by Scott King
Comedian Jim Norton's brand new stand up special Mouthful of Shame is now available on Netflix. Norton, heard every morning on XM Radio's Jim and Sam Show with co-host Sam Roberts, and weekly on the UFC Unfiltered podcast, has actually been able to avoid shame his entire career by being a wide open book in his stand up and in interviews like this one.
Jim called Chicago Now recently to talk about his new Netflix special, working with film icon Robert De Niro in the Comedian, his conscious uncoupling with former radio partner Gregg 'Opie' Hughes and much more.
CN: How did the Netflix special come about?
Norton: Netflix, we had talked to for a while. They said they were interested in doing it. My manager and my agent, at the time, worked very hard on it and made it happen. I know this guy Robbie Praw, who works for Netflix, he's a really good friend and he's been great to me throughout my career. I was happy that he was there.
It just took a little while to get going because they have so much stuff to do. But once we got the commitment from them, all we had to do was nail down a place and a location. And they were so creatively there for me, it was really great.
CN (BIG SPECIAL SPOILER): Was it hard to keep Robert De Niro's cameo in your special secret?
Norton: One thing had happened was De Niro had mentioned me on the Tonight Show. This was after we shot the stuff (for the special), but he's on the Tonight Show talking to Jimmy Fallon about doing the Comedian, then Fallon asked him about punching a Heckler. And De Niro goes, 'You know, I worked with some comedians Jessica Kirson, Lewis Friedman, Jim Norton'... and he mentioned us all twice about a scene in the movie.
I wasn't going to tell anybody that I had De Niro [in the special], but I didn't want the radio show to Tweet out that clip. It's so funny, it's the only time in my life I would ever want to keep quiet Robert De Niro mentioning my name. I didn't want to put any more of a spotlight on the fact that he had talked about me because I wanted it to actually be a surprise when I showed it to the audience.
CN: Can you believe what you got him to do in the intro for your special?
Norton: He didn't even know he was going to spank me until [we filmed it]. I left it out of the script, I purposely left it out of the script. Then when he was there, I brought a hairbrush and I was like 'Hey, I'm going to want you to spank my ass, but I got a hairbrush, you don't have to touch my bare ass.' He was really cool about it.
I think I made him laugh because the first time we did it, I laid across his lap and I said: 'Alright, Bob... I'm going to try not to jizz on your leg.' He laughed, so I think that kind of made the experience really comfortable for him. We did like three or four takes, then he goes, 'Why don't we do one standing up,' and then we did and that was the one we wound up using.
CN: How surreal is it to know Robert De Niro?
Norton: It makes you feel more lucky. I feel like a child who's just getting to meet his heroes. I don't feel like I'm a big shot, I feel like 'Oh my God, life is so much fun. What great luck I've had to get to do this.'
Because my scenes in the Comedian are very small, but Taylor Hackford, the director, was so good to me and he treated me so well, he helped me a lot. And then De Niro doing this for me was really wonderful, so he didn't need to do this, he did me a solid because he liked me. I helped him out a little bit in the Comedian, just working through a few things with him. It was amazing that he actually did this for me. He didn't need to. He was just being a good guy.
CN: You have a Netflix special out, you just worked with Robert De Niro, is anything missing in your career?
Norton: I'd like to get a show on the air. That would be my next goal. I have a couple of ideas I want to pitch. So I think this year that's what I want. It's been my goal for the last couple years and I think that's what I want. I'd like to sell out shows faster. I've got shows on sale now overseas in Europe, at the Borgata in Atlantic City (August 5) and I'd like them to sell out. So hopefully, that will do it.
CN: Your friend Artie Lange was arrested recently for being in possession of heroin (and cocaine). Is it tough to see him go through all the ups and downs?
Norton: You hope that your friend gets it together. That's all. You just hope that your friend realizes 'This is not the right way to go,' and you hope that your friend doesn't kill himself. That's all you can do is hope that he gets it together.
I really like the guy a lot. He's a very close friend. When I see guys doing that, I learned a long time ago, I can't make anybody change or I can't fix anybody, so I just hope that he does the right thing for himself.
CN: It seems that on the Jim and Sam show you enjoy having Dennis Falcone (a living, breathing throwback to 60's and 70's radio DJ's) in studio more than on the Opie with Jim Show.
Norton: I love 'Denny. I think before, I kind of felt like he was used [where] we'd bring him in and just constantly goof on him, and it felt like a crutch. I actually always liked 'Denny. We tell him after the segment, 'You know I like you, right?' He's like (Dennis Falcone vice) 'Yeahhh. It's for the radio.'
He got it. I like him coming in now just being himself. Just talking without goofing on him. I enjoy having 'Denny in and just hanging out with him. I do think that he's funny and he embraces these cheesy, silly things. But I also think there's an underlying meanness to him once in a while that I really like. He's very enjoyable to have in studio, honestly.
CN: Are you happy with Bobo (Daniel Kurlan, a fan who contributed to some of Opie and Anthony's most memorable moments while annoying Jim in the process) returning from exile to the show?
Norton: You know, Bobo's a good egg. It's hard not to enjoy him. He did something with Chip (a dim-witted Norton character) that was so funny recently. Him and Chip were going back and forth. Now I obviously have to enjoy him on the show. So I'm happy he's back and I think he was very funny when he did the live show with us.
CN: Was Opie inviting D.L. Hughley on the show despite your wishes (July 26, 2016) when you decided to leave?
Norton: That was the final straw. We were supposed to be partners in the show, but I never wanted my name on the show because I knew that he was the boss. I like D.L. by the way, this is not 'f**k you' to D.L. I'd tell you if it was, I actually like him.
At that time, it hurt my feelings, I thought the guy (D.L. Hughley) treated me like a jerk when he just didn't respond and he blew off my project the last day so I didn't want to help him. And he apologized. I was shocked. I thought he was going to tell me to go f**k myself. When Opie booked him and I mentioned I'd rather not have him, and he suggested I 'step out,' I knew that I wanted to leave the show immediately and I wanted the fans to know that I was disgusted and wanted to leave the show.
I had wanted to leave the show before that. I think we were just sick of each other. I'm sure he felt the same way. I don't say he's one hundred percent responsible for our falling apart and I was perfect and innocent either. I would be delusional to say that. We were just sick of each other. That one was dirty and that one really made me angry and it was aggressive and it was meant to show me who was boss. It made me feel extraordinary vindictive and angry. Now I'm really happy with where things are, at least for myself. I'm having a great time with Sam.
CN: Did you think the show with Opie was going in a strange direction?
Norton: I don't want to do 'nana' radio. I love Stunt Brain, and I like Lionel (recurring political guests on Opie with Jim and now Opie Radio). He's a very smart, funny radio guy. But when you can never get girls in studio to f**k around with and with him not liking Uncle Paul (another Norton character who is a pedophile), it's like, I guess you're the boss, but my humor and what I enjoy is not what you enjoy. I felt like it was kind of becoming a zoo crew and I was not enjoying it anymore. He probably felt like, 'Hey, [Jim's] humor is s**tty,' and he wasn't enjoying it either.
I'm not trashing the guy. I'm just saying we had different ideas as to what funny was. It was never a reflection of me not liking Stunt Brain. I really like him, and I really do like Lionel. I felt Stunt Brain, Mike, was being used too much and we were just doing pure political breaks and I'm like 'Our audience doesn't need us to do a pure political break.'
Could Uncle Paul wear thin? Could girls wear thin? Of course they could. For years our show has been lecturing everybody on how you don't have to agree with something to laugh at or to think it's funny. You can think something is sad and still make jokes about it. And then Uncle Paul was all of a sudden this vile, offensive thing, I just never quite understood that.
Your audience does change and as you get older, he's older, he's married with kids. Anthony (Cumia, former partner of Jim and Opie) is older, I'm older, we do change organically. It happens. And your audience changes too. Sometimes the audience hates when the performer changes because it also makes the audience feel older.
Like in 1996 me and Jeff Ross went to see KISS when they did this big reunion, and I loved them. The original KISS, back in makeup. But a part of it made me a little sad, because I'm like 'Oh my God, I'm older because they look older.' They made me realize how much my life has changed. So sometimes the crowd doesn't want you to for that reason.
But I just didn't like the direction the show was going in, I missed Anthony horribly, and maybe Opie didn't like the direction I was going to take. It's a creative difference. And I'm like 'F**k this, I'm not enjoying this show, I'm not getting good feedback from anybody on this show,' and I didn't like that people were just being booked without asking. That's not a reflection on the comedians. And I really mean this, I love Sherrod (Small), I really love Chris Distefano, I really respect these guys - Vic Henley... I respect these guys as comedians and I'm the one that brought them on.
CN: How is your chemistry with Sam different than with Anthony?
Norton: The chemistry I had with Anthony was amazing. It was absolutely amazing. But Anthony and I had chemistry in a different context because we were two people on a three person show. So what happens is when there's something happening, Anthony and I are like shooting spit balls in the background and that becomes what's happening.
It's a little different when there's two people, so there's a different dynamic. I genuinely enjoy Sam. Both of those guys work with the characters so well. They brought so much out of Uncle Paul and Chip and all of these dumb things. Anthony hating Edgar (another Norton Character who's an elderly slow-talker with a dry mouth). And Sam understands these guys completely.
Sam is a really smart guy. I miss Anthony to this day, I will always miss him. I love doing any performing with him any time we can. That's why he was our first guest. That's why our first live show we did it. That's why we've gone on his show. It's easy to say you support someone, but that's just lip service bulls**t. We went on his show. I was on Anthony's first solo show. I called in when he was on Long Island. I couldn't go in for some reason because I was doing something in the city, but I called in to let him know I supported him when he started his network.
CN: Is there a chance Anthony joins the Jim and Sam show full time?
Norton: I don't know. Part of the problem is that Sirius, I think they've softened up on the idea though... It's just a [timing] thing and he had a couple things happen over the years and just when you start to forget about one, the other one happens. Look, it's a billion dollar corporation, they're f**king Panicy Petes. That's what corporations do, it's annoying.
I think the thing is with Anthony, they like Anthony. I know Scott Greenstein has mentioned it like, 'Hey man, he sounds great on your show.' So I do think they're not banning him from our show and I do think eventually we'll get him in studio and it's the goal.
Because Anthony knows I love him, he's not a perfect person, he's a volatile kook, he knows that. He's a volatile kook, but he's like a brother to me. Anthony is like a brother to me. Creatively, you very rarely ever find that in life.
You very rarely find somebody that makes you laugh as hard as he's made me laugh. Go look up 'Jim Norton laugh compilations' they're all from the Opie and Anthony Show. Not because of my dumb laugh, but because you hear these lines Anthony is spitting out that are f**king just great. The guy is just great. He's just a funny, funny, funny guy. I love him.