New Jersey-born Jim Norton brings his caustic humor back to Borgata's Music Box
You need only read the title of his first of two best-selling books to know Jim Norton is partial to poking fun at himself, and would be the first to admit his image is not likely to grace the pages of GQ.
His mug seems more suited to the wall of the post office, but for a guy who's suffered some serious self-esteem issues (and maybe still does), crime wasn't the cure. Instead he parlayed his homely looks, humble northern New Jersey upbringings and spontaneous, acerbic wit into one of the most hilarious comedy acts in America. He returns to the Borgata this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 16-18, for the first time since selling out the intimate Music Box three times last Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
"The Music Box holds about a thousand people, which to do comedy is perfect," says Norton, who was born in Bayonne, raised in North Brunswick and now lives in New York City. "That's a big audience, but not so overwhelmingly large that you lose anything. It's like a giant comedy club. I'd rather do three shows there than one in [Borgata's 3,000-seat] Event Center."
A seasoned comedic veteran of radio, television, film and stand-up, Norton, 40, bases a lot of his live material on lampooning himself, much like he does in his first book Happy Endings: Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch. That book reached No. 4 on the New York Times best-seller list and stayed there for five weeks. His second book, I Hate Your Guts, released in November, reached No. 13 on the Times list, is selling even better than the first, and shows he's not shy about scorning celebrities he feels are deserving of being derided. The book includes 35 critiques of people in the public eye who burn him up, among them Hillary Clinton, Heather Mills, Dr. Phil, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Keith Olbermann.
"Probably with a lot of people, whether it's Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or Keith Olbermann, these are guys who have impunity to say what they want, and they should, but nobody really attacks them," Norton tells Atlantic City Weekly during a recent phone call. "Nobody brutalizes them or calls them out for what phonies they can be."
Few subjects are off limits in Norton's stand-up routine, which can get kind of raunchy and has been dubbed "cringe" humor. He'll joke about sex: "My girlfriend and I had different ideas about what my [performance] problems might be. She bought me Viagra, I bought her a treadmill." He'll joke about race: "White people have an odd guilt complex all the time. We really feel bad when most of us don't have to. If you're over 65 and you're living in Alabama? OK, chances are you owe a few apologies." He'll poke fun at gays: "I don't understand homophobia. I have a gay friend helping me decorate my apartment. OK, I know that sounds stereotypical, but I've talked to my straight friends and they're just worthless." Much of what he makes fun of, he says, are everyday issues put into a personal perspective, much like what the late George Carlin, one of his primary influences, used to do so well.
"Carlin was like the guy who thought of all the stuff we missed," says Norton. "Comics looked to Carlin the way most people look to comics -- like 'Hey, where do you come up with that?' As comedians we know where most of our ideas come from, but we would look at Carlin and think, 'Where the [expletive] did you come up with that?' That's how great he was.
"A lot of comedy is just giving your take on things, because there really are no original ideas," Norton adds. "I mean, except for topical stuff what are you going to talk about? Relationships? Death? Oral sex? You give your take on stuff so if you're original, your material will be original."
Norton's done a ton of work for HBO (most notably showcases like One Night Stand, his own comedy special called Monster Rain, and the sitcom Lucky Louie that developed a strong fan base, but got cancelled after one season) and other networks. He's been a guest on Leno and Letterman several times, and since October he's done four episodes of an HBO series called Down and Dirty, filmed at the Bergen (N.J.) Performing Arts Center, that follows the hit show Real Time with Bill Maher. His career has soared since a modest start in the comedic world in 1990, and while he groans about having to be out the door at 5:45am every weekday (for his regular radio gig on the Opie & Anthony Show) he has no intention of coasting.
"Getting up stinks but there's so many worse jobs I could have, so the nerve of me to bitch," he says. "You learn to get used to being miserable and tired.
"You always try to keep that silly dream ahead of you, but did I believe all this would happen? No," he adds. "It was always the goal, or always something I set my sights on, but being negative with no self esteem, I never thought I would actually achieve what I have so far. I'm doing well, I'm not complaining, but I'm not where I want to be. I mean, there's a lot more I want to accomplish."
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