6:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Jim Norton Talks Charlie Sheen, Transgender Sex on Netflix Special: "We Are All a Little Bit Dirty"
Jim Norton is having a moment.
The 48-year-old comedian is part of a celebrated crush of comics with new Netflix specials currently streaming, among them Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer and Trevor Noah, with more on the way from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt. Norton also recently announced his first-ever European tour, one that will take him to Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhangen, Antwerp and Amsterdam at the end of May.
But there's more: He recently signed with WME with an eye for his own series. The sum of these parts qualifies as a moment, no? Still, there's no way any combination of seconds or experiences can compare to the moment Norton had while filming the opening for the new Netflix outing, Mouthful of Shame, an intro that delivered Robert De Niro, Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais. It was the former that handled one of Norton's most prized, um, assets. In the scene, Norton bends over De Niro's knee with his pants pulled down far enough to expose his bare ass, and what comes next is best seen rather than explained here — for comedic purposes, of course. It's only just the beginning.
Norton's special includes material on a wide range of topics, including a response to Charlie Sheen's HIV status, transgender sex and getting busted sexting by a former girlfriend. If it sounds raunchy, that's exactly the point. Norton is known for exposing the seedier side of the male brain, even if he seems to shine brightest when presenting an authentic look at all aspects of life not limited to the bedroom. "You know, we are all a little bit dirty," Norton teases to The Hollywood Reporter during a lively phone interview just hours ahead of taking the stage on the East Coast.
I'm guessing that the first question anyone wants to ask you these days has to do with Robert De Niro slapping your bare ass?
Yes. Well you know the truth is, he begged to do it. I just have a great ass. No, it is funny, he was so gracious to agree to do the thing. I left that out of the script because I was afraid that that would raise a red flag, so I just asked him in the moment. I brought a hairbrush in case he did not want to touch my bare ass. I even said, 'Bob if you do not want to touch my ass I get it.' But he is like, 'Nah, I do not care.'
You tweeted that it was one of the better moments of your life. Where do you go from here?
We always look ahead. I really thought of (De Niro) like my dream along. I tried to get him three years ago to (introduce me) and he was shooting movies and I did not know him (yet). I have had Ozzy Osbourne do it; he was on a toilet in his house and he introduced me. Michael Ken Williams, who was Omar from The Wire, introduced on one. I literally have no idea what I will do next. I do not think I could top this one. The best I could hope for is a lateral move and get [Al] Pacino nude in the hot tub. That would be a nice step.
At this point, people expect a raunchy peek into your life. I was wondering after this special was finished, was there anything that you felt maybe should've been kept private?
A lot of the sexual stuff I have joked about for years and people know, but the stuff about, like, transgender (sex), I wanted to say that for real. I have to be funny with it. That is my job. My job is not to change the way people feel. It is not my business how they feel. What I said about Hollywood — that they mean well and their hearts are in the right place — but for all the yammering about language and hyphenating and being proper, I can't think of anyone who is showing any true support which is standing up and saying, 'Yeah, this is somebody I date. This is somebody I am attracted to sexually or as a partner.'
You have jokes about Caitlyn Jenner and Charlie Sheen. Do you ever hear criticisms from them or does anyone on your team?
I have not had anything. I didn’t trash Charlie. I mean, I basically pointed out that the country wasn’t that shocked. He's an A-list celebrity who announced that he was HIV-positive after living a pretty crazy life. It's a pretty shocking revelation but yet nobody was surprised. And the Bree Olson story is true. [Norton admits that he and Sheen have a sexual partner in common, Bree Olson]. I had sex with her. It was amazing for me, not necessarily for her. … I had a whole big hunk (of material) on Caitlyn, but I cut it because it felt too a bit dated.
How do you use Twitter when you are coming up with material?
I’m a quick fix junkie. I like instant gratification. Sometimes when something happens, I’ll go on Twitter and fire out a bunch of jokes, and then once in a while you go, 'Wow, these things actually do have a shelf life,' so they wind up in the act. If you are teasing Trump and (remember) that he is going to be the president for four years, you could probably reword it and use it for another two and a half, three years.
Brett Ratner recently said that Rotten Tomatoes has ruined the movie business. Do you think Twitter has ruined comedy?
No. I don’t think either has ruined either. The reaction to both of those things is what wrecks it, and the fear of performers for being scolded. Rotten Tomatoes may affect your bottom line at the box office, so maybe he’s got a point there. But when you look at like standup, my job is to be funny as I see fit. If I am going to allow other people to break me of that, then I am not a particularly great comic to begin with. I am not afraid of catching backlash on Twitter. I don’t have jokes that I can’t defend.
Any plans for additional Netflix specials?
I would love to work with Netflix again. I want to pitch a show. I like the platform so much. I was like, how (long should it be), an hour? They are like, 'We don’t give a shit. You know, like around an hour, whatever, do it.' I had total faith in their process. Usually I am so panicky about my stuff — I am a control freak — but with (Netflix) I kind of let them handle it. Internationally, they know what they are doing. It’s everywhere in the world now. It is an unbelievable experience.
Do you have a favorite of the new crop of stand-up specials on Netflix?
Chapelle is getting amazing reviews on his. I have not watched it. I am sure Louis’ is great. But my favorite one I have seen is Colin Quinn. It's brilliant and masterfully done. He talks about race in a really nonjudgmental and brilliant way and paints an honest picture of New York. It came off as a very loving work. That's the best thing I have seen in a long, long time.
You just announced your first European tour with stops in Oslo, Copenhagen, Antwerp and Amsterdam. How does it feel to be heading overseas with a tour for the first time?
A little scary. You know Bill Burr has been in my head for years. Like, because, you know he is telling me, 'Dude just go overseas — they are going to love you.' Bill has this great way of encouraging you and ridiculing you at the same time. So I finally said screw it, I got to do it. I am really psyched. I want to do England this year. There is a bunch of gigs I really really want to do. I am hoping that this special helps.
How do you tailor material for a European audience?
I won't change my stuff. If something doesn’t work, I will try to figure why. But you really can’t do that because if you try to give an audience what you think they want, you’re going to fall on your face. It’s like when you start lying in a relationship and then she finds out, 'Oh my God, you are not the person I thought.' It collapses under its own weight. You just got to just do what you do.
Do you feel pressure to include some [Donald] Trump jokes with the tour abroad?
I had a Trump bit in the special that I took out. Like a dunce, I tripped on the punch line and screwed it up. I think I could do it better and smarter now. I don’t feel the pressure to do it. But I will do it because I want to do it. I never feel the pressure to talk about anything. I have exposed so much of my own real life. Like I feel like I always try to be honest and I always try to talk about where I am at and what I want. So if I don’t mention something it’s just literally it’s just that I don’t have anything to say about it at the moment. Like I never edit stuff out or avoid subjects.
That's a great question. (I learned) that the most important thing in your humor is to be as honest as possible. The fans have an amazing instinct of that show — and they are very aggressive. They have a great instinct for bullshit. They can tell when things aren’t right. Also, you have got to communicate with each other. It is hard to do. Opie and Anthony was like a two-way marriage and I was like the stepson, and then it kind of became a three-way marriage. When people do not communicate, that is why bands fall apart. It sounds corny but it is true.
Good advice for any career no matter what you do.
Communicate and just be open with each other. Have an unpleasant talk once in a while so it does not turn into a festering resentment, which is inevitable. It has happened with every girlfriend I have ever had. Believe me I f— up every relationship horribly. I am a really bad boyfriend.
Speaking of girlfriends, are you the marrying type?
You know, eventually. if I meet a girl, well, it depends on which state, it may or may not be legal. But I am ready for it, definitely. I want something more sustained, something more serious. It’s not even the sex. It’s the stuff I miss, like watching something on Netflix and you care about the opinion of the other person, or asking them what they think after going to a stupid movie. That’s the stuff I really miss.... I am a great friend I am just a fairly shitty boyfriend.
So, I have to ask: When you're overseas with a scheduled stop in Amsterdam, do you pack on any extra time to hang out in the red light district or coffee shop?
No. Dude, I don’t trust myself in Amsterdam. I am going to try to get dropped off at the airport after the gig and just spend the night there. I don’t do drugs but I can get in real trouble there. I’ll just come back home — I have become a nerd as I get older. I just want to come home and sit on the sofa and watch Narcos. I don’t do anything crazy anymore.
Nerds can have a good life too.
And a longer one. Definitely a longer one.