In Defense of Offense

A nice-guy heart beats within the crotchety, button-pushing exterior of comedian Jim Norton

April 11, 2012

Jim Norton is candid. He’s emotionally honest. He’s also prone to being alarmingly blunt about topics that many would consider taboo to discuss in polite company.

“What’s always made me laugh is when people say things you can’t believe that they’re saying,” Norton says. “Not because it’s shocking, but because it’s insightful — or the truth that you had thought and were afraid to say.”

As the third member of the shock-jock “Opie and Anthony” radio show, author of two New York Times best-selling books and a longtime stand-up comic, Norton delivers raunchy stories of his sexual exploits, self-deprecating remembrances and topical observations that are brutal in their wit and language. But if you follow Norton long enough, you’ll find the warm person beneath the rough exterior. And he’s happy to show that vulnerability.

“You want to be a complete human being onstage,” Norton says. “For me, the funnier stuff tends to be the harsher stuff, because that’s always what made me laugh. The warmer stuff is harder to portray onstage without being cheesy or without looking like you are whoring for applause breaks.”

Though Norton is a frequent contributor to “The Tonight Show,” his habit of talking about whatever comes to mind has held him back from wider acceptance.

“It’s not language­ — it’s content,” he says. “You can’t make fun of race anymore. We’re an apology-obsessed nation of babies. You can’t touch any content that will offend a special-interest group. I love to talk about stuff like that.”

Some bits are sure to elicit equal-opportunity offense: “I’m doing a lot of Jerry Sandusky stuff now,” he says. “So that tends to get kinda dark.”

Sandusky jokes will be a part of the set he’ll work through this weekend at the DC Improv in preparation for his next stand-up special, “Please Be Offended,” due to air soon on the EPIX network and later on Comedy Central. But it’s Norton’s personal stories — the raw and embarrassing ones — that are at the heart of his comedy.

“I can always talk about Jim Norton completely uniquely,” he says. “Also, because if I expose it, you can’t hurt me with it. Once I say it, there’s nothing you can do to hurt me with it.”

DC Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW; Thu.-Sat., see Dcimprov.com for showtimes, $22; 202-296-7008. (Farragut North)
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Christopher Porter | April 11, 2012