In previous interviews, you’ve called Philly a good comedy town. What makes it a good comedy town?
For me, a good comedy town is filled with people on the verge of a riot. They need something to relieve the tension. I love Philly so much. I know that at any time, any place, a fight can break out. Those are great comedy fans.
You play Don Rickles in “The Irishman.” Can you describe what it was like portraying one of your idols in one of this year’s most talked-about movies that include some all-time Hollywood greats?
It was terrifying because all of those guys knew Rickles. DeNiro, Scorsese and Pesci had not only worked with him, but they were also legitimately friends. So it would be like someone showing up on a film I was making and playing Patrice O’Neal. The last thing I wanted was to do a lousy Rickles impression in front of people who knew him well.
After becoming a best-selling author, host of successful radio shows and podcasts, and a television and movie star is anything missing in your career? Did you imagine all of this success when you first took the stage 30 years ago at the Varsity pub in Sayreville, New Jersey?
I would like to have a television show on the air. And a chin. No matter how many books I’ve sold, nothing can correct the fact I look like Alfred Hitchcock from the side. And no, I thought I’d be doing better by this point. At 30 years, I figured I’d be on private planes having orgies before I performed in arenas.
In a 2013 interview with Vulture, you talked about how far your fans will let you go. Six years later, do you still feel like you never have to worry about saying something inappropriate? These days, when comedians are asked to apologize, or even lose their jobs, over something considered offensive, this seems like it would be a unique relationship.
You can’t worry about saying something that will get you in trouble because the line changes so fast. If you try to navigate it, you will not only suck but eventually say something stupid and get yourself dumb anyway. When actors and authors have to watch what they say in their work, then I’ll respect the line. But comedians seem to be the only ones people are trying to “rein in.” It’s irritating and fuck them.
So what will those fans see when they show up at Helium this month?
It’s a new hour, I really love this one. I don’t preach or try to change their minds. I’m not on stage to teach anybody anything. You’ll definitely laugh. And if you don’t, you’ll still have a great story about how terrible I was.
Jim Norton | Nov. 21-24, 8 p.m. $30-90. Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St. philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com