CHAT show king Graham Norton is the go-to guy for Hollywood stars eager to plug their latest movie in the UK.
But keeping company with Tinsel Town’s beautiful people isn’t all its cracked up to be, according to the man himself.
Indeed, in one of his most candid interviews yet, the Irish presenter claims some A-listers are “annoying” and complain his show isn’t funny when they’re the fun sponge.
Speaking in one of a series interviews in the US to promote his novel A Keeper, he says: “There’s the guest sitting on the couch thinking, ‘But I love this show. Tonight just, I don’t know, it’s just not that good tonight,’ and you’re like, ‘Because you’re on it. Because you’re here. You’re ruining it’.
“It happens quite often where people are like, ‘Normally this show is so fun,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but you’re here. You carry this with you. You kill every room you enter.’”
It’s the fear of a glum A-lister which prompted the regular booking of a comedian, usually British, sitting at the end of the sofa to come to the rescue if his star name is bringing nothing to the table.
Graham adds: “That is the joy, because if I’m getting nothing, if that is a bloodless stone then you turn to someone else, or I might be lucky to have a comic at the end.
“They can do 20 minutes, so off they go. And actually sometimes, it’s as illuminating to see a really kind of stern actor who is not really good at telling their stories to see what makes them laugh, to see the comic is really tickling them.
“That’s, in a way, more revealing than the answer to any question I could ask them.”
He says he appreciated the comedic distraction when action star Mark Wahlberg appeared and fell asleep on his couch.
‘I’M SO UNFRIENDLY MY FACE IS LIKE THUNDER’
He explains: “If they’re disruptive then that is a bore and annoying. Like Mark Wahlberg, I think Mark got a bit confused about the jet lag and wine.
“He fell asleep — that was the good bit. When he fell asleep, that was like we were able to tell stories. The show’s going a bit better now, I wonder why? Oh, he’s asleep.
“And at one stage, he climbed on my lap and was like pinching my nipples, and I remember afterwards thinking, ‘wow, my 20-year-old self, my head would have exploded if someone would tell me he would do that’, but my 50-year-old self was just like, ‘Get off me.’”
Graham, 56, has been hosting his chat show on BBC1 for a decade and enjoyed huge success, which is why he is one of the Beeb’s highest earners, pulling in more than £600,000 a year.
He’s graduated from stand-up comedian, to comedy actor to presenter of cult Channel 4 chat show — So Graham Norton — to become the daddy of Saturday night TV on the Beeb.
But he admits away from the cameras he’s nothing like the bubbly character you see laughing with alongside the celebs on telly – especially when he’s walking his dogs near his London home. He explains: “I’m so unfriendly. My face is like thunder. So I’m out with the dogs and I try to give off the vibe that I’ve just received terrible news, or a member of my family has just died, so best not to talk to me.
“And also, I’ve got a really vicious dog. I mean I didn’t choose that, she’s a rescue dog and it turns out she is my spirit animal and she hates everyone.”
But despite his moody exterior, A-listers continue to flock to his red sofa. This year alone Graham has hosted Hollywood royalty including Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves, Chris Hemsworth, Madonna, Tom Hanks and Gwyneth Paltrow. Yet no matter how many awards they’ve won or box office records broken, the Irishman has little time for any actor who suffers from nerves.
Graham says: “I find actors being nervous so annoying. Like you know that thing: ‘Oh, I was so nervous, I was vomiting in the wings. I needed a bucket in the wings before I could go on stage. I was so nervous.’ You’re in the wrong job! If a bus driver is afraid of his bus, get a new job. Just don’t do that. So I have no patience for actors being nervous. I just think, ‘Oh shut up. Okay, don’t go on. See if I care. We’ll all go home.’ Nerves annoy me.”
And worse still, he gets infuriated by big names who cannot even pretend or act like they’re having fun. He says: “They’re an actor. Now some of them can’t (act). Some of them it’s not in their wheelhouse. They’re good at learning words and saying them aloud.
“And it is terrible, because sometimes you’re thinking I’ve got quite a funny story about that, but I can’t tell it, because it’s supposed to be about the stupid guest.”
He does have some favourites, however. Graham cites George Clooney and Bill Murray as his “biggest gets” because they’re both so hard to book.
Tom Cruise was a hit because of his impeccable manners and warmth backstage, he loved Madonna for “just being Madonna” and enjoys Russell Crowe’s appearances, suggesting he “only comes on the show so he can flip the chair”, in a nod to his Red Chair segment in which an audience member tells an intimate anecdote.
And he highlights Will Smith’s rendition of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme, along with former co-star Alfonso Ribeiro who played Carlton Banks and pal DJ Jazzy Jeff, as one of the stand-out moments in his show’s history – made more special by the fact he “didn’t have to do a thing”.
‘I LIKE LORD SUGAR’
Graham explains: “Will Smith produced that whole segment. He flew in Carlton, he got the DJ, he did it all, so it was an amazing moment.
“And to see an audience that happy over a sustained period of time, it was like a drug. It was like Oprah giving away a car to everybody. It was that atmospheric.”
Yet his all-time favourite isn’t an Oscar-winning star or legendary music act – he’s a grumpy billionaire business mogul whose catchphrase is “you’re fired”.
He says: “I think with most people in this industry, the ‘wanting to be liked’ gene is quite strong in them, so they’ll just fake it.
“Occasionally, I’ll get a guest who doesn’t have that gene.
“They don’t care, but it’s so unusual it takes your breath away. Oh wow, you really don’t care, and I quite like it, like Lord Alan Sugar. I really like him — he’s really funny and great.”
Graham reveals there are a few star names who’ve yet to appear on his show he’d like to interview, namely Julia Roberts, plus Prince Harry and Meghan. He says: “If I was looking after Harry and Meghan right now, I’d say, ‘Do that.’”
The former Father Ted star says one of the secrets behind his success is he knows he’s not at the top of the pecking order — despite the fact his name is in the title.
He sees himself as the “comedy butler”, which he’s fine with, but he believes British chat show rivals who’ve failed to match his longevity may have struggled to deal with not playing top dog on their own show.
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Discussing why there are less chat shows in the UK compared to across the pond, Graham says: “A lot of British comics in particular think they want to do a talk show.
“They think, ‘I’m going to like this,’ and in fact they don’t, because they get confused, because their name is in the title of the show and because you walk out and everyone is clapping and it’s great, it’s all about me, look at you, you love me, I’m the big man, and the minute you get the guest out, it’s not about you.
“You’re low status and I think that doesn’t suit a lot of people, particularly a lot of performers, because they were bred for stardom, not to be some sort of comedy butler handing people feed lines.”
Fame got me the book deals, sorry
GRAHAM Norton apologised to jobbing writers for landing a book deal thanks to his FAME.
He published second novel A Keeper last year, having seen his debut Holding become a Sunday Times bestseller.
The tome is “a twisted tale of secrets and ill-fated loves” set in Ireland. The presenter says he “always wanted to write” but finally did it after turning 50. He adds: “I thought, ‘Stop talking about this book. Write one.’
“So I got myself a book deal. To any authors out there, I’m sorry. It is awful that a bloke off the television can just go, ‘Hi, I’d really like to write a novel,’ and they let me.”
Graham says it feels “gratifying” his books are being talked about in the US where he has little profile. He adds: “If you have watched my show, or know anything about me, the books aren’t what you expect.
“They’re not funny, they’re not set in media, they’re not in London, none of those things. They’re sort of romantic, but kind of darkly romantic.”
- A Keeper is out now, published by Coronet.
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