Chatty man comes of age
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