In theory, every comedian stands for freedom of expression. But few fight for it more passionately than Jim Norton, who’s consistently among the first to defend his peers (example: Tracy Morgan) when they’re hit with controversy over a joke.
Here’s our interview with Norton, who’s appearing Dec. 31 through Jan. 3 in Helium Comedy Club:
Question: What’s your take on the controversy around “The Interview”?
Answer: I think it’s really sad. Obviously I’m 100-percent for freedom of expression. I understand why Sony did it though. I think calling them cowards is too easy. The bottom line is if someone gets hurt, Sony would be sued out of existence. I think Americans have brought this on themselves. Our favorite hobby is running to a lawyer.
Q: You said in an interview that a lot of people are now going after comedians. When did that start? Why is it happening?
A: They’ve always been going after comedy, but Michael Richards’ (2006 tirade at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood), that was the first viral video of a comedian (messing) up that I can think of. After that, with the Laugh Factory reacting and apologizing, once people started seeing results with the complaints, I think they began going after comedy more. As social media became more powerful in the last few years, that’s also contributed a lot to it.
Q: Has there been a change in people’s sensibilities and sensitivities over the years?
A: Oh it’s disgusting. Americans have always been inconsistent and kind of fake with outrage, but we’ve just slipped totally upside-down. Years ago, in the ‘50s in the clubs, you could talk about race, homosexuality, but you couldn’t talk about real sex, you couldn’t talk about religion. Now, you can bash religion all you want, you can be as graphic with sex as you want, but you can’t really talk about race and you can’t really joke about sexuality. We’re the same being-offended-when-it’s-convenient culture, but we’ve turned upside-down what’s acceptable.
Q: Have you always spoken out this strongly?
A: I’ve always tried to but there wasn’t as much of a need for it years ago. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a joke and hate speech is just stupid. Comedians should all be doing this because it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re next.’ Every comic says things that are going to offend someone, so we all have to defend each other with this stuff. We’re contributing to the problem by saying nothing.