened (he said it’s only a few videos), he should probably take those videos down and just get on with things and do what he does. He’s not a stand-up comic; I don’t know how I feel about it to be honest with you. If it was a stand-up comic doing it, I would want to gut him with a knife. In listening to this guy’s explanation, I can’t say I hate the guy for it, but as a friend of Patrice, what I would like to see him do is, the few videos that are taking Patrice’s stuff, I would prefer – again, it’s up to him – I would prefer he take those down. Anything that’s plagiarizing Patrice – if he respects Patrice, he should take those down and just try to go back to doing things the way  he was doing it. I have less of an issue with it because he’s not a stand-up. It bothers me, but it would bother me a lot more if he was a stand-up. It’s one of those things where he’s been called out on it – it’s embarrassing, I’m sure – and he’s addressing it, and I think the fair thing to do would be to take the videos that plagiarize Patrice down out of respect for him.What a lot of people don’t realize is, when you sample a song – because there are people that cover songs all the time – you do credit the artist when you do it. But people cover songs all the time. The difference between music and jokes and comedic thought is that comedic thought and jokes work because they catch you off guard, or they’ve hit you when you’re not looking, and you can only do that once with a thought. If you watch a political panel, five people can paraphrase the exact same point – on Hannity or Nancy Grace or whoever it is – and it’s okay. But if five people paraphrase the same joke, you want to murder them by the second person doing it. It ceases to catch you off guard once you’ve heard it. That’s why Guns n’ Roses can still do ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ but if I go out and do the same jokes I’m doing ten years ago people want to lynch me. And probably the fact that I just compared myself to Guns n’ Roses makes people want to lynch me.Personally, I didn’t really like this guy, I heard his explanation, and what I prefer he did was just take down those particular videos. And, you know, if you respect Patrice and you love Patrice, maybe you link to some of his stuff. Maybe because he’s not a comic – and I’m just going on what I saw of his video – maybe he didn’t realize what an offense that is in our world.  Him not being a stand-up makes a huge difference to me. But then again, authors know better than to plagiarize, so plagiarizing is always wrong, but I would say if he was a comedian I’d be 100% against him. I have not seen all the videos; the clips I saw were not good, they were verbatim Patrice. I understand doing that and wanting to make those thoughts yours. I understand the desire to do that. You think I don’t want to steal from Carlin or Pryor? Of course I do, but you can’t, because you’re cheating a genius out of their originality. And that’s what he’s doing. I don’t think he means to do that; I don’t think he’s thought it through, like I want to take this genius thing – and really, Patrice was – and minimalize what he said by just trying to say the same shit. It makes it less special if you say it after Patrice has said it. It makes it less important. That’s all Patrice had – this legacy and these brilliant things he said – and they aren’t things that can just be re-said without crediting him. You know what I mean? I don’t think his intent was that shitty. I think what he did was stupid, but I don’t think his intent was as evil as known comic joke thieves.

AF: So perhaps it was born out of ignorance?

JN: Yeah, and laziness. It’s lazy thinking, and it is self-centered to do. I’m not letting him off the hook and going, ‘Hey, it’s fine,’ but he’s a kid. He knew better, but I don’t think it was with the intent. Comics are coming up to him with a visceral hatred, and I’m happy to see them defending Patrice, but I just don’t know 100% how to feel about it. I’ve never spoken to this guy; it’s hard for me to know what’s in his heart or what his intentions are. With joke thieves, it’s very easy for me to be very angry at them in general.

AF: Yeah, it’s definitely a question of motivation.

JN: If he wants to honor Patrice, then he should put a few Patrice clips up and do a lead-in to it, and say, ‘I’ve learned a lot from this genius who is dead unfortunately,’ and then maybe send the link. People will go and buy Patrice’s Elephant in the Room and they’ll buy DVDs and CDs and his family – if anybody knows anything about Patrice is that he loved his mother. That is one thing about Patrice – he loved his mom. He loved his girl, of course, but his fucking mom was his best friend.  So anybody who knows anything about Patrice O’Neal knows if you want to honor him, you treat his mother well – and the way to do that is to link people to his material and to his CDs and DVDs, because that helps them. That’s how you honor Patrice.

AF: Yeah, that’s all supporting them and we’ve got the new Unreleased coming out.

JN: Yeah, absolutely. So I think that there is a way for him – he has a voice, he has a lot of Youtube followers. In my mind, he could do the right thing and that would be to give a video and go, ‘Look, this is a little clip of the guy who means a lot to me.’ He could somehow direct people to him, that’s all.

AF: Well you’ve definitely softened my opinion of him, that’s for sure. So thank you for that.

JN: Again, I may hear something else that changes my opinion tomorrow. I’ve looked at it on Twitter; I’ve commented on it briefly, but I have not been able to hate this guy because he was doing these things from his house. Maybe it’s the same thing, really, but it’s in a different form, so I didn’t get quite as angry. Believe me, if he was on stage, I would do nothing but blast him on the radio. I would spend four hours doing it; it’s all Opie and Anthony would do.  Again, I’m not 100% either way on it, but I know I’m not happy about it. Hopefully he does the right thing, that’s all.

AF: Yeah, we’ll see. Hopefully he does. So what’s next on the horizon for you with the release of the special? Will you be touring to promote that?

JN: I’m not doing a whole lot of gigs coming up because I want to have new material, but I have probably a good 20-25 minutes of material already. I’m very happy with the new stuff I have, but I want to have enough to go out and do presentable shows. I don’t want to give people the bullshit they just heard on TV. You want it to be a new set; you want people to get their money’s worth. That’s what I’m working on now. I have enough to go out in, like, a couple of months – maybe by October.

To celebrate the premiere of American Degenerate, New Wave Entertainment will be releasing Norton’s 2012 EPIX special, Please Be Offended, on CD, DVD and digitally on August 20. The special, recorded at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland, premiered on EPIX last year, and was the highest rated comedy special premiere in the network’s history.

So cancel your plans, set your DVRs – do whatever you need to do, but don’t miss the EPIX premiere of Jim Norton’s American Degenerate on Friday, August 23.

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