Just for Laughs exclusive - Jim Norton interview

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Very few comics are as raw and honest as Jim Norton.  The level of personal transparency in Jim's act allows audiences to see the darkest corners of his soul.  He simply leaves it all onstage.  Dubbed the "third mic" on XM radio's the Opie and Anthony Show, Jim is the host of and the mastermind behind one of the most anticipated comedy tours in the last several years, the "Anti-Social Network" tour.  The tour includes a stacked line up with comedians: Dave Attell, Bill Burr, and Jim Breuer, as well as Norton.  

You can catch the show at the Chicago Theatre on Wednesday, June 15th at 7:30 PM.  BUY TICKETS
The comics from the tour will also be participating in a live broadcast of Jim Breuer's XM radio show at Rockit Bar and Grill (22 West Hubbard) on Wednesday, June 15th at 1:00 PM before the Chicago Theatre show.  Rockit's Website
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CAC: How did you get the idea for the tour?
JN: You get bored just touring by yourself and it's harder to sell tickets now, unless you're Louie C.K.  There's very few guys who are selling.  I wanted to get a couple other guys who I knew sold well and like working with.  I was actually surprised I got all 3 of them.  It's a 4-headliner show.  I figured maybe I would get 1 or 2 of them.  But surprisingly Breuer, Bill, and Dave were all available.  

CAC: You mentioned Louie C.K... Did starting out around that kind of talent in New York make all you guys better as comics?
JN: Yeah, I think so.  I started in Jersey.  Louie and Dave are ahead of me as far as that, they're kind of the class ahead of mine, they're in the same one as Chris Rock.  I hate to say "class," but you know what I mean.  They came after Seinfeld, he was like in 76 when he started, the same time as Colin (Quinn) that group.  But coming up right behind those guys, you're forced to be better.  Because I got into it in 1990 and the boom of the 80's was over so a lot of places weren't doing as much Comedy, especially by 92' and 93.'  So if you sucked, it was going to be harder for you to get work.  Where in the late 80's, anybody who could grab a mic could headline because every place was doing stand up.  

CAC: Who were the guys you came up with?
JN: I came up with Jim Florentine, Keith Robinson, Patrice O'Neal, Giraldo obviously, Tom Papa.  That's the group I'm in.  There's a lot of really good comedians in this group.  I don't know what the separation is between "groups," you just kind of know which one you're in, kind of who you saw as your peers coming up.  I never flipped with Attell where he would close and I would close.  He would always headline on the road if I ever worked with him.  I was the opener, he was the headliner.  Guys like Keith and Tom I kind of flopped back and forth with.  


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                    Jim and the late Greg Giraldo 

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CAC: I heard a story recently that Louie C.K. slapped a pizza out of your hands a while ago and called your mother a "c**t."  Do you have more examples of how mean you guys were to each other in New York?
JN: He slapped it out of my hand.  That became a scene on Lucky Louie.  Me, Patrice, and Keith, and Kevin Hart, we used to always take each other to "Hack Court."  Which means we would say you're going to "Hack Court" and quote one of the bits and say why it's f***ing hack.  And normally we would convict each other regardless of merit.  Because it was just fun to convict your friends of being a f***ing hack.  There was nothing worse than being onstage and doing a bit that was questionable and kind of generic and 1 of the guys would walk in, so you knew that you were going to get beat up.  It's like when we did Tough Crowd (with Colin Quinn).  If you did any of that applause-generating nonsense, Colin was gonna murder you, and the other guys would murder you, DiPaolo, all those other guys, we would kill each other for that sh*t.  So you learn to get away from that.  The stuff like "Hey man, we just gotta be good to each other as people," the horrible sh*t that comedians do just for cheap, slut applause, we learned not to do that.  

CAC: I think there's never going to be a show like Tough Crowd.  It was like being inside your guys' minds on the comedy scene there.  There were no forced questions, you were just riffing.

JN: Yeah, we were just friends too and friends always attack each other.  That's the beauty of it.  When you're with your friends you attack each other.  

CAC: How did you become a mainstay on Opie and Anthony?
JN: I started going on when I was working with Dice many years ago.  And I started just coming in and just doing regular segments.  Then me and Lewis Black got arrested in 2000 for being on a bus full of naked girls, and we spent the night in jail for the radio show.  Then Opie said, "Hey man, whenever you want to come, just feel free to come."  I just kept going in then Opie said, "We're going to get you paid eventually, we want you to be on all the time."  A year later I just kept coming in and eventually started getting paid and I just became a regular.  It really was a slow process.  It took over a year before I started making money from the show.  But it eventually happened, just like he said it would.  

CAC: What do you think it is about the show that allows comics to riff so well with you, Opie, and Anthony?
JN: I think there's not a need to be funnier than the guest.  When Patrice comes in, I love doing radio with Patrice.  Obviously Louie is brilliant when he comes on.  Any of those guys, Dave, Bill.  The fans love Burr... and Breuer.  I'll watch Breuer do a 45-minute story on the radio sometimes.  And I don't need to keep jumping in.  I think that when somebody is killing we are all enjoying it like an audience.  It's not 1 or 2 segments and done, you can hang for an hour and a half, 2 hours if we're not busy.  It really is much more like a hang, so we behave towards each other like that.  


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CAC: Something that recently gained national attention on the show is the whole Weiner scandal breaking while you were on it.  Can you talk about how it started?
JN: Breitbart is a friend of mine.  I know Andrew from doing Red Eye with him on Fox, and Anthony knew him casually.  So he came in and he has the photo of the hard-on.  And Vincent D'Onofrio was on that day, we had a tremendous show, Glenn Close had come in.  It was a really good list of people.  And this moment, it was myself, Opie and Anthony, D'Onofrio, and Breitbart.  So he's showing the picture to me and D'Onofrio.  The whole thing was being filmed by our camera guy, it was very obvious it was being filmed.  There was nothing secretive about it.  He stands between Opie and Anthony with a camera and just holds it. It's very obvious, you can't miss it.  When Breitbart was taking out the photo he goes, "Ahh I don't know..."  I go, "Come on man, not on the camera."  I thought he was just going to show it to me and Vince D'Onofrio.  I was letting him know that I was not going to take a picture of it.  Because I wasn't, and neither was Vincent.  I didn't foresee it being passed around the room.  Opie and Anthony, they admit, they just got carried away.  They saw this opportunity.  Because they don't get scoops.  Radio shows, we don't get the skinny on things. They just acted like asses and took a picture of it and Twittered it.  It wasn't to be shitty to Breitbart, because the media is really killing him for that.  It really was the fault of the show. He was not in on it.  It was not some plan.  He was fuming.  I talked to him later that night and he was genuinely angry about it.  He felt like he had been deceived.  But nobody planned on deceiving him, I'm being really honest here.  Nobody was like, "Alright, let's get that pig!" It was 1 of those dumb things where they couldn't handle it when they saw it.  They were like, "This is the picture, we're never going to have this chance again," and they just did it. Because they figured it was going to be out sooner or later anyway, because obviously he had sent it out to some girl in Texas.  That picture was coming out.  Although I don't believe Breitbart would have put it out.  I really believed when he said he was taking the high road with it.  I think he felt good about the fact that he had broke the story and wasn't showing that final d*ck picture.  And he's very bothered that it came out and had something to do with him.  But he was showing it to his friends, who cares?  Of course you're going to show that to your friends.  I show pictures of my own d*ck to my friends, I certainly would if I had a congressman.

CAC: I think it definitely would have broke too.  Because those girls were on TV immediately. They're definitely going to be sending it out to websites and magazines.  I really don't think the show was at fault that much.
JN: I don't either, to be honest with you.  Because there's so much stuff coming out like all these transcripts and stuff.  I think with Andrew it was a principle thing.  I mean there's no face in it.  It's not like he's banging an underaged chick.  But I felt bad for that.  I really did. Because the media kills Breitbart, he likes to get stories on people.  But I'm a man of my word.  I'm not a f***ing liar, and I wasn't trying to deceive him when I said, "There's no cameras."  And I talked to him that night and made him understand that.  Because I'm a pervert and I'm a lot of things but I'm not some deceptive scumbag.  And no, they weren't trying to be deceptive.  I mean literally they just couldn't believe they were holding the picture, and they acted like f***ing teenage idiots.  And they'll be the first to admit that.  The only thing I feel bad for is that people think Breitbart was duplicitous, and he really wasn't. That's the only thing I have a problem with is people are attacking him for it.  Should he have known better than to pass it around while there's a guy filming with a camera?  Yeah. But I think he was going on a 3-day media binge and he was probably half asleep.  He just wasn't thinking.  Believe me, MSNBC, no one is going to grab it and take a picture of it and Twitter it.  But you know, the Opie and Anthony Show, let's be honest.  It's like Anthony said, "You can't bring meat into a lion's den."


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CAC: You get labeled as a "dirty" comic.  But I think people like you, Attell, and Louie, people consider you dirty comics, but when you're onstage there's a certain artistic merit there.  What would you say to comics starting out and to open micers who are being dirty right away, just to be dirty?
JN: I think it's a dangerous move.  The thing is, you can't let anyone tell you what's funny.  Never let some j**z bag club owner tell you, "Hey, that's too dirty."  Because club owners don't know what the f**k they're talking about.  Their job is to sell drinks.  If you're being dirty just to be dirty you're going to know that and you have to change it.  But there are guys who sacrifice funny just to be clean, and those guys suck too.  Like guys who won't say the word "penis."  Sometimes the dirty word is the word to use.  Like I hate when someone says that someone is "a pain in the butt."  If you can't say "ass," then don't say it.  That euphemism is revolting.  I'm not saying you have to drop C bombs all of the time, but it's like when they say, "She was kissing me on my pener," or "my wee wee."  If you're going to use childlike euphemisms then get the f**k out of the business, because you shouldn't be in an adult environment.  So there's a balance there.  I do a lot of Leno stuff, and I'm clean on that show.  I have no problem being clean on that show because it's the f***ing Tonight Show.  I can't be dirty.  If you only work well dirty, you're gonna be in trouble.  What do you not want to do Letterman, you don't want to do Leno, or Conan?  You have to.  I mean Pryor and Carlin did those shows and they did them well.  So I think you just have to be able to balance it.  But me being dirty, I'm talking a lot of times about my own experience, and I'm not apologetic about it.  I want the audience to laugh, but I don't feel a need to beg for their f***ing forgiveness because it's my life.  And I know that half of them are lying anyway. Hey look, nobody likes to admit getting a blowjob from a tranny, but truth up folks, a couple of us have done it, okay.  So you can't ever apologize to them.  When they sense that a comic is tentative... but I mean I've been doing it 21 years, I sell it a lot differently now than I did 10 years ago.  I'm much more comfortable in my own skin than I was.  

CAC: I think the reason you can do that (be dirty) and still be artistic is that you're so honest.  
JN: I think you have to be.  Here's the thing a lot of comedians make the mistake with, I am very very honest onstage, about everything, politics, my perversions, the way I feel about any situation with Islam, or Weiner, or Scwarzenegger, but I'm not always right.  And there is a difference.  All you have to be is honest about the way you feel or the way you're viewing it.  A lot of comedians get self-righteous and they attempt to be right all the time, and preach to the audience.  If you can't get your point across and be funny, you shouldn't be doing that kind of material because you're boring.  And realize you're going to be wrong half the time like every other dummy in this country.  We all batt about 500.  I don't need to always be right.   I look back on a lot of situations I was wrong about.  So don't sacrifice funny to sound smarter than the audience.  Carlin never did.  He never sacrificed funny and he was the smartest guy in the room every time he was onstage.  

CAC: How long did it take you to be comfortable onstage?  
JN: Hard to say man, years.  There were parts when I got comfortable performing.  I got confident with the fact that I could do 15 minutes.  It became progressive because then I got comfortable hosting, then I became very comfortable going up second.  And eventually, I would say 10 years into it, I became a headliner, maybe almost 11 years into it.  Because to me, to say you're a headliner, you're not just the guy going on last.  You better be able to go up there and f***ing bang out an hour that is better than what anybody else just did in the room.  To me it's not just a closing act.  I mean the headliner is supposed to be the guy who is by far the best on the show.  And it took me a long time to get to that point.  

CAC: You host the shows for the "Anti-Social Network" tour.  Can you comment on how it's still important for a headliner who's so many years in like you to still know how to host?  
JN: For HBO I did Down and Dirty and I hosted.  And that give me a little more practice.  It's weird going up first.  Here's the advantage, I get first crack at the material.  All the comics write stuff.  Attell is extremely prolific, obviously.  I get to go up and talk about Bin Laden or Schwarzenegger before anybody else does.  But the crowd is not really warmed up, that's my job.  So the disadvantage is they're not a hot crowd yet, they're just starting.  And the advantage is I get first crack at the material so I usually have some local guy go up and do 5 minutes before me just to get them seated.  Especially in a casino because they're still coming in.  But I have to kind of set the pace and the people are there to see us which is nice.  As opposed to a regular comedy show where they're just going out for the f**k of it and you hope they like you.  But in this situation, they're there to see me, Dave, Jim, and Bill, or a couple of us at least, if not all of us.  Which gives you a huge advantage because you don't have to prove to them that you're funny.  You just have to be funny.  


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        Jim with Colin Quinn overseas for the troops              

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CAC: You mentioned having the right to the material... Something I noticed when I saw a show at the Cellar last August, it was when the mosque was going up in New York, and every comic talked about it.  Have you found that you may not be getting laughs for something because another comic already talked about the same topic?
JN: Absolutely.  With topical stuff, everyone's going to touch it.  A lot of times if I'm getting no laugh with something and I know it's funny I'm like, "Oh, somebody must have touched this."  There's only so many directions you can go in.  They found porn on Bin Laden's computer, so how many directions can you go in with that?  I mean you can go in a few different directions, but if there's 8 guys on the show and 6 of them are talking about it, a couple of them are going to step on each other.  So whoever goes up first gets first crack at it, that's just the way it is.  But then again, I've gone on after Colin Quinn, who's extremely prolific, and my topical stuff has killed.  So I know it must have just been different than what Colin did.  Because if it was the same thing, it wouldn't have worked.  I get bored doing the same sh*t for too long.  And I also feel like, "Man, this is my job, I can't be lazy about it." Because there's nothing worse than lazy comedians.  

CAC: What do you love about Chicago?
JN: Chicago, aesthetically is an amazing city.  I love the fact that there's a very aggressive vibe to Chicago because you have a real mafia history.  It's a really smart city.  It really is a great city to perform in.  I've always done surprisingly well there.  It's kind of like a weird cross between Boston and New York.  It's got the city vibe of New York, but there's a weird suburban honesty that Boston has.  A lot of times New Yorkers think they're smarter than they are, and Chicago I'm sure they have people like that.  But they remind me more of Boston attitude-wise, and that I love.

CAC: What do you hate about Chicago?  
JN: God, is there anything I hate about Chicago?  I don't think I've ever gotten laid in Chicago.... that I haven't paid for, for free.  Let me put in that asterisk.  I don't think I've ever gotten laid for free in Chicago.  I do horrendous with women there.  That's my main point of contention with Chicago.  

CAC: You're probably going to the wrong areas.
JN: I don't know where I would have to go.  I mean, I've been out there for years doing gigs, and I'm on a real p**sy drought.  

CAC: Who are the guys that made you want to get into Comedy?
JN: Pryor.  I mean honestly, I wish I had a better answer.  Richard Pryor, and Carlin, and Woody Allen actually is a stand up.  Everyone says those guys, but Woody Allen is 1 of the greatest stand ups ever from the 60's, and Pryor and Carlin were the 3.  Pryor, Carlin, then Woody in that order.  

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