Jim Norton brings his honesty to the Buffalo comedy scene

Comedian shares experiences and thoughts on the profession before Buffalo performance

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Jim Norton became interested in stand-up comedy when he was 12 years old.

Now, Norton performs at sold-out shows across the country and runs a radio show on weekday mornings. He has also created several podcasts, appeared in a few comedy shows, published two books and may have a small role in the upcoming Netflix feature film “The Irishman.” 

Norton will deliver new jokes directly to Buffalonians at Helium Comedy Club Sept. 5-7 as a part of his national stand-up tour.  

 Our discussion with Norton, lightly edited for length and style, follows below. 

The Spectrum: You became interested in stand-up comedy after seeing a Richard Pryor special when you were 12, but why exactly did this special lead to an interest in the profession? 

Norton: I was funny as a kid, but I never knew what to do with that. It was like being able to throw a football but not knowing the NFL exists. And then all of a sudden when you see somebody doing it, you’re like, “Oh that’s what you do with this thing.” This whole making kids in the class laugh, making people laugh and feeling the high of making people laugh. When I saw Richard Pryor, I understood that’s what you do with it. That’s what you do with it with your life. That’s what you do with it when you’re an adult. 

TS: In a Forbes article, you said you “never expect anything” out of your future career, projects and successes. Why have you worked as a comedian all your life? What is it about comedy that drives you?

N: Well, I mean, I like making people laugh, and the reaction is immediate, you know, I can adjust on the spot. I know immediately if something is working, and it’s a high. I mean, there’s no high like standing up in front of a room full of people who are paying attention to you and making them laugh. I mean, there’s nothing like that. I tend to always respect value out of myself. But I think a lot of comedians are like that. You know, a lot of us are low-self-esteem idiots. Every time you make a crowd laugh, that’s one more moment that you don’t have to look at the fact that you fail. 

TS: What are the best and worst parts about doing stand-up?

N: The fact that it all lies on my shoulders, and I am responsible for that show and the way it goes, is both the best and the worst part. The best part is that I can talk about whatever I want. The worst part is if it doesn’t work, it’s completely my fault.

TS: What makes stand-up comedy unique for you?

N:It’s different every night. What worked last night might not work tonight. I can change it as I go along and if something is not working, I can address it. It’s a different crowd every night so even if the material is the same as last night, there’s something new every night.

TS: You’ve published two books,which have both appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list. What inspired you to publish these books? Did you expect them to become as popular as they are?

N:No, I mean, the first one is better. A lot of that was written a few years earlier when I was depressed because “Opie and Anthony” had been kicked off the radio. So I was blogging a lot just to have some kind of reaction from people, and book agents saw the writings [and said], “You have really good writings. This stuff is very funny. You should piece this together.” So I pieced a lot of it together. I edited and I changed some stuff, and [then] I had an outline for a book. [Then] I added a few new things, and I had my first book. [For] the second one I wrote, I was kind of angry at the language policing going on and radio guys getting fired for offending special-interest groups. So the second book was angrier than it should have been.

TS: Along with doing stand-up, you can also be heard weekday mornings on “The Jim Norton & Sam RobertsShow.” You have also done podcasts such as “UFC Unfiltered with Jim Norton and Matt Serra” and the “Chip Chipperson Podacast.” How different is it doing your work on the radio or in podcasts versus stand-up comedy? Which is more of a challenge for you?

N: It really depends. In stand-up, there’s a live audience watching you, so anything could go wrong. The radio has to be different every day. You have to come up with different things to say every day and different jokes every day. So, they both are hard and easy in their own way. They just work a different muscle. … When I’m doing a live podcast, I tend to let the stand-up instincts kick in as opposed to the way I would do a podcast. So, I guess the stand-up is my dominant feature of my brain.

TS: You’ve also appeared in multiple comedy TV shows such as “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Louie” and “Crashing”and just shot a featured role for “The Irishman”starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Does working in TV or film feel even more different?

N:Yeah those are different because you can redo it, and you know what lines you are saying before you say them. So, the good part is that you can redo it. The bad part is you don’t get to just make it up as you go along, and if something is not working in an acting scene, you can’t just make fun of it and save it. You have to go through the dialogue with that scene. 

TS: You’ve performed in Buffalo before, is there anything that makes Buffalo different compared to other stops? 

N:No, I mean, Buffalo is a lot like Philadelphia, New Jersey and Ohio. They’re just kind of like blue-collar people. If you’re funny, they’ll laugh, and if you’re not, they won’t. You don’t need to be politically correct. They just want you to be funny, so they’re a great crowd. It’s one of my favorite ones.

TS: What should Buffalonians expect from your upcoming performance?

N:Well, it’s updated from the last time I was there. It’s a new hour. We’ll talk a lot about what’s going on in the world, my own disastrous personal life, [and] there are a few documentaries on Netflix I’m touching on.

TS: Is there anything you want to say to Buffalonians who are thinking about seeing your show?

N:Buy a ticket because you never know when I’m gonna die, and I won’t be able to come back. 

Anastasia Wilds is an assistant arts editor and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.