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Interview: Comedian Jim Norton's new special, "Please Be Offended," premieres tomorrow night on EPIX

Comedian Jim Norton's first special in 5 years premieres tomorrow night on EPIX at 10pm
Comedian Jim Norton's first special in 5 years premieres tomorrow night on EPIX at 10pm

Jim Norton is known to millions of people from his nearly daily appearances on SiriusXM's "Opie & Anthony Show," his work on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," cameos in movies like Spider-Man, and TV show roles in "Lucky Louie," "Bored To Death," and "Louie." If you go to New York City, you can catch Norton doing at least 1 comedy set per night in the best comedy clubs, including the world-famous Comedy Cellar. Norton also organizes road trips, pulls together his favorite comics to open for him, and even sets up national tours, like the Anti Social Comedy Tour with incredible lineups with some of the most confrontational comedians working today. For somebody as raw and unapologetic as Norton, he is one of the most humble and appreciative comics I've ever talked to. Tomorrow night, Norton's first solo comedy special since 2007 will premiere on the EPIX network at 10pm. Below we talked about the special, some of the themes he explored in this new hour, and how he survives his gruelling schedule:

You recorded Please Be Offended in Cleveland where you have a great fan base, have you figured out why you have a strong following in a place like Cleveland versus another city?

Jim Norton: The more disgruntled the white people are, the happier they are to see me, that has to be it. I do really well in Boston, I do really well in Cleveland, I do really well in Philly, Jersey, certain parts of Florida. Places where there are really really aggressive white people tend to love me.

How did you figure out what to put into an hour when you are so prolific? You have characters on Opie & Anthony, you're constantly at the Comedy Cellar, among other New York City venues. How do you identify what to keep for an hour?

Jim Norton: The Cellar is a great place to work on new bits. Going on the road is great because that's where I'll do an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes which is where I get an idea of how the flow works. For me it's just about going on stage and working it out. Radio also helps because you'll mention something there and then talk about it later that night. I have to know the details of the news in order to talk about it. I have found being on the radio to be very very helpful in that way.

How do you survive your schedule? You are on the radio for several hours every morning and then you are doing late shows at the Comedy Cellar - how are you able to stay functional?

Jim Norton: I'm always tired. It's funny, I just got a sleep apnea mask because I'm always tired. When I shot the special I was utterly exhausted, I don't sleep well. When you have apnea you sleep terribly anyway, the more hours I spend in bed, the more hours of terrible sh-tty sleep I get, but you kind of get used to it. It's a difficult schedule. I get up at 5:30am and do the radio show until 10:30. Then I come home and relax, sometimes I'll do press or sometimes I'll go out and audition. And then I go out and get at least one set on the weeknights. You kind of get used to it but you never get used to waking up in the morning, but I don't think you can get used to these crazy hours. But I really love doing this - sometimes it's a grind like any other job but I do feel very lucky to be able to work as much as I do. It's not a hard job, radio or standup, there are hard parts of it, sure. There are guys who do ten hours of construction a day don't want to hear me talk about my job being difficult. Compared to what a lot of people do, this is genuinely easy. I try to do as much as I can for my career.

In your special you talk about Mel Gibson and his problems a bit, why did that particular incident get under your skin so much that you wanted to devote a chunk of your show to it?

Jim Norton: What got under my skin wasn't Mel Gibson, it was the public. I also touch on Tiger [Woods] a little bit because Americans are really phony in that, we are the nosiest culture on earth and yet we go to the airport and cry because we feel our privacy is being violated. We live to be nosy and look into other peoples' private lives but when it comes to our private life we become very very protective. So I talk bout Gibson and Tiger Woods, "Hoarders" and MSNBC's "Lockup" as points of reference to what nosy people we are and the nerve of us to complain when somebody wants to look in our private lives. We don't give everybody the same respective privacy we want for ourselves, that's kind of why I love talking about those things.

You talk about sex a lot, are you also poking at the American hypocrisy of using sex to sell everything but as soon as someone is "caught" in a sexual situation, they are a bad person or disgusting and should be vilified?

Jim Norton: It all comes under the same heading of us being phony with what we do and what we say. But when I talk about sex, basically, I'm talking about my privacy because I feel that if I'm going to stand up there and make fun about other people's private lives, the reason why I feel very comfortable doing that is because I expose myself. I'm not sitting here with a holier-than-thou attitude attacking people for behaving a certain way. I'm very comfortable letting you know that I can't get on Elliot Spitzer for getting hookers because I love hookers, I can't get on some other guy for doing something because I like doing it too. I feel like it gives me a reason, a justification for talking about a lot of things because I'm very comfortable blasting myself and making fun of my own BS.

How do you deliver that kind of material in a theater setting versus in a smaller and more intimate venue like the Cellar?

Jim Norton: It's the same because the crowd has to laugh at it. Sometimes it's more difficult in a smaller setting because it's more personal whereas in a theater it's a big anonymous group. The thing is, you can't be apologetic about it, I don't feel guilty telling the audience that I don't need them to approve and I think an audience can sense that. I want them to laugh but I'm not asking their permission to be a pervert, I am one. Hopefully they think it's funny but if not that's too bad because that's who I am. You can't apologize for who you are on a stage, you can reveal who you are but don't apologize because that's begging the audience to turn on you.

Who did you have warm up the audience for the special?

Jim Norton: Lenny Marcus, who just destroyed on Letterman, he is really a funny guy. He went up and killed them for me, he is always really funny.

How about your career as an impresario, putting together tours like the Anti Social Comedy tour?

Jim Norton: This year Bill Burr is doing his own thing and Jim Breuer is doing his thing, so on the tour it's me, Dave Attell, and also Nick DiPaulo and Artie Lang, and we've added Doug Stanhope for some shows. This is a phenomenal lineup and the show is much dirtier this time around. I'm really happy that people are loving this new lineup because it was so difficult to replace Burr and Breuer.

As part of getting your special on EPIX out there, you've done a series of very funny promotional videos [Warning: some expletives in the video] that you've been sharing online, how did these come about? They are so much more creative than what one usually gets for standup special promos.

Jim Norton: EPIX wanted to promote it and I wanted to as well but I wasn't sure what we should do. I had a concept of me apologizing but theirs was better. I contributed a lot of lines to this but the overall concept was from EPIX, it was really funny. We're tweeting them everyday and people are liking them, they made me laugh, they came out exactly how we wanted them to. EPIX has been great to work with.

You also have this amazing opening video that plays just before you come out on stage which includes Ozzy Osbourne.

Jim Norton: Oh, thanks! I can't believe that we got Ozzy Osbourne to do that! I couldn't believe that he agreed to do that, it was awesome.


Jim Norton's special, Please Be Offended, premieres tomorrow night, June 30, at 10pm, on EPIX.