Graham Norton has said he was uncomfortable with his 1990s Channel 4 show because straight male writers kept writing jokes about “anal sex and blow jobs”.
These days, the Irish television presenter is best known for his BBC chat show The Graham Norton Show, but in the 1990s, he made a name for himself on Channel 4 with So Graham Norton and V Graham Norton.
Reflecting on his time at Channel 4, Norton told the How I Found My Voice podcast that the writers “went too far” with some of their jokes.
“I had a producer, there were writers, and in the end, it went too far for me,” Norton said.
“All the jokes were just about anal sex and blow jobs and things, and I was just like, this is beginning to feel uncomfortable, particularly because it was straight men who were writing these jokes and straight men were producing the show.
“I kind of started to kick back then.”
Graham Norton started to ‘kick back’ against gay jokes on his early Channel 4 shows.
The much-loved television host and author continued: “That’s also, I think, to do with, I got the Channel 4 show when I think I was 35, 36, something like that, so by the time it finished I was in my 40s and it took me a while to kind of figure out who I was as a 40-year-old, because clearly I wasn’t that guy.
“I wasn’t the guy in the big suits running up and down the stairs waving dildos around. That just seemed really unseemly for a man over 40.
“But yet I didn’t quite know who I was. I think it’s taken me a while. It took about, I don’t know, maybe 10 years. In my 50s, I feel much more comfortable in my skin.
“I feel like I get who I am now, whereas I didn’t quite then.”
Norton also said he sometimes looks back on his younger self and wonders: “Was that me?”
“I think it was,” he said. “I think I built up that character when I worked in restaurants, or at drama school. Quite arch, quite camp, quite brittle, a big streak of cruelty there.
All the jokes were just about anal sex and blow jobs and things, and I was just like, this is beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“And I think once you get on stage then you put on that sort of persona, sort of like armour. You’re laughing at yourself before anyone can laugh at you, and all of those classic tears of a glow tropes, they’re all there.”
However, when Norton got his television show on Channel 4, it was no longer just him creating “the caricature of Graham Norton” – he had an entire team.
“I had a stylist who was coming up with all these incredible mad suits that I was happy to wear, I loved them,” he said.
Norton also said he and his team at Channel 4 had a “brief”, which was to replace Eurotrash.
“Suddenly, it couldn’t just be a chat show, it couldn’t just be me interviewing people. It had to have all that over-the-top stuff, it needed to be risqué and outrageous to please that audience that we were inheriting,” he said.
“On BBC One, that’s not your job. Your job is to provide a show that’s appropriate for that BBC One audience. Even on BBC 2 you can be a bit more out there, but once we got to BBC One, and once we got to Friday nights on BBC One, you need to entertain the audience.
“You’re not there to frighten them, you’re not there to shock them, you want to please them.”