Graham Norton, 42, is an Irish-born actor and comedian known for his flamboyancy and quick wit. A very popular talk show host on British television, Graham’s credits across the pond include “So Graham Norton,” “V. Graham Norton” and “The Bigger Picture.” Last summer Graham tried his hand at American television with his Comedy Central show “The Graham Norton Effect.”
Graham recently returned to New York to check on his Murray Hill home and to perform his one-man show, “Know All” at the Village Theatre. The show runs Tuesday-Saturday, through October 22. For more details go here. Gothamist spoke with Graham while he was out in Los Angeles prior to the show’s opening.
You’re out in Los Angeles?
I am, yes.
What’s going on there?
Just finished a film with Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd called I Could Never Be Your Woman. It’s by Amy Heckerling. You know the woman who did Clueless and Look Who’s Talking.
It’s very fun. We filmed most of it in London, now we’re finishing it here.
What’s your part?
I play a gay man, yes I do!
How did you get involved in the project?
Apparently I’m very gay and that’s what they went for.
How do you like L.A.?
I like it. It’s very sunny and hot. I like driving around; everyone here is as bad as me, so I don’t stand out.
Are you looking forward to being back in NewYork?
I love New York. I’m really fortunate. Hopefully I’ll be older and wiser and be able to pace myself this time. You know that thing where bars are open until 4am. I don’t understand that that doesn’t mean you have to stay at them until 4am. You can go home. I haven’t worked that out yet.
So you got into trouble last time?
I can’t live in New York. I think it would actually kill me.
But you have a residence here?
I do, in deeply unfashionable Murray Hill.
Murray Hill is nice…let’s just get to your new show, “Know All.” What’s it going to be like?
If only I knew more. It’s stand-up that’s for sure. I was doing a TV show back in London called The Bigger Picture, which was a topical comedy show…at least that was the plan. But just as we began they started bombing London. Suddenly, nothing was that funny. And when they stopped bombing London, suddenly there was no news at all. So our topical comedy show turned into a trawl of stupid stories about old people and animals. If you are interested in old people and animals you’ll like my show. I will be talking about them.
You won’t be having any guests? it’ll just be you?
Oh god yes, I want to make that very clear. I don’t want people to sit thinking, “Well, it can’t just be him…surely in a minute a celebrity will come around the corner.” No.
Is it like your last show at the Village Theatre, "Red Handed!" ?
It’s similar in that it’s more verbal vomit from my potty mouth. But it’s different stuff. Some stuff is the same, just because I like doing it and I don’t get a chance to. I will be doing phone calls and things like that. But every time I do them they’re different. So I don’t feel that guilty about it…bringing my phone back.
Speaking of the phone, it can’t always go well when you make calls on the spot. Can you share a time when things went awry or got awkward?
The most awkward was when I put an ad in a magazine asking people to phone me. It should have been funny I thought, but it wasn’t. It just seemed kind of mean. Everyone was phoning up basically wanting to have phone sex or wanting to meet up and they’d done it in good faith. God knows I can’t judge them. The audience just didn’t like it because they felt like I was just being mean to people. That didn’t work.
You don’t do live shows like "Know All" in the UK. Why is that?
In Britain because of the TV exposure it just means that if I do it, it turns into a bigger deal. I have to do bigger theaters and it’s just not as much fun as doing the smaller places. And also, and this sounds sort of kiss ass, but New York audiences are just brilliant. At least they have been in the past…
Do more people recognize you in the US since the Comedy Central show, ‘The Graham Norton Effect?”
That was last summer. Yes. If people know you they know you, if they don’t they don’t, which is kind of almost worse than truly being well known. Back in Britain if I am walking around, I know that people know me, whereas in New York I don’t know whether I’m anonymous or not. It makes you slightly more nervous.
You don’t know why people are starring…
Yeah…Can I do this? Does anyone here know me?
What happened with Comedy Central? Will you be giving American television another go around?
We are piloting an idea while we are in New York. I had a really good time with Comedy Central, so I wouldn’t really bitch about them. It was just one of those things where the people who signed us up to Comedy Central all left the minute the show started. It was tricky… We don’t have any regrets about it and we stand by the shows. But the new shows we would be doing would be significantly different.
Still a talk show format?
There will be interview elements and audiencey things, but it will be more focused and themed rather than just random.
What kind of reception did you get when you returned to the UK after your stint in the US?
The great thing about Britain is, I don’t think they cared at all…one way or the other. Half the people thought the show was still on…”I watch you every night.” How? We haven’t been on for a year.
A few years back you were in a religious themed comedy show in Britain called “Father Ted.” How do you think a show like that would that go over in the US?
In Britain and Ireland we don’t take religion that seriously. But oh my god…America…you take it so seriously. And also, you tread very softly. It’s almost like your churches are made of packs of cards or something and if somebody says boo they’ll all fall down and your life would have been wasted. So, I’m not sure if things like that would fly in America just because the religious people are soo…oo., religious. Whereas most people in Britain and Ireland are a bit religious, here people are either not religious or they’re absolutely devote Jesus freaks. I guess it’s a big country so it lends itself to extremes. You’ve got room. And it’s true everything in America is done a on a big scale, so maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know.
What about the gay marriage debate in the US, what do you think about that? How does it work in the UK?
In Britain they are starting to do a thing where they recognize gay partnerships. I think that’s a good idea. But dear god, I don’t want to get married. I came out of a 5-year relationship and I still have a house. If there was gay marriage I don’t think I would. I don’t know why people get so excited and interested in being married. Gay marriage is one thing, but gay divorce; I’m sort of looking forward to gay divorce. That would be so vicious.
On the topic of marriage, I saw that Katie Holmes was a guest on your show a while back. What do you think of her relationship with Tom Cruise and about becoming a Scientologist? Could you see the writing on the wall?
She seemed so nice and normal when she was a guest on the show. The child has been brainwashed. It’s awful. I feel bad that Katie Holmes is being dragged into it, but I am just skipping with delight that Tom Cruise has gone nuts. It’s fantastic. It has something to do with the fact that he’s got to suddenly turn into a preacher now and tell everyone about it otherwise he won’t get onto the spaceship with L. Ron. I think that’s it.
I read that Jerry Hall's recent appearance on your show generated some rumors surrounding a backstage romance. What was that about?
Oh, that was Shane Warne the cricketer. Very odd. As far as I know those rumors are not founded at all. I think he liked her shoes, but that was about it.
What’s going on with your love life?
At the moment I have a boyfriend. But you know that could change at anytime. He’s a New Yorker. We’ve sort of been dating for over a year and a half.
What is the most difficult aspect of being famous?
The most difficult aspect is buying underwear. It’s really creepy. The reason why I know it’s weird is I was buying underwear once and they started telling me about who’d been in and what they’d bought. No! no! You are going to be doing that about my underwear; I’m not too thrilled.
If there was a movie made about your life, who would you want to play you?
I’ll go with Vince Vaughn.
And who would play your love interest?
George Eads from CSI. Mind you, I don’t particularly want to watch Vince Vaughn and him making out. I don’t really quite know how that works…I’ll be playing myself with the love interest.
You’ll do a stand in on those scenes?
Yes, I’ll do body double for Vince.
Photo credit: Francis Hills