Nightlife

Graham Norton: Best Of So Graham Norton

by Christopher Hartley
Contributor
Tuesday Aug 10, 2004
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Take the gay sensibility of Ellen and the wry, smirking wit of Conan and you get Graham Norton, the 39-year old mischievous Irish host of a wildly popular BBC "chat show." Norton doesnít break any new ground here -- calling up folks at random, sharing bizarre discoveries found on the internet, or eliciting remarkably personal confessions out his studio audience -- but the cumulative effect is captivating.

"The Best of So Graham Norton" quite literally features the best bits from his shows. The producers take ’best of’ compilation to dizzying new heights, with celebrity interviews and skits parsed into multiple short snippets that beg for a Pause button. The rapid fire editing implies that the viewer has seen this all before and doesnít need the setup -- just the punch line.

When youíve got the likes of Lauren Bacall, Kim Cattrall, Cher, Alan Cumming, Elton John, Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, or even Ivana Trump sitting in your guest chair, you can afford to linger. Several times I wished one complete episode, heck, one complete interview, was loaded on the DVD.

Norton clearly knows how to handle his guests and put them at ease, though he sometimes upstages them . Greeting Dolly Parton while sporting a loud floral paisley sport coat, Parton remarks: "You look great, my grandmother had a couch that looked just like that," to which Norton retorts, "But probably more people have sat on me."

Equally delightful are the unscripted moments. Men and women from the studio audience quite readily confess their most embarrassing sexual moments. Norton also seems to delight in dialing up gushing (mostly American) fans of gay community icons like Cher and putting them on the line together. Elton John singing "Rocket Man" over the phone to an (unseen) man suspended from a homemade "Rocket Man" harness generates a lot of heavy breathing at the other end of the line and defies description.

Skits, as with most talk shows, are Nortonís Achilleís Heel. Some are playfully used to introduce guests (Norton as a Venetian gondoleer introducing Sophia Loren), while others mostly drag. The DVD opens with Norton as an old man reminiscing about shows past, and reappears several more times -- each time getting less and less funny.

Still, thereís probably enough funny Graham Norton for a two or three disc set (perhaps they could bundle it with his Japanese special, "Ah So Graham Norton." Politically correct, he’s not).

For devoted fans, thereís always that one defining memorable scene, and the DVD ends with the self-described classic "Pipes of Pam" segment, which does for the flute what "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" did for ping-pong balls. For better or worse, "God Save the Queen" will never be quite the same, and fortunately, neither will America.

Includes short interview with Graham Norton and one with regular audience member, "Betty."

Christopher Hartley is a native of Southern California, but fled to the warm embrace of Boston several years ago. When not working in higher education or reviewing for EDGE, he stays active with Boston’s local gay swim team, Liquid Assets.

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