Pop Culture
1:43 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

A-List Celebrities Flock To Late-Night 'Graham Norton Show'

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 9:39 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Now that the late-night talk show wars have settled down again, our TV critic David Bianculli says there's a talk show we should be watching that's not broadcast by CBS, NBC or ABC or even Comedy Central. It's "The Graham Norton Show," imported by BBC America and shown on Saturday nights. Here's David's review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: "The Graham Norton Show" has been around a long time, and so has Norton. But few people I know watch the show or even know about it. Yet his game has gotten even better lately, as his guest roster has gotten ridiculously A-list. Paul McCartney, Elton John, Robert DeNiro and Bill Murray have all shown up this season. And even those guests who show up on talk shows more frequently have a different experience on Graham Norton's show. Think of how many times you've seen Matt Damon as a talk show guest, on Jimmy Kimmel's program and elsewhere. Now think what it must have meant when Damon, at the end of a recent episode of "The Graham Norton Show" told his host this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

MATT DAMON: By the way, this is the best time I've ever had on a talk show.

(APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: Why did Damon enjoy himself so much? Well, he got to swap stories with fellow guests Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville while swigging champagne and even knock an audience member off his chair in a specially rigged ejector seat. One secret ingredient of Norton's show is that most of the time, the guests all come out at once, sitting and interacting together the way they used to the old "Merv Griffin Show."

The other secret ingredient is that Norton, like Craig Ferguson, isn't so much interested in what a celebrity is there to plug, as almost anything else. So when Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt show up to promote their new "Edge of Tomorrow" movie and Blunt talks about being pregnant during reshoots, Norton uses that as an excuse to ask about the birth of her baby. And as a result, he gets not only funny story from the British actress, but a story told partly in a decidedly, and impressively, in a non-British accent.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

GRAHAM NORTON: Was it the nurse that was very complimentary when she popped out?

EMILY BLUNT: Yes, she was funny. We were in the recovery room afterwards and we had this amazing nurse who came in. And she looked at Hazel and she goes, damn, your baby is so cute.

(LAUGHTER)

BLUNT: And I went, I went, oh, really? She went, she is gorgeous. And I went, Mable, I think you say that to all the mothers. She says, no, I don't.

(LAUGHTER)

BLUNT: She said, when I know a baby ugly, I say, you had a baby.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: One perfect example of the unique chemistry on Norton's show is another baby story. British singer Robbie Williams is talking about the recent birth of his daughter Teddy, and actress Emma Thompson, seated on the couch with Williams, takes over the questioning. She elicits an answer that results in increasingly loud waves of laughter, as more and more people, including Graham Norton himself, realize exactly what Williams said and meant.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

NORTON: Was Teddy born here?

ROBBIE WILLIAMS: Yes, she was born here, yeah.

NORTON: Were you actually at the, the hello Teddy moment, were you there for the birth?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was.

EMMA THOMPSON: Were you on the business end?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: It was like my favorite pub burning down.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: It's so much fun to watch people on Graham Norton's couch make each other roar with laughter, and it happens often. On the same show with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Seth MacFarlane came out to promote his new movie. But Norton was much more interested in having MacFarlane revisit some favorite "Family Guy" bits. And everyone, Cruise included, went crazy with delight as MacFarlane recreated one of Norton's favorites in particular. It was Liam Neeson's telephone call to his daughter's kidnappers in the movie "Taken" but as performed by Kermit the frog.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

SETH MACFARLANE: I'm not going to be able to remember the speech. I don't have any money.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

MACFARLANE: But what I do have...

(LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: ...are a very specific set of skills.

(LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: Skills that make me a nightmare...

(LAUGHTER)

MACFARLANE: ...For somebody like you. If you don't let the girl go, I will track you down, I will find you and I will kill you.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: On a recent show with Elton John and Judi Dench, the openly gay Norton asked her about her nightlife. And ended up remembering more of it than she did, including one night at a gay club named Heaven. And that was enough to turn Elton John into an instant comedian.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

NORTON: And now Judi, do you still go clubbing? Do you still cut a rug?

(LAUGHTER)

JUDI DENCH: You know, I've never, ever been to a club in my life. Terrible, yes quite.

NORTON: Judi Dench...

(LAUGHTER)

DENCH: I'm sorry for me.

NORTON: You lie like a rug.

DENCH: Oh, do I?

NORTON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

NORTON: Never been to a nightclub?

NORTON: Yes, you have.

DENCH: Where?

NORTON: I ran into you in Heaven.

(LAUGHTER)

DENCH: Oh yes, you did.

(APPLAUSE)

DENCH: Absolutely true.

(LAUGHTER)

DENCH: They took us into the back door.

ELTON JOHN: Wouldn't they?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN: Story of her life.

(LAUGHTER)

DENCH: That is the only time.

NORTON: Is that really the only time?

DENCH: Yes.

NORTON: Did you not have a nice night? You looked like you were having fun.

DENCH: Yes, I think we did.

JOHN: I'm gay and I've never been to Heaven.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN: And I'm never getting their either...

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN: ...But that's astonishing, why were you there, for God's sake?

DENCH: That's a good question too.

(LAUGHTER)

NORTON: I know the answer to that, as well.

(LAUGHTER)

NORTON: You were there to see Cher.

DENCH: What?

NORTON: You were there to see Cher. The singer, Cher?

DENCH: Oh yes, that's right.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: With all the celebrities on stage at once, they get to, and have to, listen to one another and interact. Watching "The Graham Norton Show" is like eavesdropping on an All-Star cocktail party and Norton even supplies the drinks. It's an old trick, just think of Johnny Carson the that Bob Hope and Dean Martin stayed on the couch to greet George Gobel. But the group approach, with or without the drinks, is so unusual in today's TV landscape, it seems positively, refreshingly new. It's a talk show where everyone gets to talk, even to each other.

GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website tvworthwatching.com and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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