While the average person prefers to take their bizarre secrets and cringe-worthy perversions to their grave, standup comedian Jim Norton morphs his taboo tales into public works of art.
Norton has no problem sharing his browser history or less-than-conventional sex life with packed auditoriums — it’s actually been the basis of the 49-year-old’s successful career that started back in 1990. After Andrew Dice Clay took him on the road in 1997, Norton’s act reached audiences across the country and he soon after landed a spot on the Opie and Anthony radio show.
In 2017, his career hit another benchmark when he crossed the pond for the first time.
“I just started doing Europe,” Norton told Revue from a Chicago hotel room. “It’s such a great time. (Comedian) Bill Burr talked me into it. I credit Bill completely. The last thing you want is Bill Burr yelling, ‘You’re stupid!’ at you. He was right. I’ve enjoyed Europe very much — the crowds are incredible.”
This month, Norton brings his Kneeling Room Only Tour to Grand Rapids. The show includes some new material slated for his next special, which he plans to release next year. After seven specials stocked with self-deprecating black comedy, his followers may wonder if he’ll soon run out of warped personal anecdotes. Rest assured, Norton’s got a stockpile of freaky tales to draw from.
“In natural human experience, there are always things happening that are interesting or unusual,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll take experiences I haven’t talked about yet and try them out. But I never feel the pressure to outdo myself. If you try to out-outrageous yourself, you’re going to run out of material very fast.”
Beyond his own world of weirdness, which includes his constant fear of contracting HIV (Note: he does not have HIV), Norton isn’t afraid to delve into other sensitive subjects. A couple of his classic bits tear Bill Cosby and Casey Anthony to shreds, a style he borrows from the late Joan Rivers, his comedic idol.
In his 2015 special, Contextually Inadequate, Norton professed his admiration for Rivers: “She was the most brutal comic I ever saw perform,” he said. “She made fun of AIDS, she made fun of 9/11 … she never said she was sorry. She was more fearless than any comic. That’s what they do in this era — they catch you saying something and then they hound you until you say you’re sorry.”
Aside from mirroring Rivers’ knack for offensive pop-culture commentary, Norton also keeps as busy as her, working in a variety of mediums. When he’s not on the road, he records his SiriusXM radio show, the Jim & Sam Show, five days a week. He’s a two-time New York Times Bestselling author and has a long list of television and movie credits. Norton also heads two podcasts, UFC Unfiltered and his own Chip Chipperson Podcast, a show featuring Norton in character as the unbalanced Chip. It makes for a long day.
“I wake up at 7 a.m., I do the radio show from 8-11 a.m., I do the UFC podcast two days a week and do the Chip podcast one night a week,” Norton said. “Of course, like every comedian in New York City, I go down to the Comedy Cellar almost every night — I’m on stage about six nights a week. I keep busy, anything to not have to deal with myself, alone, in a dark room.”
The Jim and Sam Show has been on the air for more than a year now. It’s a steady full-time job for Norton, in which he casually converses with a stream of Hollywood celebrities and fellow comedians alongside Sam Roberts, who he met back in 2005. The co-hosts previously worked together on the now-defunct Opie and Anthony Show, hosted by controversial radio vets Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia. Roberts is a bit younger than Norton’s past co-hosts, but the two have chemistry.
“Sam is about 34, but looks about 62,” Norton said. “He looks like something out of Whoville, like the Grinch or something. He’s a really strange looking character but we have a very good relationship, there’s no weirdness. I love doing the show.
“Plus, the advantage of being up at SiriusXM is that so many people come to the building, so it’s easy to get them to stop by. But some people, like Ricky Gervais, come specifically to do our show.”
Chatting it up with interesting people over the airwaves isn’t such a bad gig, but does it chew up valuable bit-writing hours?
“It does not hinder my standup at all,” he said. “It’s really fun to do. It keeps you thinking, so it probably makes my standup better. I’m always thinking and talking about topical stuff — then I go into the Comedy Cellar that night and talk about it.”
Jim Norton: Kneeling Room Only Tour
20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Jan. 27, 7 p.m., $37-$88