Interview: Graham Norton: Father Ted's legacy

In his Perrier-nominated Edinburgh stand-up show last summer, Graham Norton extracted great comic mileage from a "Kitty Phone", a kitten-shaped telephone for which you could obtain a certificate of adoption. In his new Channel 4 vehicle, So Graham Norton, he has similar fun at the expense of Sainsbury's range of World Cup products.

"They are putting stickers on everything," he whistles with admiration. "Garden Vegetable Quiche - `ideal half-time snack'. Chicken Korma - `ideal extra-time snack'. While I'm taking the piss out of this, I love the fact that someone's actually doing it. I feel affection for most things I talk about. I hope I don't do the comedy of hate."

Norton is an appealingly cheeky chappie who knows just how far to push things. In his live act and on such shows as Father Ted on C4, Radio 4's Loose Ends, Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment for C5 and ITV's Carnal Knowledge, his overwhelming charm means he'll always be forgiven, however great the mischief he gets up to.

As camp as Christmas, he revels in teasing. For instance, he reckons: "The main difference between a straight man and a bisexual is about four and a half pints of lager. Straight men just can't imagine the bliss of being in a relationship with someone who finds farting as funny as they do."

It's not just straight men he mocks; he is equally adept at sending up himself on the grounds of being both Irish ("the final round of Irish Gladiators is called The Emigrator; the winner is the first person to end up in a pool of piss in the Kilburn High Road") and gay ("before I went out, I cleaned the kitchen; because I'm gay, it's the law.") Norton has never had as wide a stage as Channel 4 is providing. "I like to describe it as format-lite," he jokes. "It's a mixture of guests and interviews - essentially like 1,000 other shows, except with me presenting it."

Despite the jocularity, he feels the pressure of his first name-in-the- title vehicle. "I've been built up so I can spectacularly fail with this. People might see me as a special-needs pupil - `he was rubbish, but my God he was trying'. It's God's joke - `let him think he's successful, give him his own show, and then watch him die on his arse'. The higher your profile becomes, the more aware you are that people out there might hate you. That's a new experience for me, because up till now I've just pottered along doing late-night shows and Edinburgh and haven't had much attention. Suddenly I've realised it's not all sunshine and light."

Norton is honest enough to admit that his risk-taking style of comedy does not always work. In his last Edinburgh show, he advertised in the gay press for unsuspecting people who were "looking for good times, possibly with others watching" to ring in, little knowing that their calls would be broadcast live to a theatre-full of punters in the Assembly Rooms. Norton now concedes that overall the stunt failed: "The people ringing in turned out to be nice. I did feel I was exploiting them a bit, but the bottom line was it wasn't very funny."

His overtly camp approach is certainly not to everyone's taste. "A couple of years ago I got death threats from Combat 18 people in Leicester, and the show had to be stopped after a bomb scare.

"But generally I'm a shallow little thing who just flits in and out, and no one has bitched to my face. Tolerance is forced on people in London. If you were a bigot here and rolled down the car window to shout `faggot' at every one you saw, it would take you all day to get to your destination. People don't have time to hate us that much."

Many more people, it has to be said, are won over by Norton's undeniable warmth. In all his work, he is a natural, infectious communicator. "It sounds deeply shallow, but for brief spells every member of the public can be fascinating. You wouldn't want to be trapped in a lift with them, but everyone has one extraordinary thing about them - like their husband has been living for years with the next-door neighbour. You so can see where Jerry Springer gets his guests. There is a temptation to talk about `ordinary people' - but we're them."

The British have a great history of taking to camp performers such as Kenneth Williams, Larry Grayson and Frankie Howerd, and Norton fits snugly into this tradition. "People feel unthreatened by it. They like to see a man who's vulnerable and has nothing to prove - everyone can laugh at that."

Norton's popularity was only enhanced by his appearances as the bumptious Father Noel Furlong in Father Ted. "The series is so huge I get people banging on restaurant windows when they see me inside. I was only in four episodes, so what Ardal [O'Hanlon, who plays Ted's dim sidekick, Father Dougal] has to cope with must be extraordinary. There is even a website called `Tedspotting', which people write in when they've seen actors from Father Ted in the street. Sure enough, I was spotted in Bethnal Green Tesco's buying toilet paper. I like to think I was buying other things as well, but it's still freaky- deaky."

With touching modesty, Norton says that "so many times I've thought `I can't believe I'm doing this'. I stood in for Ned Sherrin on Loose Ends, and was gobsmacked as I was doing it. And Rhona Cameron and I hosted a Stonewall equality gig at the Albert Hall in front of 5,000 people. Things like that make me giddy.

"Still, if it all goes wrong, I'm very good at waiting tables. I did it for eight years and was fantastically rude to people. I wasn't happy in my work, and sometimes I feel I took it out on the customers. I fear people watching Channel 4 now will say, `isn't that that bastard waiter who ruined our Valentine's Night?' They'll phone the Channel 4 duty office and say, `where's our coffee? We've been waiting two years for it'."

`So Graham Norton' starts on 3 Jul on C4

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    VB.NET Application Developer (SQL, SDLC, Desktop) London

    £32000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: VB.NET Applica...

    Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

    Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil