Unabashed sweetheart/creep Jim Norton talks Ozzy Osbourne, Patrice O’Neal, The Opie and Anthony Show and and his new one-hour special, Please Be Offended, airing Saturday on Epix.
You had two previous HBO specials plus the Down and Dirty with Jim Norton showcase. How did Epix come into consideration for Please Be Offended?
Well, HBO really wasn’t really doing a lot of specials so we didn’t really even look at them. Epix came to the table with a good amount of money, and I liked a lot of the comedians they were using. They’d done something with Louie [C.K.] and they did a lot of stuff with Lewis Black, Eddie Izzard. So they were kind of the logical next step for me, because I knew they would give me total creative freedom, and they did. And I respected the comedians they’ve been working with a lot.
And why film it in Cleveland as opposed to your frequent haunt of New Jersey?
I draw very well in Cleveland. So I knew that I would see tickets there, and that really is all it came down to, is I wanted to sell tickets. So Cleveland was the right choice for me.
How on Earth did you talk Ozzy Osbourne into making a cameo in the introduction, sitting on a toilet, no less?
Well, I asked Ozzy. I went through Sharon because he was in England taping the new Sabbath CD. And I’ve interviewed Ozzy many times. I’ve introduced him on stage before. I was one of the four people at the tribute to him in LA [2009’s Sunset Strip Music Festival]. So I have a relationship with the family. It was a one-page script, and I think Sharon thought it was funny. I think she liked that I kind of tapped into Ozzy’s voice when I wrote it. I wrote for him in a way that sounds like Ozzy. I don’t know how they agreed to do it. But she was like, “Okay, he’d be delighted!” And then she goes, “Do you mind doing it at our house?” I was like, “No!” So I go to Sharon and Ozzy’s house and we shoot it, and it’s just fucking awesome. They were amazing. And then Ozzy, after we’re done he goes, “Jim, come here. I want to play something for you. He brings me downstairs into the basement, and he plays me two new Black Sabbath songs, just to kind of hear what I thought. It was probably the single greatest day I’ve ever had in my life. It was awesome! It was fucking awesome!
And you were probably, “Yes, this is the best song I’ve ever heard, Mr. Osbourne.”
You know what’s funny? I really did like them. If I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t have been a dick about it, but I genuinely did like the song. Because it sounded like Sabbath. I mean, it was what I wanted, exactly what I wanted to hear from Sabbath for years.
Wow, it’s all downhill from there.
Really, there nothing else…unless I pull a train with Ozzy and we bang a girl together, there’s really not much else I can do that will make me happy.
Watching the special, there seems to be more mainstream material at the beginning. But then by the end it’s the Jim Norton that we’ve all come to know and love. Was that deliberate?
Well, it all depends on the theme of the special. When I’m looking at the special, even though there’s not a lot of profanity in the beginning, there’s a lot of things I could never do on TV, like [Al] Sharpton dying in a plane crash they wouldn’t let me do on TV, comparing the mosque at Ground Zero do a condom machine in a rape-crisis center they would never let me do on regular TV. So it was just a matter of leading into it. I didn’t want it to be a bunch of dick jokes, so it has to have a flow to it. If you just start off talking about, “Hey, I want him to get fucked with a strap-on!” or whatever it is, where do you go from there? You want to lead people into what you want to talk about. Which is the logical progression. If you’re doing an hour it’s a lot different than doing 15 minutes. But I wanted to do something very different than Monster Rain. And you want to make people laugh at what you want them to laugh at. It’s easy just to go up and be really dirty, which I just didn’t want to do.
There’s some context to the content.
Yeah. I mean, I thought the [Jerry] Sandusky stuff was pretty brutal, which again…and sometimes when you know where you’re gonna go, you have to balance it out a little bit. Because I know how harsh the material gets, and I knew it would get laughs in front of my audience, but that stuff has gotten groans so many times, because some of it’s pretty graphic.
The dedication of the show to Patrice O’Neal was a nice touch at the end. I have to assume you spoke to his family prior to doing so, particularly about the camera closing in during the credits on his hat hanging at the back of the stage.
No, I didn’t tell them that. They gave me the hat as a gift. He had a lot of hats they just sent to a few of his close friends as a gift. As soon as I got it I knew I wanted to put it at the end of the special. I had it on stage, but I didn’t want it to be a distraction. I didn’t want people to be depressed to think about Patrice the whole show, so I was very happy with the way that came out, too. How could I not do anything special? He was one of my best friends.
What do you think is Patrice’s lasting legacy?
He was a pretty fearless comic. I mean, he was not afraid to alienate people, and he was brutally honest. Whether you agreed with him or didn’t agree with him, he was a brutally honest standup and person, uncomfortably honest in a lot of cases. He was an undeniably brilliant comic. I think that will be his legacy. He was truly one of the greats. I’m not just saying that because he’s dead, or because he was my friend. I really believe it.
It’s a fun moment when you shout-out Opie and Anthony in the audience.
I always do, because it’s because of those guys that I have such a fanbase and they always like to support my stuff and come. It’s a small way of including them in my night. When you’re shooting an hour special it’s a big night for any fucking standup—anyone that tells you different is lying—it’s a huge thing for a comic to do. It’s fun, but you feel a lot of pressure. I wanted those guys to be a part of it somehow simply because my fanbase is because of that show.
And it’s not just you, but they’ve done a lot for comedy in general that seems like it might not otherwise have happened. There might be a hole existing without their comedy tastes and their own sense of humor that they’ve put out in the world.
They do embrace much harsher comedy. And you’re right: a lot of people don’t. You don’t see a lot of what O&A find funny on, like, Comedy Central. Not that Comedy Central’s bad, but they just represent a different mentality of stand up. Opie and Anthony are great, I think, for comedians. They let comics just go; they don’t want you to do bits. If you come on the O&A show and do bits, you’re dead. You’re just going to fucking bomb. It’s going to be uncomfortable, ‘cause no one’s gonna fake-laugh at your bits. That’s not natural. That’s stupid.
As far as other stuff on the horizon, any specific season three Louie appearances or Leno segments coming up?
I’m doing Leno this Friday and I’m doing it once next week and I think once the week after. They have me three weeks in a row doing segments. Louie I shot for two episodes this year…I think three new episodes this year. So I’ll be making appearances there, and I’m supposed to do Kevin Smith’s new movie, the hockey movie he’s doing [Hit Somebody]. I haven’t shot it yet, but I’m very, very happy to do that.
How did that come about?
He’s a friend of mine, and he always gives me little cameos in his movies. This one’s actually a decent role, so I just hope I don’t fuck it up.
Jim Norton’s special, Please Be Offended premieres this weekend on Epix and www.epixhd.com.