Graham Norton: king of comedic chat shows

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The Graham Norton Show has maintained the attention of an increasingly fickle audience and has survived the ruthless axing that is often committed by broadcasters. For fifteen years, with 29 series and 463 episodes, the show has come to define British interactions with celebrity culture. This interaction is of course mediated by Graham Norton’s attempts to bring celebrities back down to earth, peeling the masquerade of ‘celebrity’ from guests’ faces as audiences cringe at their embarrassing, yet relatable stories. The success of The Graham Norton Show forces us to reflect upon what constitutes a good chat show. In particular, whether the American or British approach makes a better chat show. If you want the former to win, I urge you to stop reading!

Firstly, but most importantly, a good chat show has to keep things light-hearted. I’m not sure if this is just a British thing, but when the conversation becomes too intense, I can’t help but cringe. On the most recent episode of The Graham Norton Show, Norton made the fact that Daniel Craig’s final Bond film was No Time to Die as light-hearted as possible. Instead of showering the actor with false shows of lamentation, Norton joked that Craig couldn’t remember the filming of many of the Bond films so it wouldn’t come as too much of a loss.

Yet, in a recent episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, it seemed that as Fallon was interviewing Kendall Jenner, nearly every topic became a self-indulgent commentary on the supermodel’s outlook on society. For instance, when discussing her new Tequila brand, the conversation turned serious where Jenner informed the audience that her company gave a brick made of agave waste back to the Jalisco community. Although I’m sure Jenner’s intentions are in the right place, this would have been a pivotal opportunity for a chat show host to bring Jenner back to earth. However, Jimmy Fallon appears to revel in these regular virtue-signalling sessions more often than Graham Norton.  

Norton is a natural at translating his witty comedic flair into the conversational tone of a chat show.

Secondly, chat show hosts must be a certain type of funny. Graham Norton was a comedian years before hosting his show but being a comedian does not necessarily result in a funny chat show. Luckily, Norton is a natural at translating his witty comedic flair into the conversational tone of a chat show.

However, although I believe Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel to be funny in their stand up, I don’t think they’ve mastered the witty conversational comedy that makes your belly ache. I also don’t think this is their aim, something which perhaps separates British from American chat shows. Whilst American chat shows focus on plugging a guest’s next project and finding out more about them, the aim of British chat shows is to literally turn every last comment and story into a joke. 

Nevertheless, the lines blur with chat show hosts like Conan O’Brien whose dry and cynical humour leave no celebrity story immune to a sarcastic remark. Reversely, the British James Corden who hosts The Late Late Show, feels more American in tone and content. Therefore, maybe the aim of the chat show is not defined by the nationality of the host? 

This leads me onto the final indicator of a good chat show, simple but hilarious segments. The Graham Norton Show is infamous for its ‘Red Chair’ segment where audience members sit on a chair to impress Norton with a crude story. If the story fails to impress Norton, he flings them off the chair. As well as proving hilariously entertaining, this segment acts as a meta-commentary on the purpose of chat shows and the way guests literally tell stories to impress and humour an audience. Unfortunately, The Late Late Show with James Corden doesn’t take the crown on sophisticated show segments. Although some are undoubtedly funny, they are more so because they are premised on slapstick and physical forms of comedy. Particularly noteworthy is Corden’s ‘Soundtrack to a Rom Com’ skits which each time genuinely have me believing that Corden thinks he’s auditioning to be on American Idol with how seriously he takes his vocals. (I’m sorry James, but someone had to say it). Yet, does this turn into the classic battle between satire and slapstick? 

I can’t help but conclude that British chat shows take the crown.

Overall, I can’t help but conclude that British chat shows take the crown. Although, it does get confusing when you have British hosts catering for American audiences. Hence, I think it’s less about the host’s nationality and more about the nationality of the target audience. Despite this, The Graham Norton Show will forever come out on top for three reasons, its light-heartedness, its comedic approach, and its sophisticated segments. Yet is my opinion just a by-product of the fact that I’m the show’s target audience? I’ll leave that up to you. 

Image: supper men via Flickr

One thought on “Graham Norton: king of comedic chat shows

  • Overall, I can’t help but conclude the writer has little idea of the history of television, nor of the evolution of talk/chat shows. This includes US names like Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, or David Letterman, or British shows like Simon Dee, Face to Face, or the original era of Parkinson. The irony is that Norton’s style is far more in keeping with US talk show conventions like Letterman than British roots because it certainly can be traced back through to there via Danny Baler’s early steal of that template, and Jonathan Ross.

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