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Jim Norton on being a 'pervert,' pissing off Jesse Ventura

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Comedian Jim Norton loves to hate the underbelly of American culture. Whether it’s jokes about beheadings, school shootings, or hookers, he’s offended audiences around the country with his vulgar brand of standup.

Norton, who grew up in central New Jersey, describes himself as “a typical teenager with suburban angst.” He started doing standup at age 21, and has since filmed six comedy specials, appeared in supporting roles on TV series like Inside Amy Schumer and Louie, and made the New York Times bestseller list. Not bad for a high school dropout who got “a B and three Fs” at his only semester in community college.

Do you remember anything about your very first standup set?

I remember it was weird hearing my voice over a loudspeaker and not getting the laughs I expected. You develop a certain rhythm with your friends and I didn’t have that rapport with the audience, so that was very weird to get nothing.

When did it start to feel better?

You do it for a few months and you start getting some laughs. Your jokes don’t suck quite as much as they did.

You have a lot of comedian friends. Do you have any rivalries? Do you ever feel jealous of their careers?

Whenever you see somebody doing well, of course you wish you were doing as well as they are. But jealousy? No. Jealousy is a pretty ugly thing, because it implies you belong there instead of the other person. My friends are funny. There’s not one of my friends that gets really successful that I look at and [think], "You shouldn’t have."

You have a negative outlook in your standup; are you negative off-stage as well?

That’s how a lot of comedians are, all the time. It’s not as funny to talk about the things you like. It’s always the worst stuff that we find ourselves more interested in. That’s why the news is not one ounce of positivity. If the news were positive, no one would watch it.

What medium do you prefer for comedy? It seems like you’ve done them all.

I like them all, but radio and standup are my favorites. Radio is the most free-form and it’s different every day. Standup, you’re doing the same jokes you did last night, but you’re getting an instant reaction.

Speaking of radio, you have a Minnesota connection: Former governor Jesse Ventura once walked off while you were interviewing him on-air in 2009. What happened there?

He’s one of those big guys who doesn’t like the follow-up questions or if you challenge his theory. We had a nasty argument about a 9/11 conspiracy. We didn’t really like each other. He took his toys and went home. He was a baby.

What current events get you riled up these days?

I like Caitlyn Jenner, and I’m discussing her. I’m talking about Cosby, and about the horrendous political candidates that are being stuck in our faces.

In an interview you did on Inside Amy Schumer, you identified as a pervert. At what point does a sexual preference become a perversion in your mind?

That’s a good question. I say "pervert" with a grain of salt. I think it’s the sheer volume or the specific nature of what I like. One thing I’m not is a predator. I don’t like preying on weakness. I’m a dirty guy, but I like like-minded people. "Pervert" is a weird term to use because I don’t want people to misinterpret it as a Jared Fogle-type thing.

That’s an important distinction.

Yeah. Even girls who I think are doing this for the wrong reasons — like, if I think somebody is very innocent and is doing it because they want love? If I’m not feeling that way about them, I won’t do it. It doesn’t turn me on to trick somebody. When you’re seeing a side of a woman that she’s not supposed to show, when you’re seeing a woman being inappropriate, seeing a side of her that is so secret and so private, that to me is an attractive quality.

In that same interview, you also said you’ve slept with a lot of prostitutes. What are the advantages to sleeping with a prostitute as opposed to someone else?

I don’t know if there are any advantages. It’s an empty experience for both of us. I’m looking for something in my own way. It’s not just an orgasm, it’s the conversation, the "maybe I’ll finally connect with somebody." It’s convenient, it’s fast, and you don’t get rejected. When the girl comes over, she wants money. You know what the arrangement is. Nobody feels slighted.

What happens is, you perform for a while, you get contacted by a lot of people, and they’ll send you nude pictures and "I just want to have sex. That’s all that I want." But sometimes there’s more that they want. Sometimes they’re even lying to themselves. So you hook up. Then all of a sudden, they feel used. They get resentful and angry, and they feel hurt. Even though they said this is what they wanted, they wanted me to see beyond it and have a relationship.

[With prostitutes] you walk into it with the same set of expectations and you both walk away feeling like nobody was lied to.

Are you a relationship person? Or do you prefer being single and sleeping around?

I wouldn’t mind a relationship. I’ve been single for a long time. It’s like the grass is always greener. Whatever I have, I want the other. It’s greed more than anything. In relationships, I miss being single, and when I’m single, it’s not even the sex I miss, it’s that person’s opinion you respect, that person you enjoy watching a movie with. I go to the movies by myself. It sucks. You want to walk out with somebody and go, "That was awful."

As for your career, what’s the next frontier for you?

I have a talk-show pilot that I have high hopes for. I’ve been feeling very blah in my career lately, so I hope that goes somewhere soon.

IF YOU GO:

Jim Norton

10:30 p.m. Friday, September 25

Mill City Nights

$32.50

18+