Jim Norton

Mouthful of Shame

BY James OstimePublished Jul 7, 2017

With the current political climate such as it is, the debate continues to rage over what a public figure can or can't and should or shouldn't say. By the time this is published, recent transgressive behaviour and/or jokes from the likes of Kathy Griffin and Stephen Colbert might be old news, but there will still be debate over where the line of what is "offensive" might lie, and whether or not this public figure has crossed it.
Jim Norton doesn't have to worry. Tasteless jokes abound in Mouthful of Shame, but not much is constructed with enough nuance, intelligence or irreverence to be anything bordering on offensive. Some Netflix viewers may clutch their pearls, but most will simply be bored.
The real shame about Mouthful of Shame are the missed opportunities. Norton has a few interesting premises that he doesn't do enough to build upon. For instance, he opens with his conceptually clever "Overguess" — that thing where someone asks you to guess something within realistic parameters, so they can blow you away with the actual result (as in: "Guess how much money I saved!" "Ten bucks?" "No, 50!"). But if you overguess, you ruin the fun. A friend of Norton's lost weight, and when asked, "Guess how much weight I've lost?" Jim overguesses, "50 pounds?" and the friend says, "No… Six." Funny, right? Or his idea that he becomes a movie character from the 1940s when he is lying, "Mahhhh, nothin' to see here, chump! Waaaah!"
Then there are moments that hit too close for Norton and he leaves them behind. He asks if anyone has any suicidal thoughts, and confesses that he does as well, before stating soon thereafter that "life is pretty good these days," with no elaboration. In a bit that the audience reacts to with clear discomfort, he talks about tolerance for the trans community and relates that he enjoys sex with trans women. But then he undercuts the moment of sexual frankness with a gay panic joke and moves on quickly. He certainly doesn't owe his audience answers about these truly intimate revelations, but one wonders about their placement in his act at all.
The tasteless jokes are truly tasteless, and peppered throughout. He worries about Charlie Sheen bleeding into his mouth. His version of an AIDS test is finding a sexual partner a year later and if they're fine, he must be as well. He condemns disgraced former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle for not following two basic tenets of what must have been a pretty easy job: don't get fat, and don't f--- kids.
If gross-out humour were Jim Norton's stock and trade, Mouthful of Shame would be easier to swallow. But the flashes of clever concepts, stronger jokes and interesting points of view make the special's eventual degeneration to crassness more disappointing. If you like gross humour, temporary detours into more serious subjects will be jarring. But if it's depth you're after, the time spent on tasteless comedy won't be worth it. Jim Norton's got a sharp, funny comedy special in him somewhere, but Mouthful of Shame isn't it.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.

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