Catching Up with Jim Norton

Photo: Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Jim Norton’s current act finds its focus in two areas: his personal failures and the failures of our country, both politically and socially. The Kneeling Room Only tour is in full swing, running through at least March, as Norton refines what will eventually become his next special. I recently talked to him about the latest avalanche of celebrity sex offenders, why he enjoys making fun of himself, and how he uses work as a form of self-care.

I’m glad to take a break from reading about celebrity sexual offenders to talk to you.

Yeah, who’s the new one today? I heard about Stallone and Jeffrey Tambor’s allegations. It’s amazing how many people are getting called out.

I was just reading about Al Franken.

If there’s one thing you don’t want when you’re a senator, it’s a photo of you grabbing for a pair of breasts with the woman’s eyes closed. It’s hard to spin that.

That picture is messed up on so many levels. She’s wearing military clothing because she was doing something good for her country at the time and she’s clearly unconscious. It’s just really bad all the way through.

It does look bad all the way through. Even if the intention wasn’t to be completely creepy, there’s no way it looks good. That’s all there is to it.

And then it gets worse when you hear the backstory of how he was acting with her earlier, with the whole rehearsal kiss and everything. She had already shunned his advances and then he waited until she was asleep to do that. It seemed to me like he was making a joke about how she wasn’t into it and he was going to get something out of it anyway. It’s predatory behavior whether or not he thought of it that way.

I’m guessing he thought he was being silly or whatever. He probably didn’t think, “Hey, I’m being a real creep right now.” He probably thought he was doing something silly not realizing how obviously creepy it was.

Also, who grabs boobs that way? That’s the way a cartoon wolf would grab boobs.

It’s a terrible look. It’s one of those things where you’re like, “What were you thinking at the time?” But then again, would I have goofed off with somebody I was friends with like that? Maybe, but I can’t see doing it to someone you don’t know or someone who might be creeped out about it.

It’s like the whole Louis thing. There are people saying, “Oh, he just whipped it out and he asked first.” A lot of guys want to distill it down to black and white universal guidelines like, “As long as he asked, that’s an attempt at consent, so whatever happened isn’t that bad.” But it’s way more complex than that. I think that’s hard for some people to process.

There’s a power dynamic too. Are you doing it because you don’t understand that the other person is uncomfortable, or are you doing it because you understand it and don’t care? I don’t know what his mindset was, to be honest with you. Making a mistake or a bad judgment call is different than intentionally going out and disregarding another person’s wishes or another person’s well-being.

I try to treat everyone well and I feel like I err on the side of caution at all times, but when you read into the nuance of the victims’ stories you wonder if you’ve ever accidentally said or done anything that hurt someone or made someone feel creeped out.

One advantage I have is that I’ve been doing radio since about 2000. Having had these radio jobs, I’ve been hyper aware that I could be fired at any moment, so what happens is you tend to exercise more caution than most people when you’re aware of the fact that your job is on the line all the time. It becomes one of those things where I’ve been exercising extreme caution, especially at work for 15 years. Plus, you don’t want to be creepy. My deviancy and my kink doesn’t work that way. My kink works differently. Somebody’s discomfort turns me off. I don’t like it. It doesn’t do anything for me sexually. It would be embarrassing to me. If I’m sexual with somebody I really want them to be into it and enjoying it.

Yeah I don’t even want to do something with someone where they’re like, “Eh, okay.” I don’t want a meh experience. I don’t want to do something with someone where they’re operating on sympathy, pity, or just doing a favor, even if they are okay with doing it. Not to drop buzzwords, but I like enthusiastic consent.

Yeah, it’s not a turn on the other way. I don’t want you doing it if you’re under duress. I feel bad enough about myself – I don’t need someone to confirm that I suck by having a bad time in bed.

You’re so open about all of your likes, dislikes, experiences, and kinks. Is it easier for you to find people who align with what you’re into since you’re so public about it?

Yeah, it’s been that way for at least the last decade, maybe more. I don’t just joke about it. I go, “Yeah, this is what I like,” and people know I’m being truthful. The advantage to being a public person is that you attract like-minded people. There are a lot of women who would never go out with me because of the things I say, but the ones who do tend to like the same stuff I do.

So you’re in the middle of your Kneeling Room Only tour. How’s it going so far?

It’s great. The crowds have been really great. It’s an hour of new material, so it’s really, really fun to do. You get sick of the material after a while, dude. I do it for one tour and I’m finished with it. I don’t know how guys do the same shit for ten years. I’d put a bullet in my head, I really would. I love the fact that I can mix it up. It makes me enjoy going on the road.

Mouthful of Shame was so personal and addressed a lot of the things that we were just talking about. What subjects are you tackling in this new hour? What concepts do you hope emerge after the hour becomes more refined?

I don’t know about concepts because so much of it has changed. Now there’s Kevin Spacey to talk about, Harvey Weinstein. And of course I’m talking about the president and what’s been going on in the world. I’m talking a lot about my own life as I always do. I always try to talk about my own life because it’s the thing that’s constantly changing and I feel like I have the right to talk about it, I’m the most informed about it, no one can steal it, and I know I didn’t steal it. There’s a million advantages to talking about your own stupid life, which is probably why I do it more than anything.

I don’t care to hear anybody pick anyone else apart if they haven’t already eviscerated themselves first. You can’t stand on a soapbox with an air of superiority as if you’re untouchable. I think that’s one of the reasons you get away with a lot of the stuff that you do. You’re like, “Hey, I’m kind of a piece of shit. Let’s get into it. I’m going to knock myself all the way down and now, from this very low vantage point, I’m going to look up and start picking shit apart.”

I agree. It’s sincere when I make fun of myself. It’s not this thing I’m doing as the obligatory thing that I have to do before I make fun of you. I really mean it. When I’m knocking myself it’s very genuine, and I think people can feel that. I like doing it. I think it’s fair. If I’m going to make fun of the way you do things…like I don’t do things like Harvey Weinstein. I’m not a rapist, I don’t force women to do things, I don’t have sex with people in a different power dynamic, but what I make fun of is the fact that every man has creeped a woman out at one point or another. We all have done it, a lot of us unintentionally. What I do is try to find the similarities. Harvey Weinstein is a great barometer for men because you can see where your line is and how much farther he goes beyond it. There’s an angle to take on any of this stuff, as long as you’re not making fun of the people who got sexually assaulted.

Where did you develop this open and honest self-deprecation? Was it the classic thing where you were bullied and learned to make fun of yourself first?

I feel dishonest if I’m not telling on myself. I feel like I’m lying if I’m not telling on myself, so it feels really good to do it. It also made the comedians laugh many, many years ago when I started, so that kind of made me feel like, “Oh, this is a good direction to go in.” It made the comics laugh and felt really cleansing and honest.

People compare comedy and therapy a lot, but I think what you’re doing is, in a very real way, a therapeutic exercise of sorts. One of the reasons we go to therapy is to learn how to be honest with ourselves, to not be delusional, and to look at why our personal world works the way it does. I think you’re able to tap into that naturally.

And comfortably. It feels right to do. I think that’s kind of why it comes off as natural because I like doing it. I love making fun of myself and finding what it is I do that other people do. I also like to have other people hear stuff and go, “I’m not that bad.” That, to me, is the best compliment – when people email me and go, “Dude, I felt alone liking this. I felt like it was wrong.” It’s not. Sex is just this thing that we all have shame with, and as long as you’re not victimizing a person or forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do, I think pretty much most of it’s good.

Your current tour is going through March. Do you have plans for your next special?

I don’t know where I will do it. It’s one of those things where I want to do one, I’m just not sure where. But I definitely want to do another special. It’s absolutely what I’m leading up to.

It’s been awhile since you’ve put out a book, but your previous releases were very successful. Are you working on anything like that at the moment?

I would love to do a third book. I just haven’t yet, and I don’t know why. Most of my writing has gone into my standup specials in the last eight years, so maybe that’s it.

As someone who taps into anger and frustration so much, I’m curious about what makes you genuinely happy? There’s a lot of fucked up stuff going on and plenty to be upset about, but what is your retreat?

That’s a really good question. For me to work is so much fun. I love working, I love being a standup, I love doing radio, and I love doing the UFC podcast. I have a constant break from it even though it’s omnipresent. Politics and the world isn’t this big heavy thing because I get to make fun of it. I don’t really take retreats from it, but I don’t need to because the way I deal with it is fun. It’s fun to do what I do for a living.

Are you saying that your work is a form of self-care?

It is, yeah. I have it easy. It’s a fun gig. I have no desire to walk away from it. I really don’t need a break or release from it. I look at what other people do for a living. The fact that I’m able to tell my stupid jokes for money is just phenomenal.

Head over to Norton’s website for more info on his Kneeling Room Only tour.

Catching Up with Jim Norton