THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW
(or, Anything Goes)
by Cara Winter
If you’ve never seen the UK talk show The Graham Norton Show – shame on you, seriously. It’s on BBC America here in the states, clips (even whole shows) widely available on YouTube, so it’s not like you even have a decent excuse! Even if you’re living under a rock, on top of a mountain, or in a shoe, certainly someone you know either has basic cable or the Interwebs. Jesus. It’s like you can’t be trusted to do anything!
The Graham Norton Show is a talk show, yes, and Graham Norton is the host. He wears a suit, he has celebrity guests and a studio audience, the whole bit. In that sense, it’s very traditional. But…the suit is pretty much a smokescreen, cause there are no rules, there is no professionalism, no amicable host prepared to jump in and save the show. You’re out on a limb. And best of all, around Norton… no one is safe.
Graham Norton is smart, fun, fabulously gay, and lovable. He has no band, no #2 to banter with, and he keeps his opening monologues short. Irreverent and vivacious, (and oft verrrry blue) the whole sensibility of his show is unlike any talk show anywhere, ever. Norton is a natural in front of an audience, completely at home with celebrities and civilians alike. The celebrity interview portion is very loose, very friendly, and his guests all come out (‘mm-hmm, come out…’) and sit on his couches together (instead coming on ‘in order of importance’ – blech). Then, he plies them with alcohol. And that’s when Graham gets going. Once they’ve gotten introductions out of the way, he will ask anything – ANYTHING – that pops into his twisted head. And if the audience likes one of these little moments he concocts, it’s not unusual for him to hop up and curtsy. But he also doesn’t need to be the one producing the laugh; often, he’s perfectly content to give a celeb lots of rope, free reign to veer off into some weird, twisted or embarrassing story, quite happy to sit and not say anything. Unless it’s to turn to the audience and say, “You’ll notice, I’m not saying anything.”
And while I’m sure there is a script, of sorts… it seems like Norton is rarely married to it. Instead of the usual canned ‘tell me a short quirky story, then plug your latest movie’, has has real conversations with his guests – and the result is almost always six tons of fun. And I’m not entirely sure they even have an editing bay, as it seems like pretty much whatever happens in front of the cameras is what goes on the air. Maybe they were cutting the budget a few years back and decided, ‘Meh, who needs editing”? …because it all feels a little like anything goes, a little like the Wild West of broadcasting, like maybe, if Cameron Diaz does jello shots and throws up, we’ll just hold her hair back and keep going.
Every major star has made at least one appearance, and they often do and say things you won’t see or hear anywhere else. Benedict Cumberbatch tells Harrison Ford he used to fantasize about him. Emma Thompson recounts the time she flashed her Saving Mr. Banks cast mates. Same episode, Hugh Grant describes a particularly hairy audition… and Bill Murray figuring out that basically anything goes? Comedy gold. It’s as if every guest is infected with Norton’s impish glee, where “naughty” is the expected state of being, never, EVER to be uttered in the same context as “Santa”. (Unless it’s Bad Santa.)
And everything is double entrendre. Everything: Harry. Sandwich. Bush. I’m pretty sure Norton could make Peter Rabbit sound scandalous (I mean, rabbits, come on, that one’s too easy!), and no celebrity can get away from it. Refreshingly honest, Norton will also make fun of anyone, over anything. He ribbed Bono – (Bono! Who makes fun of Bono, to Bono?) over his ever-present sunglasses. And even after Bono tells the audience he wears them because he’s developed glaucoma, Norton hands Bono this ridiculous over-sized pair of shades to put on; like, “Hmm, well, that is really awful, Mary… but I have bit to do.”
If you’re really and truly a Graham Norton virgin… well, I’ve done all I can, at this point. I’ve given you the tools, the information, and permission to go exploring… now it’s up to you to actually go and get defrocked. You can see The Graham Norton Show on BBC America, Saturdays at 10/9c.
Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.