Chatty man comes of age

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TV - AN­DREW FEN­TON

TWO decades in broad­cast­ing have seen Ir­ish co­me­dian and comic chat show host Gra­ham Nor­ton, mark off some mas­sive celebrity mile­stones.

The Gra­ham Nor­ton Show has built a rep­u­ta­tion as a place where celebs will let their hair down on the couch, re­lax­ing and re­act­ing to Nor­ton’s flam­boy­ant de­liv­ery and laugh­ing along with his camp and cheek­ily in­nu­endo- heavy di­a­logue.

Af­ter al­most 20 years of broad­cast­ing, Nor­ton is at the top of his game.

His show, which airs on Sun­day nights in Aus­tralia, has at­tracted some big names, from Johnny Depp to Madonna. This year he’s al­ready chat­ted with Den­zel Washington, He­len Mir­ren and John Malkovich.

Next month, Nor­ton ( pic­tured) will con­quer his own Ever­est, with a sev­en­hour chat show for Comic Re­lief.

Nor­ton faces the gru­elling prospect of chat­ting to 50 celebrity guests, in­clud­ing David Wal­liams and Dr Who’s Matt Smith, in the ul­ti­mate test of en­durance.

‘‘ It’s me, sit­ting in a chair for seven hours,’’ he says.

‘‘ The only peo­ple en­dur­ing this are the au­di­ence!’’

Nor­ton also at­tracts the best mu­si­cal acts, like Lady Gaga and Tay­lor Swift.

‘‘ Sud­denly there are only 600 peo­ple there see­ing Tay­lor Swift with you and that’s spe­cial,’’ he says.

There’s a sim­ple rea­son for Nor­ton’s pulling power. Rat­ings.

‘‘ It’s BBC1, it’s a good de­mo­graphic, so if you’re try­ing to shift an al­bum or a film it’s a good show to go on,’’ he says, adding they try to keep pro­mos to a min­i­mum.

‘‘ Ev­ery­body has their spiel, we of­ten just let them get that out of their sys­tem and that’s al­most when the show starts. And then we’ll take that bit out!’’ he laughs.

While it looks ef­fort­less, an in­cred­i­ble amount of prepa­ra­tion goes into the show. Each guest is as­signed a pro­ducer and a re­searcher, who trawl through their back­ground look­ing for funny anec­dotes or in­ci­dents.

The Holy Grail is a topic all the guests have an amus­ing story about.

Nor­ton has a ball dur­ing dress re­hearsal, when the re­searchers stand in for the celebs. ‘‘ Those are the fun­ni­est be­cause I can be so rude to the guests!’’ he says. ‘‘ I get it all out of my sys­tem and say ev­ery­thing I want to say to them, and then on the night I’m good.’’

He ad­mits he still some­times crosses the line. ‘‘ Like at a din­ner party when you think of some­thing hi­lar­i­ous to say and you hear it and think ‘ that just sounded mean’.’’ But they cut those bits out too.

Born in Dublin, and mak­ing his Ed­in­burgh Fringe Fes­ti­val de­but in 1992 in a drag com­edy act as Mother Teresa, Nor­ton’s most mem­o­rable early ap­pear­ance was as the in­cred­i­bly an­noy­ing Fa­ther Noel Fur­long in cult com­edy Fa­ther Ted. ‘‘ It didn’t really lead to any­thing,’’ he says.

His big break was as the fill- in host of chat show The Jack Docherty Show.

‘‘ It was the first time I’d ever thought: ‘ Wow, I’ve found the thing I want to do.’ But it was some­body else’s job.’’

Five weeks later, Nor­ton won Best New­comer at the Bri­tish Com­edy Awards, beat­ing Jack Docherty him­self, who was nom­i­nated for the same award.

That led to his first chat shows where the openly gay Nor­ton pushed the en­ve­lope with adult hu­mour. ‘‘ Over the years peo­ple have said: ‘ Oh you’ve toned the show down’, but I just think that I’m older and the au­di­ence is older and we’ve just kind of got over it all.’’

Just a few weeks shy of 50, life looks good for Nor­ton. This year he sold his pro­duc­tion com­pany to ITV for $ 26 mil­lion. He has a col­umn in Lon­don’s Daily Tele­graph, a ra­dio show and an an­nual gig for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test.

Nor­ton is throw­ing a lav­ish 50th birth­day party, not quite on an ‘‘ El­ton John’’ scale, but fea­tur­ing a high- pro­file mys­tery Bri­tish singer.

He says he feels more con­tent at 50 than he did at 40.

‘‘ When I was 40 I joined the BBC but I hadn’t done any­thing. Now I’ve kind of sat back and thought: you know what, I really like my chat show, I’ve got a ra­dio show, I’ve got a news­pa­per col­umn. And that’s great. I need no more. So it’s all good.’’

The Gra­ham Nor­ton Show, TDT, tonight, 9.30

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