Hey, you. Yeah, you! Jim Norton’s coming to Falls Church!…Oh, you don’t know Jim? Never even heard of him? And you openly admit this isn’t a prop back-and-forth orchestrated by the writer to play on Norton’s insecurities as a professional? Then listen here before you get the regret sweats after finding out how valuable those tickets to the State Theatre this Sunday actually are.
It all started with a kid who, like most, found his funny bone in school. But turning that knack for delivering his impishly dark humor into a living would prove to be a tougher challenge, if only in perception to Norton himself.
He cut his teeth doing stand-up throughout the northeast and in parts of Florida, and got his big break when Andrew Dice Clay enlisted Norton as the opening act for Clay’s tour in 1997. The exposure catapulted Norton to all kinds of avenues over the next 20 years: regular appearances on the Opie & Anthony radio show, TV spots from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to sitcoms, even movie cameos as well as podcasts and authoring books.
For all intents and purposes, Norton is a success in a highly unstable field; yet he still can’t escape the fear that his career is built on fatal fault lines.
“When I got hired doing radio for Opie & Anthony I realized ‘OK, I can make some kind of a living,’ but I still haven’t had any comfortable ‘Eureka’ moment. Everyday is panic-stricken and I’m thinking everything is going to be taken away,” Norton said flatly, before lightening the mood by quipping, “Every time I walk around as a comedian or a hetero male I have impostor syndrome.”
Or was it a joke at all? Norton’s known for his brand of cringe humor, or black comedy, a style that bores right into the absurd (and often times, ugly) reality of whatever cultural moment we’re sharing in. He coaxes audiences into embracing their reflexive uneasiness by leading off with a string of self-deprecation before taking the scalpel to hot topics we’re all divided on.
Whether it’s about his own shortcomings or a societal bout of stupidity, Norton finds a release in speaking the truth of the matter. It’s why he bucks at the recent phenomenon where the national peanut gallery (mainly residing online) tries to dictate what can and can’t be used as material for a joke.
“A comedian’s job has never been to take what is comfortable for people and make it more comfortable. It’s always about expressing dislike or distaste in what people find comfortable,” Norton added. “The idea of only finding subjects that’re palatable is exhausting and impossible because the rules keep changing for what you’re allowed to say.”
Norton notes that this is a tendency found more in younger comics who are scrapping it out for stage time rather than established acts, but it begs the question of why comedy gets this treatment and other art forms don’t. He wonders aloud why, for example, filmmakers are free to make a movie about a rapist, but when it comes to comedian cracking a joke about rape, suddenly it’s taboo. To him, stand-up abides by an unwritten (and asinine) rule that people must agree with the punchline in order to enjoy it, while they can accept the controversial content in other art forms for pure entertainment value.
In short, Norton believes that if you can’t laugh about how messed up the world is, you’re neglecting not only a therapeutic experience but a prism in which the truth exists. So come to the dark side, and see things his way — you may leave the show having laughed and learned more than you expected.
Jim Norton will be performing at the State Theatre (220 N. Washington St., Falls Church) on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. For tickets, go to thestatetheatre.com/events/e2101.xml.