Interview: Joz Norris

joz norris interview

Joz Norris isn’t your normal every day stand up and he’s all the better for it, his unique brand of comedy is often surreal and strange but it’s always very very funny and in amongst the oddness he has some fantastic gags and stories about his life which will make you laugh hard. In my review of his show “The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!!” I commented that “Norris is an enormously accomplished comedian and on the strength of this alone I’m now a fully paid up member of his fan club” and he’s received an impressive amount of critical acclaim elsewhere too. As well as producing a great selection of live shows he’s made some superb web series and short films, appeared on tv and radio and collaborated with some of the best comedians around, so if you’ve not yet checked his work you should definitely do so asap. Here he talks about his new show “Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad”, his fondest memories from the Edinburgh Festival and what he doesn’t like about the fringe, what a Joz Norris feature film would be like, the time he got fired from doing warm up for Celebrity Squares, and much more besides.

Comedy To Watch: How would you sell your comedy to someone who wasn’t aware of your good self?

Joz: I guess I’d try not to force it down their throats, really, there’s nothing more of a turn-off than a hard sell. I’d try to sell it to people in a way that made them feel kind of like they were fated to discover it, that’s how you strike up all your most meaningful relationships with somebody else’s creative output. So somehow I’d engineer it that they went to bite into an apple and accidentally dropped it and scampered across the floor to pick it up, and it rolled to a halt at my feet and then when they looked up I’d go “Hi, I’m your new favourite comedian,” or something. Then they’ll always have a really lovely cinematic memory to look back on of how they first discovered my work.

CTW: And what can you tell us about your new show “Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad”?

Joz: Well basically last year a guy called Mr Fruit Salad, who is a vague acquaintance of mine and a dreadful nuisance, started turning up at all my gigs and performing instead of me, and it was kind of annoying, but I had quite a lot of personal stuff going on at the time and had to flake out on quite a few gigs, so it was helpful that there was somebody ready to pick up the slack. Anyway, he’s kind of let the experience go to his head a bit and is performing an entire solo hour this year, even though he barely knows how to perform. He’s put my name in the title, which is frustrating as I’m a sort of creative consultant on it and no more. It’s sort of about getting out of your head and making connections with people and trying to accept that you’ll never make sense of the bits of your life you can’t quite put your finger on. Or something.

CTW: You’ve been performing at the Edinburgh Festival since 2012, what are your fondest memories of the fringe?

Joz: One of my favourite moments was John Kearns winning Best Newcomer in 2013. John was one of the people who first got me into comedy, and is one of my dearest friends and favourite comics, and watching him achieve something so massive felt so lovely on a personal level, but also made me feel a bit like I was no longer trying to find my way into comedy, I was sort of part of it and it was going on around me and big things were happening for my friends and so on, so after that it no longer felt like this alien world I was trying to reach into. Another of my favourites is recording my show for NextUp in 2017. We were filming it on the last day of the Fringe and I’d reached the point where I was creatively burnt-out, completely exhausted and just wanted to go home. I asked the director if we could scrap it and just film it in London instead as I was certain nobody would come and I would give a bad performance. He persuaded me to go along with it and over 100 people came and I gave one of the best performances of the whole run, and that was a lovely lesson in believing in yourself just that tiny bit more than you feel like you can.

CTW: And is there anything you don’t like about the festival?

Joz: Oh, loads. The careerism, the ego, the way everybody looks over their shoulder and compares their own experience of the Fringe to how everybody else is doing instead of just focusing on the creative fulfilment of being there and sharing your ideas with people. I’m as guilty of it as everybody else. The Fringe is an amazing thing and exists to showcase the imaginations of thousands of people, and the industry circus that surrounds it does serve a function, because it enables truly amazing acts to be discovered and championed, but the existence of that industry circus changes the way people approach the Fringe and makes it more like a trade-fair, and everything associated with that way of thinking I really dislike. I try to forget about as much of that side of things as possible while I’m there, but it’s hard.

CTW: You created your own webseries The Girl Whisperer, can you tell us a little about the making of it, and the other short films you’ve made?

Joz: I look back at The Girl Whisperer and I really love the writing and the silliness and the characters and the tone, but I do wish it wasn’t about dating. At the time I was very obsessed with the idea of finding “the one” and falling in love and thought it was a funny thing to write about, and in the series that does become a springboard for lots of really fun, silly ideas which I still love, but these days I think people going on about how dating is tough is a little bit dull. The second series shifted focus onto the friendship between mine and Harriet Kemsley’s characters, and I much preferred that focus, it sort of reset the tone to be more childlike and imaginative. I think it’s good to be able to look back on a project and see what you’d change if you did it today, though, I think that’s growth. Of the other films I’ve made, my favourites are The Baby, a sort of art-horror-comedy collaboration with Lucy Pearman, Sam Nicoresti and Lottie Bowater which I honestly think is one of the most unique and unusual comedy shorts of the last couple of years, and Robert Johnson & The Devil Man, a sort of supernatural fantasy I wrote starring David Mills as the Devil and directed by Matthew Highton, which I think has some of my best-ever characterisation and dialogue in it.

CTW: What would a Joz Norris feature film be like?

Joz: Oh, boy, I’ve put a lot of thought into this. Last year for the first time I actually had an idea for a feature which I really properly fleshed out and started writing with my friend, the writer Emily Richards. It was exploring the Mr Fruit Salad character and the duality of that, but whereas the live stuff I do as that character focuses on the nonsense world he inhabits, the film was going to explore a real-world friendship that gets split in two as a result of my character’s decision to live this double life. The idea was that I create the character of Mr Fruit Salad in order to lift my best friend out of a funk, and she knows it’s just me in a fake beard pretending, but actually prefers me like that, so I have to keep living as the character in order to make her happy while our real-world friendship suffers, and I end up being jealous of this guy I created because I lost my friend to him. There were loads of really lovely ideas for scenes in there, and we did try to make it as a short this year with a view towards one day expanding it into a feature, but we couldn’t quite get it to work so it’s been shelved for now. But it’s an idea to return to one day, perhaps. It also, I’m well aware, shares a lot of DNA with Toni Erdmann, which is one of the most incredible films ever made and I know has had a big influence on me, so perhaps it would be dangerous to press on with making a film that’s superficially similar to something that already exists. Perhaps I’ll find ways to make it really distinct and different, and then one day make it when it’s become absolutely clear in my head, but for now it’s an idea for another time.

CTW: We’re aware you’re working on a sitcom about the gig economy entitled Job Pig, what can you tell us about that?

Joz: Ooh, I really like Job Pig, I’m excited about it. I can’t say too much because it’s currently in the process of being pitched around a bunch of places, so I shouldn’t spoil it in case anything happens, but basically it’s a sort of mid-form semi-sitcom about the gig economy, loosely inspired by Task Rabbit. I staged a reading of it at the Soho Theatre in March which co-starred John and Lucy and Holly Burn and got loads of really amazing feedback about it from a lot of people, so I really hope something comes of it, I think it’s a really fun idea and the scripts are maybe the best I’ve written. But the conversations about making something for telly take a very long time, and are dependent on so many weird factors outside of your control, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope that one day I can share more about it, either because it’s been made or because I’ll be in a position to go “Yeah, this great idea I was working on that didn’t go anywhere!” Who knows?

CTW: You’re also working with another comedian we’re a big fan of Ed Aczael, what’s it like working with Ed, and what kind of things do you have in the pipeline?

Joz: I love working with Ed, he’s pretty much the most naturally funny person I know. I’ve had some people tell me they don’t understand why me and Ed gravitated to one another as our styles are so different – everything Ed does is about low-energy deadpan anti-comedy, and everything I do is about quite high-energy, overly-enthusiastic silliness, and on paper that’s a weird mix. But somehow, it works. I sort of try too hard to be funny and fail, and Ed sort of doesn’t try hard enough to be funny but succeeds even without trying, and it all comes together in this quite unusual way. Everything we make is sort of a celebration of failure and of the beauty of not really getting anywhere. The big thing we’re currently working on is Ed & Joz’s Heist Movie, a sort of sitcom-pilot taster-type thing we made with Tiger Aspect and directed by our regular collaborator Jonathan Brooks. It’s the best thing we’ve made so far, and we’re just figuring out what to do with it in terms of pitching it or putting it online or doing a screening or something, but it’ll be out in the world before too long I hope. We’re also doing a Fringe show together in which we try and fail to relaunch ourselves as a sketch double-act, and we’ve got a good sketch about Saturday Kitchen that we’d quite like to film.

CTW: What’s the strangest gig that you’ve ever done? And why was it so odd?

Joz: I did warmup for Celebrity Squares once. It was both the weirdest, and worst gig, of my entire life. I got out onstage and immediately slipped over because the studio floor was so shiny. I thought that was hilarious and got up and said “Can you believe that, I fell over?” and nobody laughed and I thought, wow, if not one out of these 200 people thinks it’s funny that I just fell over, then we just don’t get one another, and this is gonna be tough. And then I proceeded to be awful for twenty minutes before bringing people like Vic & Bob and Jessica Hynes onstage, then Warwick Davis came out and said “You’re sacked!” and everybody laughed, but then the producers took me aside and said “It’s not a joke, we are getting rid of you.” It would’ve been a weird gig even without all the celebrities there, because the vibe of a TV warmup gig is just so utterly alien compared to actual live comedy, and because I’d been so unspeakably bad at it, but the fact that some of my comedy heroes watched me fail so tremendously made the whole thing feel like a lucid dream.

CTW: Along the same lines, what’s your favourite of all the gigs you’ve done, and why?

Joz: There was a particular show at Edinburgh in 2017 that went the best of any Fringe performance I’ve ever given. There was somebody in the audience I was hoping to impress, so maybe I’d put extra significance onto it in advance, but then it was one of those ones where every single beat got huge, rippling laughs and rounds of applause and the response at the end was like a roar, and I walked home and could barely feel the floor under my feet. I’d had good gigs before, but never walked away from one feeling so transformed, it was really quite odd. And another that always sticks in my head was my 27th birthday. Adam Larter, who runs Weirdos Comedy, used to write these very silly Harry Potter parodies about what the characters did when they grew up (like a funnier Cursed Child) and I played Malfoy in them. Because they had Harry Potter in the title, they sold better than any other shows we’d done together, and we ended up scheduling one at the Leicester Square Theatre on my birthday, so Adam wrote into the plot that it was Malfoy’s birthday. I ended up singing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to 450 people, then at the end came out of character and explained that it was my birthday in real life and got the biggest sing-song I’ve ever had. That one always lifts my heart when I remember it.

CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?

Joz: In this scenario, am I myself interviewing myself? For the sake of argument, let’s say I am. And I guess if that’s happening time travel has to be involved, so I have to be interviewing either a past or future version of myself, so let’s say future because otherwise I’d already remember all my answers. So if it’s me interviewing a future version of myself, I think I’d ask “Does everything go ok? Do you get everything you want? Do all the things you worry about never come to pass, and all the things you hope for happen for you?” And I’d like to think that my answer would be “If I tell you, then none of what you do between now and then will mean anything to you, because life’s not about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t, it’s about figuring things out on the way. So don’t worry about it.”

Alex Finch.
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Related Links:
Joz’s Official Site.
Joz’s webseries The Girl Whisperer can be watched here.
Joz’s short film The Baby can be seen here.
And Robert Johnson & The Devil Man is here.
You can watch an hour of Joz’s stand up on NextUp.

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