‘So Graham Norton’ Is So Outlandish


“British television is different--we push the envelope a bit further than America would like us to,” says Graham Norton, whose talk show has come stateside courtesy of BBC America. In fact, he adds, “we’ve ripped up the envelope and thrown it over our shoulders.”

Such is the wry, slightly off-kilter banter that is typical of Norton and his irreverent celebrity chat-comedy romp “So Graham Norton,” a witty hodgepodge of “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Late Night With David Letterman,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Dame Edna’s Hollywood.” With London’s Channel 4 and the BBC dueling with hefty pounds for his favor (Channel 4 won out), it was only a matter of time before Britain’s hottest property made his way across the pond. Episodes from the first four years of the series now bookend BBC America’s new Friday comedy block at 8 p.m. and midnight.

Set on a London stage, Norton regales his studio audience in “Let’s Make a Deal”-style games and wickedly probing questions to win unusual prizes. Celebrity guests are escorted to the stage by chiseled, chest-baring hunks that “we dress up and humiliate, which you should do to beautiful people.”


On the show, he’s directed a tawdry soap opera sketch with “Weakest Link’s” Anne Robinson and “Tarzan’s” Miles O’Keefe as lovers. He’s surfed pornographic Web sites with Joan Collins and Carrie Fisher. “The Internet is a bottomless pit,” he says. “There must be people who love armpits, say. They must have sat in their little town of nowhere thinking, ‘I’m a freak, I’m a freak, I’m a freak.’ And then they get to the Internet and see, ‘No look, thousands of people like armpits.’ And I like that.”

On the show’s premiere with Ivana Trump, which originally aired in 1997, Norton engaged the Donald’s former wife in a bizarre conversation with a gargantuan-breasted German phone sex operator he found in the back of a porn magazine, whom he decided to call while on the air. “Ivana had no warning or preparation, and even we didn’t really know what was going to happen,” he says of the show, which will play Friday on BBC America.

Many of his guests don’t mind indulging some fantasies: “We had Joan Collins on, and I rang up a guy with a glove fetish. His favorite glove wearer is Joan Collins. We made her take the gloves on and off, and she was holding gloves in her mouth and stuff, and he got very, very excited.”

Norton, an executive producer of the show, drafted the original proposal four years ago with British television producer Graham Stuart as “a celebration of what I consider are the golden years of American television in the ‘70s,” Norton says. “In the same way ‘The Dame Edna Show’ is about Dame Edna, this show is my show, me and the audience. The guests are essentially guests. So if they just sat there and didn’t really speak, it doesn’t affect the show that much, but if they’re laughing and having a good time, I think that’s quite revealing.”

Also, “I have the opportunity to indulge myself horribly, the way I didn’t when I was younger. If I could have met Princess Leia when I first went to see ‘Star Wars,’ I would have [been overjoyed]. Now all these years later I’m getting the opportunity where I can go, ‘I’d like to meet Princess Leia,’ and we get her. Or I want to meet the Six Million Dollar Man, and I can get him. It kind of connects the audience in a way, it’s a big ol’ cultural reference, ‘cause if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

Norton maintains his goal is simply to “have fun and enjoy myself. That’s why the interviews are so bad. I love meeting celebrities, but after that, I’m not all that interested in them really. I just want to kiss them and run out and tell my friends, ‘You’ll never guess who I’ve just met!”’


Though a formally trained actor from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama and a prizewinning stand-up comic, Norton is the first to admit that “as an actor, I’m quite rubbish. The one thing I learned going though drama school is that if there was any acting I could do, it would be comedy acting.”

Norton says he’d jump at the chance to appear in an American television show or movie, “but I must be stopped. It’s a really bad idea. Hopefully I will have the inner strength to resist any offers of acting.”

In contrast, Norton says, the show is simply “me on overdrive.” Its appeal, he insists, is this “kind of a childish, kind of giggly thing you can have fun with.... What we do is all very innocent. We’re just like kids and we found something in the back of our parents’ closets, and that’s not all that shocking really.”


“So Graham Norton” is shown Friday nights at 8 and midnight on BBC America. The network has rated it TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17).