Stand-up comic Jim Norton, the embodiment of the angry New Yorker, wouldn’t seem like an obvious advocate of Jay Leno, often derided as milquetoast and blander than boiled carrots.
But Norton, who does comedy bits for Leno on occasion, believes the NBC talk-show host has been unfairly maligned after bombing out at 10 p.m., then taking back “The Tonight Show” earlier this year, displacing Conan O’Brien.
“Critics feel smarter preferring Conan over Jay,” said Norton from his home in Manhattan, promoting his shows at the Punchline this weekend (details below). “There’s a natural inclination in people who pride themselves intellectually to not go with what the masses go with. Leno is actually a lot edgier than Conan as a stand up. He’s edgier than David Letterman though Letterman is great, too. Jay got a bad rap.”
He didn’t see any reason why Leno should have stepped down when he was doing as well as he was. “It’s a childish attitude to tell a guy who was No. 1 in his time slot to just walk away because some executive doesn’t want to admit he made a horrible decision five years ago. [NBC announced in 2004 that Leno would relinquish his spot in 2009.]”
Neither side, Norton said, told the truth in 2004. Leno wouldn’t admit he was getting squeezed out while O’Brien threatened to leave without the promise of the “Tonight Show” in 2009.
Conan, Norton said, had a great deal at 12:35 p.m. on NBC. Just wanting “The Tonight Show” didn’t mean he deserved it. “Heck, if Jay fell in a ditch and NBC offered the show to me, I’d take it in a second. I’d bang Angelina Jolie, too, if Brad Pitt weren’t f**** her. It’s easy to want things. Letterman wanted ‘The Tonight Show,’ too. He went across the street and became a monster at CBS. The guys who pounded Jay the hardest wanted his job.”
But enough about Jay. Norton himself is a funny stand-up comic heard regularly on the Opie & Anthony Show on XM Satellite radio. And he brings plenty of edge on Leno’s show. Check him out at this inventor’s show, which features him mocking a product called “Douche To Go” and another which enables him to mock his own product:
And Norton isn’t afraid to get into tiffs with celebrities. Here he is on Opie & Anthony getting Jesse Ventura so hot under the collar that the former politician/wrestler walks out:
“He thought I was doing it for publicity, but I really didn’t agree with him,” he said to me about Ventura.
He also riffed about how the public ate up the Mel Gibson phone recordings in which he sounded like a mad man. “We love watching people get in trouble,” he said. “We’re a country of hall monitors. We are easily offended teen-age girls. It’s embarrassing.”
Norton was also part of the great poker scene on the new FX show “Louie” starring Louie C.K. It’s not family friendly so I’m not going to embed the video, but if you want to check it out, it’s on YouTube.
“It came from a real conversation at the Comedy Cellar table in New York,” Norton said. “He just decided to film it. He’s a great writer and great comic.”
On the FCC: “It’d be happy if the FCC were burned alive. They’re despicable and not necessary. But it won’t affect commercial radio. Radio is run by these douchy lawyers. Content is made based on special interests, not the FCC. Nobody thinks you can just drop the C bomb or F bomb. They buckle to special interests who protest the advertisers so you can’t say any ethnic jokes or whatever the sacred cow of the day is.
On “Mad Men” on Sunday, the Ad Age reporter asked the question to Don Draper: “Who is Don Draper?” So I asked Jim Norton: “Who is Jim Norton?”
“I’m a much nicer guy than people think I’m going to be. I think I’m pretty fair. I’m also a sex addict with anger problems. This is the truth. My girlfriend and I were arguing a couple of days ago. I really understand Mel Gibson. I understand the anger when you’re communicating and you don’t feel like they’re hearing you. He’s not yelling about blacks. His anger is that this woman will not hear him… I’m Mel Gibson without the acting talent.”
He said the crux of their argument stemmed from his girlfriend looking for a place to live and checking out some tough neighborhoods in New York. He wanted her to get a smaller place in a safer neighborhood. “I worry that she’s a rape waiting to happen,” he said. They got into a nasty argument because she felt he was trying to control her. Ultimately, she found a decent place in a decent neighborhood.
What if some girlfriend taped his arguments? “Nobody would give a s***. That’s the beauty of being a comedian. We tell on ourselves. It’s like what are you going to say to a comic that he hasn’t already said himself? I’m not the sexiest man alive. I’m a dirtbag comedien!”
Punchline Comedy Club
290 Hilderbrand Drive, Atlanta
Thursday, July 29, 8 p.m., Friday, July 30 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., Saturday July 31, 7 p.m., 9 p.m.. and 11 p.m.