Jim Norton’s hosting talent is undeniable. Hardened by the pit-fire of Opie & Anthony and liberal time on the Tonight Show circuit, Norton’s candor, ease with and appreciation of celebrity makes him the perfect choice for his own talk show. And so Vice.com launched The Jim Norton Show, itself quite at ease with Norton’s kind of provocative humor and raunchy storytelling. What’s surprising then, perhaps, is how well he takes the traditionally hammy late-night talk format, trims the stale cheese and wraps it all in a long-form time slot so that the show has flavor and filling, although at times it may be a little sloppy.
Norton’s first guests are a surprising get, especially for fight fans. Mike Tyson and UFC President Dana White fit right in with Norton being vocal figures known for their own flourishes of humor and shotgun honesty. Tyson continues to impress considerable maturity for a man who’s shown intense degrees of the opposite in the past. I was especially fond of his wit; Tyson has a comedian’s mentality, to escalate to absurdity searching for the humor in the moment. White is affable and affects pleasantry despite a frame not unlike that of Spider-Man’s nemesis The Rhino.
The second episode of The Jim Norton Show features the “real” Rick Ross (aka “Freeway” Rick Ross), the man who drove an explosion in the California cocaine trade during the mid-’80s that earned him upwards of $900 million before it earned him a life sentence. Free after 20 years, this is the kind of interview you won’t find on network TV (to any substantial extent, for sure) and it shows where Norton’s show really has a chance to shine. Not only can he say whatever he wants (and he does), he can ask whatever he wants; especially thanks to the hour long format, Norton has opportunity to elaborate on the mechanics of how a man grows a street trade into a drug empire, and it is enlightening.
The show is funny, too. Check out this promo:
Norton, for those who do not know, is a tried and true comedian and one of the best working today. Often seen as crude, Norton is in fact terribly honest, terrible open-minded as well as terribly funny. He gives you a lot of opportunities to laugh with him even if it has to be at him, though it should be noted that this is not Mormon-friendly humor for straight-edgers.
The show production is rather glossy for web series, but Jim’s performance is rough and it should be because it’s a new show. You can see Jim working out his mannerisms and execution throughout, but still these flinches are rare and his interviews serve as the meat of the show anyway.
Of course, both episodes so far have started with a traditional monologue, which to me seems almost unnecessary, but not useless. I want to see what kind of twist Norton brings to hacky monologues, but I wouldn’t be heart-broken if he dropped it. Nor would I be sorry to see the pre-produced skits cut. After each monologue, a short clip is introduced with a simple comedic premise (ie “don’t say the wrong thing while fuckin’!”). They’re funny, but not particularly polished. Jim hams through admirably, but they just don’t fit. Skits: sure, but maybe in a different format?
I already like Jim Norton, and I really like good interviews with interesting people. I already like Dana White and Tyson, but, having heard him before, didn’t quite care about Rick Ross until midway through the show thanks entirely to Norton’s ability to ask good questions around interesting comments. That speaks well of a talk show host. If you can tolerate Norton’s style (a capacity which I frankly expect of an “adult”) and you like the guest, you’ll likely learn something interesting enough to merit watching. Your appreciation of Norton’s character may decide whether or not you return, however.
It’s not revolutionizing anything, but The Jim Norton Show is good (so far), for it’s comedy, it’s guests and Norton’s gorgeous announcer Bailey Jay (NSFW). For those mature enough for mature humor, I recommend visiting Vice and watching an episode of Norton’s show yourself.