JFL42 Review: Jim Norton Is Both Extremely Funny and a Challenge in a Modern Context

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON, September 28

BY Audrey CarletonPublished Sep 29, 2019

Jim Norton arrived onstage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last night around a minute after his name was called. After a brief, terrifying moment of confusion (the comedian had, after all, pushed the show back a night, so the idea of him not showing at all was not out of the realm of possibility), he ran onstage and gleefully said, "I don't know if you know what it's like to hear your name called while your dick is out." He'd timed a trip to the washroom poorly, that's all.
This was perhaps the most Jim Norton way to start a set, with a social blunder and a graphic dick joke. Norton has made a career out of telling icky bits in the name of pushing boundaries. He exists within a certain camp of old-school comedians who live for shock value, and are sensitive to anything they perceive to be an attack on their right to free speech.
Norton has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around because, for the extent to which I resent this old-school sentiment against "political correctness" that still seems to anchor many mainstream comedians today, Norton seems to be one of the gentlest of the bunch. He rags on flat earthers, analyses the harm that romanticising serial murderers like Ted Bundy in film has on society, and discusses his mental health and sexual preference for trans women with refreshing honesty. These are all good takes, and better yet, he's funny — it's hard not to laugh along with his eager delivery and conversational style.
But between genuinely funny bits, he dives into takes on how political correctness is an attack on the art form of comedy, how he finds one of Kevin Spacey's accusers far from believable, and on how the #metoo movement has left men confused. His point with the latter is not that the #metoo movement shouldn't exist, nor that consent should be ignored, but rather, that society needs a way to address the grey areas of consent, which is true. But it's hard to hear what he's actually getting at when it's delivered in a way that can feel like an attack on progress. And it's even harder to understand why these arguments, out of everything he could possibly say, have made it into his comedy set.
Norton's hour would've been better without the takes on various hot button social issues, yet his audience seemed to enjoy them (his statement on free speech in comedy got the loudest cheer of the night), so maybe he's just working what he knows to be a classic Norton crowd. Either way, he had me for the first 30 minutes of regular material, and had he kept it at that, he would've had me the whole way through.

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