Jim Norton has worn several hats since breaking into the comedy scene in the ’90s: TV actor (“Crashing”), radio show host (“Jim & Sam”), author (“Happy Endings”) and stand-up comedian.
Norton is currently in the midst of his Kneeling Room Only comedy tour, but he’s still known best for his SiriusXM radio show, “Jim & Sam,” which he leads alongside Sam Roberts daily at 8 a.m., and his Chip Chipperson podcast. Norton developed the “enraging, unfunny” character that “people really seem to like” in 2016 and launched his Riotcast podcast series one year later based on an unpredicted positive response.
“I think people like the character because it’s about the awfulness in all of us. People really relate, and it’s their biggest fear that we’re all that annoying character deep down,” he says.
When not on the radio, the New Jersey native spends most of his time performing stand-up in NYC — specifically at the Comedy Cellar on Macdougal Street, where he’s been performing since the early ’90s. Thursday night he focused his entire Comedy Cellar set on the recent sexual harassment allegations against Louis C.K., and he brought his Keeling Room tour to Town Hall for a New York Comedy Festival performance.
Norton recalls a bit about the early days of performing at the Cellar and gives us a look into the psyche of Chip Chipperson.
You’ve been performing in NYC for years. What’s been the most memorable about being a part of the city’s stand-up scene?
For the first five years, I was in Jersey, but I’ve been on the East Side since 1995. The Comedy Cellar, I would say I’m at by far the most. I’m there almost every night.
The most memorable thing about that is the relationship you have with the comedians upstairs. I spent years upstairs with Bill Burr and Colin Quinn attacking each other. It really makes you tougher as a comedian and toughens your skin a lot. When Kevin Hart first came around, we’d do the same. We’d argue politics, we’d argue race and every single social issue. What happens is, when you’re talking with really honest people, you get an intolerance of BS because you’re around people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. They’re not trying to be polite.
Between stand up, radio and TV shows, which do you prefer?
I love radio because it’s live every day, but also what I love about stand up is the immediate reaction of the audience. There’s an advantage you get to having the reaction right away. Acting I like, but not as much because you already know what you’ll say. With radio, it’s different every single day.
With stand-up, there’s also more freedom. I start at the end and trace it backward to keep myself from getting bored. A lot of times I improvise.
How do you deal with a challenging audience?
It depends on why. There’s times I stink, and I know I stink. You really want to cry and go, “Please like me!” But you can’t. If I think I’m bombing because of the crowd, I’ll go down with the ship and it’ll be ugly, but if I think they’re pretty good and I stink, I’ll try to do more material they like. You really want to cry and beg.
What can fans expect from your Kneeling Room Only tour?
It covers everything in my personal life, pop culture, politics, everything we’ve been dealing with in last 8 months to a year, plus my disastrous dating life, as always. I’ve always had bad luck with dating and it’s just more of me being single and isolated. I talk about whatever’s happening in my life, the relationship I’m in right now and being faithful.
What’s your approach to mixing politics and stand-up comedy?
I try to make fun of us as a whole. It doesn’t matter who’s in office — Trump, Obama, Clinton — the public is the same. So, I try to find out where we are, as a country we’re full of s— and that’s what I tend to focus on when I make fun of politics. Politicians are just like us, so I try to focus on us as a whole — yeah, make fun of the president but to me, it’s easy to pick away at . . . The most important thing is to stay funny it’s not a political rally. I’m not obsessed with being right or proving a point.