The miraculous comedy mind of Joz Norris will soon be winging its way into Glasgow…
Hello Joz! First things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from here, there and everywhere, really. I lived in a small village called Petworth for a bit, where I lived in a hunting lodge belonging to a man called Lord Egremont, which I didn’t actually know until quite recently and I think is kind of gross. Spent my whole life thinking I was a sort of leftie social justice warrior, and it turns out I was part of the establishment. Then I lived in London for a while, then Salisbury for a bit, in the pre-novichok days when there was really nothing to say about the place, then Norwich, and now I’m back in London. I should just say I’m from London, it’s simpler.
When did you first realise you were funny?
In a way I’m still waiting to realise this.
How did you get into stand-up?
I knew since I was tiny that I wanted to write or act, or ideally both. I wanted to be like Pierce Brosnan, but also like Terry Pratchett. When I went to uni I wrote a few comedy scripts for the student radio station and Jon Brittain, who is now one of the best writers in the theatre biz, said they were good and I should try stand-up at the comedy club he co-ran. It just immediately felt right. It sort of combined the things I like doing in exactly the right way. Not saying I was immediately great at it, it took me a long time to figure out what I was doing, but I could immediately tell it was what I wanted to do with my life. Make up funny things and try to communicate them to people somehow.
Which comedians have inspired you; both old skool & contemporary?
As a kid I remember loving Lee Evans. We had a VHS of him doing a show in Edinburgh which opened with him doing the “Lee Evans Trio” bit, where he mime-performs all three members of a jazz trio, and I was captivated by it. Then when I was a teenager I got really into TV sitcoms and worshipped Coogan and the Boosh and the Garth Marenghi bunch and Julia Davis and all those guys, who aren’t all comedians necessarily but massively informed my sensibilities. These days I’m most inspired by my peers because I get to see them regularly and I get to really understand how their brains work and how their imaginations manifest onstage – John Kearns, Lucy Pearman, Michael Brunstrom, Ali Brice, Holly Burn. Loads and loads of others.
What is it about being funny in front of other people that makes you tick?
I think it’s the fact that it’s a doomed enterprise that I love. You keep going back to it again and again because it never quite works. I think all art is the process of scooping out the contents of your own head and hoping somebody who sees it connects with it, which is a fundamentally impossible thing to do. You can’t ever really communicate how it feels to be you, and the most anybody else will ever get is a tiny glimpse of it. Comedy’s my favourite version of that because it’s inherently ridiculous, it’s all about failure and being stupid and getting things wrong. I love that feeling. The feeling of being onstage and thinking “I’m trying to show you how it feels to be me, and that’s an utterly ridiculous thing to try and do, but isn’t it a funny thing to attempt?”
What does Joz Norris like to do to kick back?
I love jelly beans and I love Dr. Pepper and I love 70s prog rock. 70s rock in general, in fact, and some 70s folk. A bit of 80s art rock. Not much 90s stuff. A little bit of 70s jazz fusion, or 80s post-punk. And anything released by a 70s or 80s prestige artist in the 2010s. I also like to watch those Satisfying Video compilations on Youtube and read Vonnegut novels. Then I’ll go for a walk round Brockwell Park and talk to myself. Sometimes I interact with other human beings and do things that sound less tragically lonely than everything I’ve just listed. But you’ve got to be in the right mood for that. The rest I can do any time, any day.
You’re quite a stalwart in Edinburgh every August – can you tell us about Heroes of Fringe?
Heroes of Fringe is the BEST. Bob Slayer set it up a few years ago now as a model to challenge the way the Fringe is structured, and to redirect the flow of money so it goes directly to the artists instead of lining the pockets of big companies. I did a paid venue once and the show did ok but I lost money. Since doing Heroes I’ve made big profits every single year. That was sort of what it was set up to do, and it does it really well, but the more important thing about it is that it feels like a big family. I genuinely love every single person involved in Heroes, and I feel more at home there than anywhere. It looks after its people and it makes sure they’re happy so that they make good art.
Can you tell us how your comedy wound its way onto NextUp and Amazon Prime?
The NextUp guys are doing great work, they’re preserving shows which might otherwise disappear into the ether and maintaining this incredible archive where you can go back and watch things you might have missed. I think it’s going to become a really important resource in years to come. You often hear stories of these incredible shows that big name comedians did years back when they first started out, and there’s no way of going back to watch them, but now because of places like NextUp, you have this big resource. They scout out lots of shows at the Fringe and film the ones they enjoy, and they were kind enough to film mine back in 2017. Really proud to have a good record of that one, I think it was a great show.
You’re also big on making screen entertainment – ‘The Girl Whisperer,’ & ‘The Baby,’ spring to mind. How do you find balancing comedy & film-making, & do they influence each other?
I fell in love with comedy mostly by watching it on TV – Boosh and Partridge, like I said, and Peep Show and Marion & Geoff. So a big part of my brain is in love with the idea of making comedy onscreen. I think you can do a lot more with it than you can onstage – a comedy film can be sad and slow and awkward in a way that a live show maybe can’t (or maybe it’s harder in a live show, or something, but I certainly think it’s different). And I think you can include moments that are smaller and subtler, more based in the quiet, odd ways that people can be funny just in the way they express things, or the way they slightly miss one another in conversation, and so on. I also think you can push the boat out more in film in terms of indulging in surreal imagery – we had an amazing time on The Baby making it look and feel creepy and weird and slightly wrong. I think with a live show you can play with tone and feeling a lot, but with a film you can actually play with texture and colour and light and all these things that you have more direct control over. I think they’re both great, and do different things.
You’re performing at this year’s Glasgow Comedy Festival; can you tell us where & when?
I can! I’ll be doing a new show called Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad. at the Vacant Space on Friday 29th March at 8pm. It’s been curated and promoted by the amazing Pax Lowey, who runs ARGComFest down in London, which is a brilliant festival and is beginning to branch out to other festivals in other cities, like Glasgow. Very excited to be part of the lineup for it.
What is the show all about?
The sort of pretentious and vague answer is that it’s about disguise and anxiety and the failure to communicate. And the idea, which I mentioned above, that everything you do to try and make sense of your life and fit it into a pattern, is doomed to fail, but that’s ok. More specifically, it’s about a character I created last year to get myself back into performing, as I’d given up for a while due to personal reasons. This character is called Mr Fruit Salad and he is basically rubbish, but he’s decided to put on a solo show to get to the bottom of who he is. He doesn’t exist, so he’s got lots of existential trauma to work through.
What do you think of Glasgow as a city?
I really like Glasgow. I don’t know it as well as Edinburgh as I’ve spent less time there, but the last time I was there I tried to get to know it and explore it a bit more, and walked round the Kelvingrove Park, which was beautiful, and then the old observatory and the botanical gardens. They’re the things that spring to mind now when I think about Glasgow. I think they’re all lovely.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street…
This is the only show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival performed by somebody who doesn’t exist.
What will Joz Norris be doing for the rest of 2019?
Well this show will also be playing festivals in Bath, London and Ivybridge, and maybe a couple of others before going up to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I’ll also be taking up a sketch double act show with Ed Aczel, with whom I’ve also made a sitcom pilot-type thing about petty criminals which should be coming out quite soon. I’ll also be launching a podcast about therapy, making a couple of short films, and developing a new scripted thing for TV about the gig economy. I’m also going on holiday to Morocco, turning 30, getting back into swimming, and working on a secret project for my best friend’s wedding. I like being busy.