Jim Norton has been turning heads for quite some time. His brand of humor is just the right mix of crude and down-to-earth brilliance, and whether it be on the stand-up stage or over the radio waves as co-host of the wildly famous (some might say infamous) WAAF-originated Opie & Anthony radio show (Now titled Opie & Jimmy, following Anthony Cumia’s dismissal from the show in 2014), Norton has made an impact in entertainment, is revered as one of the biggest stand-up acts around, and has set a precedent, time and time again, for being unapologetically coarse, and unforgivingly politically incorrect.
So, what has been the key to Norton’s success? Is it his unwillingness to apologize to those who find his humor vile? Or is it his willingness to say whatever is on his mind in a unique and casual way? Whatever it is, Norton has never wanted to be anything but a Comedian. And his hard work and determination to get to where he is today shows that.
“It’s all I ever really wanted to do,” says Norton. “I would say that Richard Pryor was the guy that I watched and made me go ‘oh, that’s what you do with being funny’, but I pretty much felt that I wasn’t good at anything else except making people laugh,” he continues. “The only thing I really could do was stand-up.”
“I was terrible in school, and I had no desire to do anything but be funny, and through the process of elimination, I just knew that is what I was going to do.”
In addition to his up-front brand of comedy that has made him one of the most prominent and sought after talents in comedy, Norton is also brutally honest. Not just in the sense of saying what is on his mind at any given moment while on stage or on air, but about himself as well, specifically about his past battles with addiction, which started when he was a teenager.
“Luckily, I got sober at a very young age,” say the New Jersey native. “For me it was always drinking, snorting and smoking coke, and of course, pot and mescaline. I was very lucky that I had a sober father, so that helped me when I was younger,” he continues. “I was also very suicidal, and I never would have made it very far, so I was just really, really fortunate.”
Following his battle, and eventual sobriety, Norton has made it a point to be supportive of others who have been fighting the same fight as he did all those years ago.
“When anyone has a problem [with addiction], I always encourage them just to do something about it,” says Norton. “Because obviously it’s not easy, but once you take the first step, and you make your decision, it’s better than they ever tell you it will be.”
“I think too many people are sent to long-term rehabs. I mean, of course I think they have a purpose and they can really help you, but detox is a very important thing, and it gives you tools and can allow you to get straightened out just by hooking up with a support group. I certainly think they serve a good purpose, but you have to be careful that you don’t hide out in them.”
For Norton, who brings his Mouthful of Shame tour to the Academy of Music Theater in Northampton this Friday night, being socially and politically aware doesn’t mean you only have to focus on one issue at a time.
“With political issues, it’s all important, but none of it is,” says Norton. “To me, it doesn’t matter what we think, because after we solve a problem, there always has to be another problem,” he continues. “You’ll never stop abortion, never fix someone’s views on homosexuality, you’re not going to fix the gun control problem and people are always going to be split on that. So, those are some really important issues that you’re just never going to solve. Best thing we can hope for is just to get a handle on them, I guess.”
“I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive,” says Norton. “I think you can look at more than one issue at a time and care about it, like how animal activists say ‘I can either help animals, or help people’. Well, you can still care about both! You don’t have to just care about rhinos. You can care about people too. I just don’t think it’s ever mutually exclusive.”
“For me, it’s mostly about policing someone’s language,” Norton says of what is most important to him in the social realm. “As the country gets better, we need to look harder to find things to be upset about, and I also think there’s a phony sense of empowerment with being offended, so when people just want some attention, they get offended [too easily].”
Comedy is an unforgiving industry. It will leave you by the wayside if you aren’t original and stand out from the masses. Jim Norton is a beacon of originality, working hard through personal and professional obstacles to be where he is today. And while thinking of the old elementary school mantra “honesty is the best policy”, it becomes clear why Norton is so successful. His brutal honesty is brutally refreshing, and he has no plans on changing that anytime soon.
Tickets are still available for Norton’s Northampton, and Burlington, Vermont shows coming up this weekend, and a Mouthful of Shame video special is also in the works for Norton. While the shooting date is unknown at this time, Norton hopes it will be within the next six months.