Comedian Jim Norton had to fit this interview in where he could.
When he called the Tampa Bay Times from a New York sidewalk, the unapologetically forthcoming comic had just come off the air from The Jim Norton and Sam Roberts Show on SiriusXM.
He answered a few questions, then took a break so he could get on the F train and head a few stops toward his gym. He joked that he’s the kind of famous where people don’t know his name but think they might know his face from somewhere (could be HBO’s Crashing, Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, FX’s Louie or his latest comedy special, Mouthful of Shame on Netflix), but he can still ride the subway.
Later he’d call back, talk some more, then go work out, see his therapist, record his Unfiltered Podcast With Jim Norton and Matt Serra and, later that night, do a standup set. His newest audio venture is the weekly Chip Chipperson Podcast. He’ll be in Tampa from Thursday to Saturday performing at Side Splitters Comedy Club.
Do you think you’re working too hard?
No. I figure I do a lot of things, none of them particularly well. I figure eventually everything will be taken away, or I’ll die, so if I do a lot, hopefully at least one thing will survive.
How did you end up with a role in Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman? And how great is it that he’s making a new movie with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci?
No audition, they just hired me. I play a young Don Rickles. De Niro and Pesci are in the scene and I’m on stage doing old Rickles jokes. I look down and see De Niro and Pesci and I’m saying, "Wow, this is Raging Bull!" At one point they turned the cameras around, because they needed to shoot the two of them reacting to comedy, and someone comes over and says, "Mr. De Niro requested that you do your own material," because the Rickles jokes were from 1974. So I start, and I’m staring at them, and I’m just killing. To see them genuinely laughing, I know when someone is polite laughing, and all the extras are laughing, it’s one of the more incredible moments I’ve had.
De Niro must like you at least a little bit, considering he appeared on your last special and spanked your bare butt. Of all celebrities, he seems mysterious and unknowable. Do you get that feeling?
I think it seems that way because he’s so famous, and people are not comfortable around him. I had an easy time with him because we were talking comedy, and I knew I knew more about it than him. I felt like I had a legit reason to be around, something to offer. I find that’s the key in those situations. Like when he did my special, he was asking me for direction. Now if I had to play a cop next to him, I’d panic and freeze. But he’s as knowable as anyone, if you act comfortable. He’s very sweet, open and fun to be around. He’s a great listener. That’s why he’s a great actor.
In your last special, you say true acceptance of transgender women is not just saying you support them, but dating them, as you have. Did you get any feedback from trans women?
So many have contacted me and thanked me. My job is to be funny. I’m not a social activist, but I revealed something, and it’s not some embarrassing secret. So many guys go see them as performers on the DL. They’re used to being kept hidden. So a lot of the emails I got were simply saying they appreciate my honesty.
You also joke that you admire Hulk Hogan, probably our biggest local celebrity here. Did you mean that?
He sued Gawker out of existence and I admire the fact that he fought back. That he wasn’t going to be broken by that. He showed you can’t take private footage and put it out there like it’s a news story. I mean, I don’t like any of those tabloids, but at least we knew what Gawker was. They weren’t masquerading. A lot of the press denies being biased. If they’d admit it, I’d respect it.
So you still don’t like the media?
It’s just so obvious where they’re coming from. We know exactly where CNN, Fox and MSNBC stand. We shouldn’t know! I like Fox, but I also like Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon.
You were on The Osbournes podcast recently, described in the episodes description as a "close family friend." It’s no secret you love Ozzy Osbourne, but is that a real friendship?
It is and it’s surreal. We shot that thing for my special (2012’s Please Be Offended) in Ozzy’s house. The podcast, I didn’t know I was going to be doing it, but I saw Ozzy after I’d interviewed Sharon … and he says, "Come by the house." I went over and they’re doing a podcast, so I did it. I’m very comfortable with them. It’s surreal to be hanging out on Ozzy’s patio with him talking politics. It’s so funny when people doubt that he’s with it because he’s a really sharp, smart guy.
I feel like I’ve noticed this thing lately, where when comics need a funny city name, they plug in Tampa. Does Tampa have a funny connotation to you?
Hmm, I hadn’t noticed that. For me, Syria is a go-to if I need a funny one. (laughter) Really though, only thing I think of when I hear Tampa is a lot of strip clubs and attractive women. It’s a fun city. And I love Cowhead.