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No Offense Taken

Comedian Jim Norton helps to break in Helium, Buffalo’s new comedy club

Buffalo’s newest comedy club, Helium, located downtown near the First Niagara Center, is preparing for their grand opening this week.

The new club, an offshoot of the original Helium comedy club opened in Philadelphia in 2005, is prepared to kick the laughs off with a string of well known comedians, from Jim Norton to D. L. Hughley, Rob Schneider to Brian Posehn, and Last Comic Standing’s Rachel Feinstein, who will be the first comedian to take the stage this Thursday, December 20 through Saturday, December 22.

After months of preparation, the club, with room for 250 people, is about to let the laughs in. “I spent about a year and a half convincing Helium that their next city should be Buffalo,” said local comedian and now general manager of Helium, Kristen Becker. “This is huge.”

Becker, an authority on comedy in Buffalo, pitched the idea to Marc Grossman, the entrepreneur who dove into the comedy scene with his idea for Helium in Philadelphia before expanding to Portland, Oregon, and now Buffalo.

“This will bring the actual comedy industry to Buffalo instead of just being a comedy club,” Becker said.

Helium’s business model has been to bring national headlining acts—comedians with TV credits—to their clubs and provide opportunities for local comedians to open those shows. “There is going to be some collateral benefit for the neighborhood, too,” Becker said of the Cobblestone District, an area that has struggled in the past but is now open to a variety of different businesses from art to entertainment and even light industry.

“The first six weeks will help define what this club is to Buffalo,” Becker said. “You look at that list of comedians and there are no jokes there, no pun intended.”

One of the comedians on that list is Jim Norton, a standup comic for more than 20 years, known for his regular radio spot on the Opie and Anthony Show, and his appearances on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the TV shows of Louis CK. He’s got a reputation as a black comic with a propensity for self-deprecation, and although he’d like to offend you, he’s not your typical dirty comedian.

This week we talked to Norton about his new comedy special Please Be Offended and how he balances radio, TV, and standup comedy.

AV: I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not but you are going to be one of the first comedians to perform at Helium in Buffalo. They’re breaking it in with you.

Norton: That makes me happy because I miss Buffalo. It’s been quite a while and I’m happy to have a good club to work. The Helium in Philadelphia is a great club, and they’ll run it the same way in Buffalo, I’m sure.

AV: You get to be pretty dirty on radio with Opie and Anthony, but then at the same time you’ve been on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. How do you balance all of these different media?

Norton: You always have to know where you are. I like being able to do both. I can actually be pretty edgy on the Tonight Show, but you just have to know where the line is and what you can do. I much prefer satellite radio because I can say whatever I want. But I’ve been doing comedy for over 20 years and it’s like, if you can’t do anything clean on TV, then you’re probably doing something wrong as a comedian.

AV: How does doing those shows compare to doing standup?

Norton: Standup has a much more immediate reaction. I can’t picture functioning without standup, but radio is fun because I’m hanging with all of my friends and you kind of meander slowly around. You have a lot more leeway.

AV: You’ve been on both Louie and Lucky Louie, Louis CK’s previous TV show. How do those experiences compare?

Norton: Well I was on Lucky Louie more. I love both for different reasons. I loved the live audience of Lucky Louie. I could hear the laughs coming, which was a lot of fun. It was a lot easier to do the new Louie show, though. You show up the day of, you do a little bit of rehearsing, and you go in and you can retake it if you need to. When you’re doing it live in front of a studio audience, you better remember everything. It’s hard to change anything because somebody else’s laugh may be contingent on your line. Louie is great because if something doesn’t work the first time, he’ll let you try something different the second time. He’s a real comedian, so he likes to try different jokes and different suggestions.

AV: You did a comedy special this year called Please Be Offended, but it’s not really offensive in the way people might imagine it is.

Norton: Right, because when people think “offended” they think only “dirty” and “filthy” but [Please Be Offended] is really about what gets you in trouble these days, which is content. Anybody talking about race or anybody talking about Islam or certain religious stuff, or if you say the word “retard,” all of a sudden now your career is in trouble. That’s what I’m talking about; it’s an attack on the idea of being offended. It’s just sarcastic. I hate people who are offended.

AV: What does it mean to you if someone says that they’re offended by something you’ve said?

Norton: I lose respect for them immediately and I don’t care. I am not at all concerned with them being offended, because so what? There are things that offend me or that I don’t like, you just don’t make a big deal out of it. You don’t have to watch it anymore. We’re a country of babies, so when someone is offended, I just automatically hate them and could care less.

AV: Is it possible to offend a comedian? Have you ever offended another comedian while joking around back stage after a show or anything like that?

Norton: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We step on each other’s toes sometimes. We’re people. The difference is when another comic gets bothered by something I can’t look at him and think, “Oh, he’s got no sense of humor.” I know he’s got a sense of humor so I realize I just stepped on an Achilles’ heal without meaning to. Usually we all know the intentions of each other and we’re not babies about it. You know that your friend is not trying to attack you.

AV: I liked Please Be Offended and the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget, which you also appeared on. You’re definitely good at making fun of people. Who are some of your favorite targets right now?

Norton: Al Sharpton. I love trashing Al Sharpton. I love trashing any social activist or any special interest group. I like attacking Lindsey Lohan because I think she’s awful and a brat and I like watching her life fall apart. Anybody in pop culture is a deserving target.

AV: You have a new comedy CD coming out—

Norton: [Shouts to someone in the room.] No, no, no, no, no! [Turns away from phone.] There’s an autograph there, you’re washing it off! [Turns back.] Hold on [Turns away again.] Don’t wash over that. Don’t! That’s signed! Just leave that whole area alone, please. [Turns back to phone.] My housekeeper is trying to wipe the signature off of an autographed Peter Criss book.

AV: That’s actually really funny. Is this a bit or something?

Norton: No, this is really happening. I’m so freaked out about her wiping off things that are signed. Even if they’re dry, I’m still worried about her wiping the autograph off. What was your question?

AV: You have a new comedy CD coming out this week. It’s called No Baby for You. What does that mean?

Norton: I taped it a few years ago. I had done a bunch of long sets so I put it out on a few different CDs. No Baby for You is something I like to yell when I’m having sex with a girl and I pull out: “No baby for you!” It’s probably dirtier than Please Be Offended, but it was just what I was talking about at the time. You can pretty much tell where I’m at in my life based on what standup I’m doing.

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