Dateline: April 5, 2001
Irish comic and chat show host Graham Norton has been a fixture on British TV (mostly on Channel 4) for the past five years. His over-the-top exuberance and natural giddiness have won over audiences and celebrity guests who have appeared on his series So Graham Norton. Graham is now poised for success in the United States as BBC America begins to import his series in July 2001. Here's a look at his career, style, and why his show is so much fun to watch.
Born in 1963, Graham refers to himself on the Channel 4 Website as "your favourite Shiny Irish Poof" in reference to his homosexuality which he takes great pride in. His style is very much what the British refer to "camp" (the patron saint of which was probably John Inman during Are You Being Served?). Graham performed his one-man shows at the Edinburgh Festival from 1992 until 1997, most of which played houses in London and toured throughout the UK. His 1997 Edinburgh show was nominated for a Perrier Award. He got his first TV break on Channel 5's Bring Me The Head Of Light Entertainment.
He first came to my attention five years ago when he guest starred in a couple of episodes of Father Ted as Father Noel Furlong. Father Noel was exhaustingly enthusiastic, doing sing alongs and trying to get everyone else to join in. He never lost his annoyingly upbeat outlook on things, even when he was last seen buried under a pile of rocks in a cave.
Channel 4 very smartly signed him up to do a chat show, and Graham decided to launch one that was unlike anything else on the air. So Graham Norton began in 1998 with a credit sequence featuring Norton entering a phone box filled with ads for various dodgy activities. Each episode roughly unfolds like this: Norton comes out in front of an enthusiastic studio audience which he immediately asks to stand up as he asks them something personal like, "Stay standing...stay standing if you've ever been caught doing something embarrassing in a public place." Invariably a few members of the audience remain on their feet long enough for Graham to race over to them and quickly interview them about whatever personal topic he's asked. After a few of these, he takes his seat next to a computer and invites on his first celebrity guest. The more glamorous the better, and past guests have included Grace Jones, Bo Derek, Ursula Andress, and Joan Collins. Male guests are welcome too, including Roy Scheider, Billy Zane, and Roger Moore. For an entire season, Norton was obsessed about Miles O'Keeffe, Bo Derek's co-star in 1981's Tarzan, the Ape Man. He would call O'Keeffe in Tennessee, his mother, even a local bar to see if they knew him. O'Keeffe finally made an appearance in the London studio and was treated like royalty by Norton. He continued to turn up in subsequent episodes via video phones to keep the audience updated on his so-called "career." But you have to give him credit for being a good sport, he knew exactly what Graham was up to.
After some saucy chitchat with his guests, Graham then turns to the Internet to dig up the most unusual (and perverse) Website he can find with at best a tenuous connection to the guest. After checking it out, he calls the owner of the site live on the air who typically doesn't believe Graham is sitting next to Joan Collins or whomever (Graham frequently doesn't tell the unsuspecting person he's on a TV show, and when the audience is laughing themselves silly and the caller asks what all that noise is, Graham merely replies the neighbor's TV is up too loud!).
Each show then ends up with some sort of presentation, often using items brought in by the studio audience (for example, really bad photos of themselves) which are then voted on by everyone. Then, just before the credits need to roll, Graham returns to his stand-up comic roots to fire off a few quick zingers about various celebrities before waving "Bye Bye!" for another week. It's amazing someone can generate so much energy in 30 minutes, but it pays off handsomely with some brilliant award winning television (including the British Comedy Awards and a BAFTA).
Norton has also hosted various documentaries, usually on topics like sex, drugs or rock 'n roll (sometimes all three at once), including Rock Babylon, and Unzipped. He also presented Channel 4's 100 Greatest TV Moments, making suitably cutting remarks about the various selections that were chosen from TV history.
TV is not the only medium he has conquered, the BBC has commissioned him to host a New York-based chat show for BBC Radio 4 they announced recently. The six hour-long shows, to be called Graham Norton's Big Apple Crumble, will be made by Unique and is expected to air early in 2002.
In whatever form, Graham is certain to be a fixture in our homes for years to come. Watch out America, you don't know what you've been missing!