Growing up, Natalie Norman didn’t look like the other girls. She was overweight. She wore glasses. At one point, she even had to wear an eyepatch. Kids might have made fun of her – if she didn’t beat them to the punchline.
“I was always the odd girl out,” she said recently for The CJN’s flagship podcast, The Canadian Jewish Shmooze. “I think you kind of take on comedy, in a sense, to fit in, and people will like you. And I was always that funny child.”
It took a couple decades, but Norman has finally evolved her self-deprecating humour into a debut comedy album, The Big Reveal, released on Howl & Roar, a Canadian comedy label that promotes female comics. It’s the culmination of eight years of practise, during which time she’s established herself as a fixture in downtown Toronto’s comedy circuit.
She recorded the album at The Ossington, where she’s performed for years. A spiritual person, she decorated the room with rose quartz crystals – “It’s a love crystal,” she explained with a laugh – making sure audiences and future listeners could feel like they’re sitting in a living room, amused by her personal stories. And her stories are definitely amusing. Norman tries to disgust audiences while normalizing her subject matter, joking about her mom’s prolapsed uterus, period blood and oral sex.
“Oh, I’m disgusting,” she acknowledged. “That’s the whole thing: I know it’s gross for other people, but that’s not even the grossest thing I’ve ever said by a long shot.”
Her less gross material stems from years of depression, which she’s suffered since Grade 9. She cried constantly and didn’t want to leave the house. For years, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. “They took me for all these crazy tests and brain scans and all this stuff, and they couldn’t diagnose me,” she recalled.
Fundamental to her whole act – the depression, the sex talk, the blatant neuroses – is her Judaism. “I’m more Jewish than people ever realize,” she said. “That’s the stuff I don’t share with the public.”
Norman is fiercely on the side of women’s rights, queer rights and sex positivity. So when people discover she’s more than simply “culturally Jewish,” it can get confusing. For instance, she grew up going to a Conservative synagogue, Beth Emeth – the same synagogue her grandparents attended.
“I’m also a pretty liberal person, so it doesn’t make sense for a lot of people’s minds that I’d be also a religious person. I think people have a hard time connecting the two. But, like, I say Shema every night,” she explained.
“I’m so addicted to saying the Shema every night that if I’m sleeping at some guy’s house, it becomes really awkward. Like, I don’t know what to do. Do I go to the bathroom naked and say it? But you can’t say it in the bathroom, right, that’s bad.. Do I say it while they’re sleeping? Do it say it over their bodies? I don’t know.”
For her, adhering to Jewish traditions is less a choice than a requirement mandated by decades of hereditary guilt and anxiety, “and having grandparents that survived the Holocaust,” she said. “I mean, how could you not be? They survived so much, and you’re just gonna give it up?”
But while she doesn’t shy away from her Judaism – she describes herself as a Jewess across social media and in The Big Reveal – she also doesn’t spend too long on it. A lot of her Jewish jokes didn’t make it into her album. Instead, she packs the hour-long record with a barrage of finely honed anecdotes more universal in scope: bad hookups, weight loss and the tragic loss of Target Canada. Despite all the anxiety comedy causes her, she isn’t quitting any time soon. “When you’re doing well, the amount of laughter feels better than drugs or sex or anything,” she said. “I can’t explain the high. It’s insane.”
You can download “The Big Reveal” on iTunes or Spotify, and listen to The CJN’s full podcast episode with Norman at cjnews.com/podcasts.