Norton: Sleeping with boogeyman

Hard Rock Hotel headliner Jim Norton suffers from sleep apnea so badly he has to wear a crazy mask at night that makes him look like Darth Vader without the pretty helmet.

In Norton’s Netflix special, “American Degenerate,” he shows startled fans a giant photo of his Darth Vader night-face. They laugh. I laughed. It’s all very funny, except Norton has to live with this don’t-die-in-your-sleep mask.

“I should wear it every night, but I don’t. I have been kind of lousy about it,” he tells me. (It’s hard to sleep in the mask, so he takes it off a lot.)

“I envy people who can sleep comfortably and easy. I suck at it. I’m not good at sleeping — that’s really humiliating.”

As you can imagine, wearing a bizarre mask to bed may not be considered sexy to ladies. So he doesn’t put it on until after he romances someone.

“You put it on after, because then she has to realize she’s sleeping next to this monster,” Norton jokes. “Let her see what her mistake was.”

If you see Norton on Friday and Sunday at the Hard Rock, he won’t be doing that sleep apnea routine, because he is a hard-working pro who has developed a whole new hour of comedy.

Norton is one of America’s great comedians. He’s funny and getting funnier with age. He’s raunchy. He has zero boundaries.

I think of him as a kind of Trojan Horse. On the outside, he seems like a tough and sometimes angry New Yorker.

But once you let him into your life, you hear him suddenly put up a passionate and loving defense of beloved transsexuals and prostitutes, or he will joke about how the guy sitting next to him on a plane smells delicious.

When I tell Norton all that, he is grateful and sweet, just as he always is, and he dissects that delicious-airplane-guy joke.

“You can never be afraid to be silly,” he says. “A lot of guys try to adhere to a certain thing. I try to not do that. If I want to do something silly, I want to be able to do that comfortably.

“I never want to think of myself as, like, macho or any of that stuff. It would be awful pegging myself in that corner.”

He boasts he talks about transsexuals more than anyone in comedy. In a previous special, he included a scene in which he hooks up with a woman who is transsexual, but that joke does not make transsexuality the butt of a joke. Instead, the point is just how pretty this transsexual is.

“The crowd reacted the way I wanted them to react, like, ‘I understand, wow, she’s hot.’ I didn’t want a negative reaction, and I didn’t get one.”

“I hate homophobes,” he says.

And yet, as a hardcore advocate for free speech and forgiveness, he hates it when the “thought police” call for famous people to lose their jobs after saying something terrible about people, or doing something else human, such as making a sex tape.

“The next step is, we would be penalized for thoughts. The technology is coming where eventually your thoughts will be read and we’ll all know each other’s thoughts,” Norton says.

“It’s happening in a weird way now with text messaging. Those are just thoughts being sent out. Eventually we will all know everything about each other.”

Oy, the future really is going to be weird, isn’t it?

Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Contact him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.