Nancy Grace will never fully get the comeuppance she so richly deserves — not for the years of reckless claims she’s made, the morbid opportunism she’s peddled, and the lives she’s ruined in the name of keeping herself in the spotlight. Sure, she’s lost her job at CNN, but the myriad lawsuits filed against her have largely been settled and have at least partially been absorbed by the network. She’s never truly been held accountable for, among other things, likely driving a mother to suicide then ghoulishly airing the final interview with the woman immediately following her death; accusing a completely innocent man of being a stalker; hammering the Duke lacrosse team as rapist monsters night after night only to be proven wrong in court; and claiming that Whitney Houston was murdered with zero evidence to back it up. She’ll never be forced to atone for reducing death and tragedy to a clever hashtag over and over again. She’ll just keep right on going with the next phase of her TV career, which is already underway.
But earlier this week, comic Jim Norton and his new SiriusXM cohost Sam Roberts did what little they could to hold Nancy Grace’s feet to the fire. During an interview that wound up being tense for Grace — she thought she would be doing nothing more than pitching her new Hallmark series — Norton and Roberts politely but directly hit her with questions I’m not sure she’s ever been asked to answer. “How do you justify latching on to hashtags and things without saying you are capitalizing on dead kids?” Norton asked at one point, not long before Grace decided the interview was over and stormed out in a huff. Later, before the friendlier audience on The View, Grace insulted Norton and Roberts, calling them “Beavis and Butthead.” But the fact is that what these two funny guys on the radio did was right and just. They did nothing more than put someone on the spot who always needed to be — who needed to be years ago, in fact, rather than in the aftermath of the HLN show she used to run roughshod over people’s lives, the craft of broadcast journalism, and the reputation of CNN.
In the immediate wake of the story I wrote about the Grace interview earlier this week, Jim Norton’s publisher reached out to the Banter and asked whether we’d like to talk one-on-one to Norton. As a fan, I of course jumped at the chance. We spoke yesterday on the phone, right after Norton had arrived in Reno for a show tonight. If you know anything at all about Jim Norton, you know that he’s frank, ferocious, and funny as hell. He’s railed in the past about political correctness — something I agree with him on and consider comics to be the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to free expression — but his politics are actually hard to pin down. During our conversation we talked about Grace, his new show on SiriusXM, the ashes of the Opie & Anthony show and his brief stint doing a show solely with Gregg “Opie” Hughes, and the current presidential race. As you’d expect, he’s a really good and totally down-to-earth guy — and it was great being able to have a conversation with him.
The following has been edited for clarity and length.
First of all, thank you. I’ve been waiting for somebody to do that kind of interview with Nancy Grace for years.
Well thank you. You know, I wasn’t out to get her. I didn’t really have an agenda other than, I’ve bashed her on Twitter so much because I find her style to be disgusting. I felt I would be a liar if I didn’t acknowledge that. I felt like I can’t be a keyboard tough guy. Say what you want about Nancy Grace, but she’s a pretty fierce person. She’ll come right at you. So I felt that, you know, I’m a coward if I’m just saying something on Twitter and then when she’s in front of me I don’t acknowledge that. I didn’t want to be rude to her but I had to acknowledge that.
But she’s also actually very charming. I was a senior producer for CNN at one point and I worked right next to her team in New York, in the Time Warner Center, and I’d see her in the elevator all the time and she was always doing the Southern sweet thing. And as much as I couldn’t stand her it was really tough to be face to face with her when she was being nice — especially when I wanted to turn and tell her that what she was doing was reprehensible.
So how did you guys land that interview in the first place?
They just pitched her to us and we of course said, “yeah.” I’m actually looking here, the Inquisitr wrote an article where they’re kind of sticking up for Nancy Grace, like, you know, she toughed it out.
Fuck that. You know, I’ve thought to myself over the years that just the number of lawsuits that CNN had to either field or settle — that should’ve been proof all along of how reckless she was, but honestly in the end I think it came down to a cost-benefit thing for them.
Yeah, that was why I wanted to hit her with that Michael Skakel thing (his slander suit against Grace, which was settled in 2014). You know, the funny thing is she came in with this attitude like I had an agenda. There was one thing, I forget what it was and she’s like, “You left that out of your little transcript!” with her fucking shitty, “I’m gonna alpha you” attitude, and it annoyed me because I really didn’t know what she was talking about. You know, I don’t ambush people. I’m not afraid to go head to head with her and I’m not afraid of just saying exactly what the facts are — and I’m also not afraid to be wrong. So when she said that, that was when I kind of spit the Michael Skakel thing at her. That really annoyed me, because I would’ve asked about that much more politely. But I find her to be kind of a repulsive vulture and she’s everything that’s wrong with the media. If you have “tot mom” as a hashtag, you’re not acting in the best interests of victim advocacy. I don’t care how you spin it. I don’t care how much plausible deniability you try to give yourself. It’s like with Anthony Weiner. This dummy. He thinks that by talking in these kind of vague terms that he can now look at the public and say, “Hey, look, I was just chatting with her!” It’s like, we know what you’re doing, stupid. And that’s the same thing with her. Your plausible deniability does not work. Anybody with ears knows exactly what you’re doing.
I remember very well the Duke lacrosse team, which she had just beaten down night after night. It was a case where she decided that the alleged victim couldn’t possibly be wrong. Because in her world the victim is always right, even before the system has spoken. And when that whole case fell apart and the Duke lacrosse players were all cleared, she wouldn’t go on TV and announce it. She took the night off and somebody else had to come in and do the story. She’s never been someone who’s willing to face up when she gets it wrong. I’d respect her more if she could at least do that — admit when she’s wrong.
That’s the problem with people in general. I’ve been wrong so many times in my life. And I’ve always said this is where comedians go wrong sometimes. You don’t have to be right. All you have to do is be very honest in that moment. And if you’re wrong, who gives a shit? Like, I’m not some arbiter of everything that’s good and bad. I’m like every other dunce in this nation. Half the times I’m right; half the times I’m wrong. I mean, I still don’t know who I’m voting for yet. See, what happens is we get so married to the idea of being on the right side that we defend the point against any new information and that’s why we’re in such a shitty, ugly place right now. To me Nancy is a great example of that. And I’m really happy that she walked out. She didn’t have to. I wasn’t gonna yell at her; we weren’t gonna curse at her. All she did was make it more obvious. No one would have paid attention to that interview if we’d just bantered back and forth.
Honestly, I can’t think of a time when anyone has ever called her out for her bullshit. And I think she just didn’t know how to deal with it. She’s so used to not being held accountable in any way. Even something as simple as just, in an interview, asking her some difficult questions. I said for a long time when her show was on that she’s the single worst person cable television. Look, maybe you don’t like the conservative hosts or the liberal hosts, but they’re still just giving their opinions. That’s all they are — opinions. Fuck ’em. But she was genuinely doing damage day after day. As far as I was concerned, CNN couldn’t call itself a responsible news organization and play host to her.
So… think her publicist even made it out of the building before getting fired?
I felt bad for the publicist. You know, I would’ve plugged her book. But that’s the chance you take when you walk in for an interview. You should always know who you’re going into the interview with and anybody that won’t face a tough interview or an unpleasant interview is a coward. There’s nobody I won’t talk to. I’m not afraid to be interviewed by anybody. I’m not afraid if it’s gonna be aggressive. Because the worst that can happen is that it’s an unpleasant thing that exposes me as, again, being wrong. Again, if you have no fear of exposure, you won’t have any problem. But I have no idea if the publicist got fired but they shouldn’t have.
How’s the new show going for far, with you and Sam?
It’s great, dude. So much fun. Me and Sam are enjoying it. There’s no tension or pressure in the studio. You know, I’m sure Opie is having more fun than he was having with me, too. It’s one of those things where I’m sure we’re both better off and I think the show is going well. It’s been pretty well-received so — so far, so good.
As somebody who was a faithful listener of Opie & Anthony, it’s fun to see how far Sam has come. To see you doing a show with him, it’s something that five years ago I never would’ve imagined. But then again, I also wouldn’t have predicted that the bottom would drop out of O&A, but obviously there was a lot going on behind the scenes. But maybe it’s worth saying that I don’t think anybody outside the studio knew that there was tension in that room. The chemistry was still pretty damn spectacular between everybody. But with the end of Opie & Anthony and then the end of Opie with Jim Norton, this is the second time in two years your radio career has shifted dramatically — a lot of personality conflicts, a lot of drama, so how are you handling it?
Oh, it’s been tough. There was a lot of tension behind the scenes with the whole Opie & Anthony show and with myself and Opie after Anthony left, so it’s just nice to have a breath of fresh air. You know, me and Opie should never have done a show together. We gave it a shot. And it was just time for us both to move on. So I’m really, really happy with this now — there’s no tension at all with Sam. I feel great walking in to work everyday. It’s really fun, man. But, yeah, it is the second time in two years — you’re correct. But this time feels good and it feels like we’re actually doing something that’s brand new now as opposed to being — you ever seen, whenever there’s aerial footage of a car chase in L.A. and at the end the wheels on the car have burst out and there’s sparks flying off the rims? That’s what Opie and I were like. We were like the end of a car chase in L.A. where it was just slowing down miserably and the cops were about to surround us and put us out of our misery.
I know you said somewhere that you wanted to be careful not to be seen jumping into the grave of your friend after Anthony was fired from the show.
You also mentioned, rightly I think, that the fans of O&A — and I know this having watched the social media battles back and forth — were brutal and really took sides. You had the people who thought that you and Opie had betrayed Ant and the people who thought Ant was wrong. I’ll tell you that I actually was one of the rare people, I guess, who was in the middle. I loved you. I loved Opie. I love Ant, even though I firmly, firmly believe — and I’ve gone on record with this — that Ant dug his own grave with the things he said. I thought they were wrong and I know they put SiriusXM in a position where they had no other option but to fire him. But despite disagreeing strongly with Ant’s views on race and politics, the guy is funny as fuck. You know, hearing him and Opie together on each other’s shows a couple of weeks ago (the two spoke live to each other for the first time in two years) just made me all misty. I miss hearing them together.
Yeah, I enjoyed hearing them as well, to be honest. Those guys really do have amazing chemistry. Part of the mystique of the show was always that it was kind of the underdog show — the angry, fighting an uphill battle show against the world — and that we were kind of comrades, in a way. But I think that once all of this ugliness behind the scenes came out, I don’t know if it would ever be the same again. ‘Cause these are fans who are not stupid. These are fans that kind of want truthful radio and when they smell bullshit they call it out and they call it out in a very brutal fashion. Kinda the way we always did on the air. So I don’t know if these fans would ever be able to look at the show the same with all the stuff that’s come out since it ended. I’m not saying they wouldn’t, but these are no-bullshit people and they really do kinda hold you to the fire if you go against who they thought you were or who you claim to be.
You said in terms of the presidential election that you don’t know who you’re going to vote for yet. That’s a really odd stance at this point given what I think are the vast differences between the candidates in this race. How do you square that?
Hillary is a brilliant person. She has a lot of experience. I do think she has far more compassion for the average person than this billionaire. I’m not stupid. Trump on the other hand represents a giant middle finger to the entire process. I don’t agree with a lot of Trump’s views, but what I do like is that he has such a big mouth and he’s not politically well-versed enough to shut up. His fatal flaw, but also the thing about him that’s kinda great, is, like, look at how awful Ted Cruz looked when he finally endorsed Trump.
True, Cruz was always a smarmy bastard and watching him dutifully get down on his knees before this guy who’d just humiliated him over and over was something.
And look what a worm Paul Ryan is. “Yeah, I kinda believe these things about Trump but I’m gonna endorse him anyway… now I’m not endorsing him!” And the way that Trump called these people out is nice. But, look, Trump says a lot of stupid shit. As far as him grabbing pussies — if it does turn out that he’s really doing it, it’s a major problem. However, luckily we didn’t have TMZ and Twitter years ago otherwise John F. Kennedy would never have been president; neither would Bill Clinton. We’ve had a lot of great men in history who were absolute pigs. I’m certainly not equating Trump with one of those great men in history, though. But I’ve only voted once in my life and it was for Ross Perot.
Jim Norton is currently on his “Mouthful of Shame” tour. He’ll be playing October 27th-30th at the Helium Comedy Club in Philly and November 18th-20th at the Ft. Lauderdale Improv. He’ll also be shooting his fifth stand-up special at the end of December. You can listen to the Jim Norton and Sam Roberts show on Sirius 206 and XM 103 every weekday morning from 8-11am ET.