Jim Norton, the stand-up comedian best known as the “third mike” on the “Opie and Anthony Show” on Sirius/XM and a regular on The Tonight Show, is set to air his fourth televised stand-up special, American Degenerate, tonight on EPIX at 10 p.m. In anticipation of the premiere, we asked Amy Schumer, his good friend, former opener, and the star-creator of Inside Amy Schumer, to interview him. She agreed, enthusiastically, and delivered this really fun conversation; it touches on everything from how Norton got Michael K. Williams onboard to fake sodomize him to why Norton has to shave his head. (Traumatic hair experiences.) Enjoy!
I’m, like, really nervous; my pulse is going like crazy. Okay. So, I watched American Degenerate. It’s fucking hilarious.
Oh, thank you.
So how did Michael K. Williams happen for the beginning of the special? How did that happen?
I wanted to get somebody in the beginning of the special that was important to me. Ozzy [Osbourne] was last year, so how do I follow that? I don’t know exactly what made me think of being sodomized by Omar [Williams’s character on The Wire], but I’m like, “What could be a more personal thing?” He is my favorite character in TV history. I just called up and asked him. I’m like, “Look, I would love you to do the opening for my special,” and he goes, “Yeah, man, I’d love to.” And I’m like, “Let me send you a script.” And he goes, “Nah, it’s all good. If it’s you, I’m good with it.”
I don’t know what you’re going to do next.
I’m going to have Anthony Weiner jerk off in my face.
I know. Like, whose semen are you going to have splattered on your eyeballs so that you can do another special? It was really nice the moment you mentioned Patrice [O’Neal]. I wanted to ask you what you think he would’ve said about this special in particular?
If he was being asked in an interview, he would probably say something nice about me because that’s when we talk nicely about each other: publicly. But if it was just a bunch of us at the [Comedy] Cellar, he would probably just pick it apart, mock it. He would probably say that the only part that had anything real about it was me being sodomized by a black guy …
I was happy to mention his mother was at that taping. I introduced her and the crowd went crazy, but I didn’t realize where she was going to be sitting, so we didn’t have the cameras properly set up to pan to her.
That was your call, though, didn’t you specify that black people could sit where they wanted to sit?
Absolutely. They tried to put up a couple of others, as it were, up close, but I said, “Not in my show, you won’t!”
“Not on my watch!” It was really interesting how the audience was filmed. You could feel the audience and you saw them, but you never cut to specific audience members, which I think is the most annoying part about specials. If you make a black joke, cut to the black guys, so we know it’s okay. Was that your call?
That was absolutely my call. I got the idea from Louis [C.K.], who likes to shoot just in pitch black. And I thought about that and I hated the same thing you do. I fucking hate the dumb, “Oh, look at the two pretty girls laughing!” Who gives a shit? We don’t need …
One shot of each demographic.
Yeah, I refuse to have that. So I wanted it shot very, very dark. Louis raised the point that with the type of act we do, people feel more comfortable laughing at something harsh or dirty when it’s dark than they do when it’s lit like a fucking assembly in high school. I hate well-lit specials.
It’s like daylight. You feel like you’re at a farmers market, telling people you love anal. I want to ask about … I think you’ve become more animated onstage, like it’s almost vaudevillian, which I love, and I was wondering if that was something you noticed, or something that maybe is connected to you recently getting in, like, MMA shape?
It depends on what I’m doing with the mike. If I leave the mike in the stand, my hands absolutely move more. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious thing. It’s funny, that was the one thing I’ve been told my whole career. People were like, “We love the faces you make,” and I’m really never aware. Sometimes I’ll watch myself and I’ll go, “Oh, you fucking mugging jizz bucket,” but in that moment I’m not thinking of it.
I learned so much from watching you and opening for you, and watching this hour was special for me, because it was the first time I’d really just sat down and watched you do an hour in a really long time. And I was thinking while I was watching the special that I don’t think of you as having particularly dirty content at all, but that’s what people associate with your name. Why do you think people feel so driven to label comedians?
I think people like to label everything. I just think it’s comfortable. I mean, I am a bit of a pig, but I try to tie everything into my own experience. Like, if I’m going to shit on John Travolta for massage lawsuits, then I should at least offer up my own experiences with that. And that’s going to happen to be dirty because I’m a pervert, and I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on prostitutes in my life. That’s why I have all those dirty experiences to relate to whatever’s happening.
How did you celebrate filming this special?
I might of had a dessert. I don’t know if I did anything, to be honest with you. I tend to get manically depressed when something good happens — like I’ve been miserable all day — so I don’t know if I did anything fun, or if I just went over the script in my head and thought, Oh, you fucked that one up.
It really is such a reminder that we feel like we don’t deserve happiness after we accomplish something good.
Really, it’s like, “What should I do now? Oh, throw yourself in front of a bus, you failure.” It’s really idiotic.
In the special, you talk about people who get offended by jokes. Have you ever been offended by a joke? Has anything ever rubbed you the wrong way that you can remember?
Yeah, I mean, I’m sure I’ve heard statements I didn’t like. People who’ve just said things that they thought I was going to go along with. People who are well meaning — I can’t even remember an example — but I remember the emotion, feeling like, “Jesus, dude.” The difference is I don’t want them to get in trouble for being offensive, and I don’t cry like a baby when I’m offended. But, yeah, sure. Every once in a while I’ll hear something like, “Euuhhh, Jesus that was low.”
Like when a fan takes a swing and a miss at saying something to you after a show?
Yeah, or if I criticize a political figure and they say they hope he gets assassinated.
Right, and you’re like, “Whoa!”
Yeah, I was just making fun of them; I don’t want ‘em dead. I know what they’re trying to do, but it just kind of goes awry.
I asked people on Twitter for questions and I only wrote down one of them, because they were mostly just about fucking people in stairwells. JinxMcGillicuddy asked why do you shave your head, and what would it look like grown in?
I have cowlicks, so my hair has always been a source of torture for me. I was so fucked up over my hair that I wore a hat in school and they were going to throw me out, so I got a psychiatrist’s note saying to let me wear my hat because I had such issues mentally with my hair. And I used to get my hair cut by a homoerotic, obese barber, and I never realized how creepy it was that he was touching his groin against my elbow when I was 13 or 14. My hair has been a source of fucking humiliation, so I shave it off. And now that I’m 45, it’s gray. I hate my hair so much.
That is amazing. That was the one question that worked and we just hit at the center of everything.
[Laughs.] It really is torture for me.
Oh and I want to say, and this isn’t a question, but just watching this special and seeing you on Totally Biased, I just feel like it’s ridiculous that you don’t have a TV show, and I want us to make a TV show together.
I would love that, too, believe me.
I’m also trying to rope myself into being one of those people who produces your TV show and I wanted to ask you in this interview if we could do that.
Yeah, believe me, I would trust your instinct. I have two shows written already and one is scripted and one is an interview show. I’m obsessed with doing both of them and I’ve been doing very little stand-up lately. But that’s what I’d want to do next. Thank you for saying that.
Well, I would just watch it every possible chance I got and I want to be involved in it because I’m a narcissist.
All right, see you at the Cellar tonight.
See you in twenty minutes.