To truly support free speech, people must first be willing to defend the right of a person they “hate” to state an honest opinion without fear of retribution, according to comedian Jim Norton. Though he is known for being funny, Norton took a strikingly serious tone when we asked him about his thoughts on speech repression and the policing of unpopular or controversial beliefs.
Nothing makes Norton’s uncompromising stance on free speech more clear than his comedic bit about “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, which he performed in front of a howling audience in Addison, Texas, on Saturday. In it, he bashes and defends Robertson simultaneously over his position on gay marriage.
Host Jim Norton addresses the audience at the Bass Player LIVE! Concert and Awards Show at The Fonda Theatre on November 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
“Phil Robertson gave the opinion that he is against same-sex marriage and he didn’t believe in homosexuality — and I don’t even like that opinion. I don’t like Phil Robertson, I think his opinion sucks, I’m for gay marriage,” Norton said during his standup routine. “However, you should not be afraid to state an honest opinion for fear of getting in trouble.”
He went on to mock the people who claim to want an “open and honest dialogue,” but then attempt to suppress speech that they disagree with. “Well, part of an ‘open and honest dialogue’ is people are going to say things that make you want to kick them in the nuts!” Norton added.
A&E also incurred Norton’s wrath for their response to Robertson’s comments about homosexuality and the Bible during an infamous GQ interview that had people calling for him to be fired.
“A&E were even bigger criminals, because they were like, ‘We had no idea he felt that way.’ Why would you? He’s only a born-again Christian preacher. What are the odds he’s against gay marriage?” Norton asked the audience sarcastically and rhetorically. “100 percent. Those are the odds. Here’s the rule of thumb: When the entire family looks like the unibomber, they’re against gay marriage.”
After pausing for laughs, he once again defended Robertson’s right to believe and say whatever he wants about gay marriage: “But I don’t care if he’s against gay marriage. I’m a grown man, I make my own decisions. What ever happened to thinking for yourself?”
After spending about half an hour of meeting fans, signing merchandise and taking photos after his sold out show at the Addison Improv, the comedian sat down with TheBlaze to discuss the importance of free speech, his new VICE show and the uncertain future of the popular SiriusXM show formerly referred to as “The Opie and Anthony Show.”
Jim Norton: “American Hero?”
As fans of Glenn Beck’s nationally syndicated radio show may remember, the program’s co-host and executive producer, Stu Burguiere, recently referred to Norton as an “American hero” when it comes to the First Amendment.
“It was very nice of him to say. Although, I’m not saying anything everyone shouldn’t say,” the comedian told TheBlaze, turning to thank one of the club’s waiters who brought him a small serving of pretzel sticks.
There are segments of both liberal and conservative circles that are the “same” when it comes to attacking speech that doesn’t align with an approved ideology because “we all want our own way,” he said.
However, Norton continued, liberals have succeeded in “becoming what they hated” as liberalism was once thought to be an “oasis of free thought and unpopular thought.” Today, many liberals will not fight for free speech if it doesn’t conform to a specific set of political beliefs.
“It’s really hard to truly want people who you hate to have the right to say whatever they want. And we all disguise the ugly self-centeredness of it,” he said. “Conservatives do it too. Conservatives cry about ‘God and country’ and liberals say it’s ‘hate speech.’ The whole country is full of sh*t. It’s like, you are either for free thought or you’re not.”
Just like with Phil Robertson, Norton also openly “bashes and defends” controversial figures like former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Paula Deen in his act. He told TheBlaze that you don’t have to support what someone says in order to defend their right to say it without being fired or having your livelihood threatened.
Preemptively responding to certain news outlets or special interest groups that might one day attempt to coerce an apology out of him over one of his jokes or comments, Norton said he makes sure he can “defend everything I say on stage.”
“You want to be shocked at something? Watch the James Foley video. That should shock people,” he said emphatically. “What some guy says on stage in an attempt to be funny — if you’re shocked by that, you’re dumb.”
“The Jim Norton Show”
With the future of “The Opie and (Jim Norton) Show” uncertain following the firing of former co-host Anthony Cumia, Norton has also embarked on a solo project with VICE that promises to be a truly “uncensored” talk show. He told us the show also includes comedy sketches.
The show certainly delivers on the “uncensored” part and has already hosted well-known comedians like Dave Attell, Whitney Cummings, Rich Vos and former boxing champion Mike Tyson. There are several clips up on VICE.com — but be advised the episodes contain very strong language and content.
As far as his current radio gig on SiriusXM, Norton said he really doesn’t know what the future holds. Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Norton both have contracts at SiriusXM that expire in October. He said he "honestly" has no idea if the show will continue past that point.
“I love being on radio. I love it. And I love Op and I love Ant,” he concluded. “It’s very frustrating that this whole thing happened. I feel helpless. I wish I had a better answer for you.”
In the meantime, Norton said he and Opie are simply trying to "find our groove" after SiriusXM fired Cumia over an expletive-ridden Twitter rant, a decision that removed a "major piece and a tremendously funny guy" from the radio show.