Jim Norton On Boston’s Always-Angry White People, Cosby, Carlin, And Proper Twitter Etiquette

During the late ’90s, comedian Jim Norton garnered a few spots on television, usually as an extra or as himself. But his Opie & Anthony Show-fueled radio show persona truly began to shine on Comedy Central’s Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. That’s when I first heard and saw the New Jersey native’s hilarious brand of biting commentary in action. Norton has been perfecting his voice since then, and it shines in his new special Contextually Inadequate, which premieres on EPIX tonight.

The Opie Radio and Louie regular took some time to talk with us about the special, and how he really wants to take a vacation sometime in the next six months. Among other things, we also discussed that Bill Cosby thing, the proper use of Twitter, and just how angry the people of Boston are these days.

I watched the new special last night, and I noticed it was recorded in Boston.

Yeah, Boston is one of my favorite places to perform, so I’ve done my last two specials there. I did American Degenerate there.

In an interview for Please Be Offended, you said of Cleveland, “The more disgruntled the white people are, the happier they are to see me.” Then you mentioned Boston…

Yes! I love Boston. They’re aggressive, angry white people.

I was going to ask, on a scale of 1 to 10, how disgruntled would you say they were for Contextually Inadequate?

I would say Boston white people are always about at 9. That’s about as good as it gets, but I think that’s also about as bad as it gets. I think Boston people are fairly even in their “disgruntledness.” I don’t think it ever changes, which is why I love it so much.

This is your third special with EPIX. How is it working with them?

They’re really good! They give me total creative freedom. They’re awesome because they give me all the freedom I want.

Is that just for the specials, or does that include promos too?

The promotional stuff is more collaborative, but the special, the material, the look of it, the way I open it, that’s all on me. They’re very good with that.

The process of writing a new hour and getting it ready can take some time. But with this, you go right into talking about Bill Cosby. Was that a last minute addition?

Well, I had been doing material since it happened, but I always try to keep my stuff topical. It’s just the way I like to perform. So the Cosby stuff was very new, it was just kind of still happening, but I was very happy to be talking about it. The material, I felt, was good enough to put in. I was comfortable doing it, so yeah. I was grateful to have something new to open with.

The audience seems to respond to it really well.

Oh yeah, it works pretty well. It’s in everybody’s mind. It’s the biggest comedic shock of all time. Basically, I’m not making fun of the rape victims, I’m making fun of Cosby. I’m making fun of the fact that people don’t believe these women and making fun of the people who are sticking up for him. So, I think it’s a comfortable angle for people to go with.

One of the things you talk a lot about in your comedy is how the media handles (or mishandles) Cosby and other stories.

I think that there are wartime reporters that do amazing things, and the media is a very important part of our culture, of course. But I think that they’ve become repulsive. They used to stand for something, and they used to be about bringing the news. Now, they’re simply about bringing the news first, and in the most shocking fashion possible. If they said that’s what they were about, I would be okay with it. But it’s the fact that they still act like they’re the media of 1970 — like Walter Cronkite — that makes me kind of despise them. They’re politically correct, and they’re very predictable every time in the angle they’re going to take.

Between this new special, Opie Radio, and everything else, do you have any free time?

I’m done with radio by 10:30 in the morning. So, I go to the gym, and I’m home by like 12:30 in the afternoon. I have way too much free time, actually. There’s always time to do stuff you want to do.

I just can’t help but think that a vacation is in the near future.

I do want one very badly. I need one, and I hopefully will get one in the next six months.

That’s good. It just seems like you’re so busy with all the output your audience sees.

Being busy, sometimes, it gets hard, but it’s not a hard thing that we’re doing. I mean, you look a guy that’s a f*cking fireman or a guy that drives a truck for 19 hours, whatever it is. There’s jobs that “being busy” is really horrible. Show business, “comedy busy” is nothing compared to what “real busy” is. You get treated good by people. Our “being busy” is fairly easy.

You recently talked to Louis C.K. about why he gave up Twitter on Opie Radio. He made many of the same complaints you’ve given about the media, yet you’re pretty active on it. You seem to like engaging with people.

Well, if someone is shitty to me, they say something to me, and then I address them, and they act like babies. It’s like, “Well, if you heckle me in a comedy club, I’m going to address you, so why wouldn’t I address you here?”

It’s true. I noticed you like to retweet a lot of them.

If they’re saying it to me in a public forum, of course I’m going to retweet it! Then they’re like, “Why did you retweet it? To get your followers on me?” Why is it a secret? I say to people, “We’re not friends! I’m not going to give you the courtesy of a private discussion. I say something publicly, you respond publicly, I’ll respond publicly.” People want this privilege where they don’t like what you said, so they want a little time alone with you to tell you. Go f*ck yourself! Know what I mean? You have the ability to tell me, but don’t expect it to be private.

I tend to ignore them. I just don’t have the balls to do it.

That’s probably the best way, to be very honest with you. Ignoring them is probably the smart way to do it. So, I wouldn’t say it’s a lack of balls. I would say you handled it smartly.

Speaking of Twitter, you tweeted about missing George Carlin during the week of his birthday last year. I couldn’t help but notice that, between your material and your almost all-black attire, it seems like you’re channeling him.

It’s funny. I was just trying to wear anything that didn’t make me look as fat. I’ll never be as good at social commentary as George Carlin. I don’t want to be. I don’t expect to be. He showed me that you can talk about things that really bother you, and that’s okay in comedy. You know what I mean? But as far as “channeling” him, it’s a nice compliment, but I can’t. I have nothing on Carlin. He’s done something I’ll never be able to do as long as I live.

Still, it’s nice to see that his spirit is still alive.

Thank you! I’ll tell you this. Anything I say, he would say a lot smarter and a lot funnier. We might make a couple of the same points, but he would make them better. And I’m not being falsely humble because I really mean that.

You tend to be very honest in your material. You talk about your weight loss and how you used to be heavyset.

I was a pig before. That’s a nice way to say it.

You also talk a lot about sex and sexual tastes, like your strap-on story. So, I had to ask, are you still drinking vegetable juice these days?

You know, it’s funny. I now drink a protein shake after my workout. I think a learned a lesson from that experience. I don’t mind the vegetable juice making me gassy, but you think I would have thought that through before I tried that.

Aren’t protein shakes even worse?

They are, yes, but they’re good after the workout. Look, I kind of like being gassy. I never mind being gassy. I just won’t do it before the strap-on again.

It’s funny because I was drinking a vegetable smoothie while watching Contextually Inadequate.

Oh good! Well I hope you liked it.

Contextually Inadequate premieres tonight on EPIX at 10 p.m. EST. Check it out here when it becomes available. Below is a clip from the show.

(This interview was edited and condensed.)