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Joz Norris

  • Tape 110: End Of An Ear

It is truly the end of an ear (or of an era, if you prefer to use the original phrase rather than its funnier counterpart). I have performed my most recent two live shows for the last time! I filmed Blink and Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad. at Moth Club on Sunday for the online production label Go Faster Stripe, and want to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped it to be a very special day – from my collaborators and co-performers Ben Target and Miranda Holms and Robert Wells, to the amazing crew headed up by Chris Evans and including the brilliant Matt Riley, to the other acts who also filmed brilliant shows that day – Sean Morley, Benjamin Alborough and John-Luke Roberts, and perhaps most importantly, to the amazing audiences who made it along to a day of weird comedy on a Sunday afternoon and helped it to be a really great thing. I think everyone who came along got a really great variety of interesting, weird, excellent shows, and I can’t wait to see the edits and share them with the rest of the world.

There’s a moment in Long Live Mr Fruit Salad where I talk about the weird, sad, heavy feeling that settles on me at the end of the life-cycle of a creative project – my tendency to hold the project in my hand and look at it from every angle and try to make sense of it, and hope that it said everything I wanted it to say, only to think “Nah, maybe next time.” In that show, I compare the feeling to trying to close your hand around smoke. That’s the feeling I’m sitting with and trying to make sense of now, and I thought I’d write about it this week.

Projects have a life, and then they die. I’ve never been someone who can sit with the same project for years on end – tour it, revisit it, update it, and so on and so on. Blink lived on a little longer than my previous shows, but never made it into a full-blown tour due to costs and logistical issues. I tend to try to concentrate on what’s happening next, rather than concentrating on what more I can do with an idea that feels like it’s served its purpose for me. Returning to Mr Fruit Salad four years after I last performed it is the only time I’ve done anything remotely like that – reaching back into my past to try one more time to close my hand around a project I previously thought had ended. I was so proud to find that the show was still funny, and still seemed to be able to delight an audience, but I also found it emotionally very draining to go back into that show. That show was the product of a period of time when I wasn’t very well, when I found it difficult to leave my flat and spent a while staying up until 3am staring out of my own window at the world I was finding it hard to go out and engage with. A lot of that hurt and pain and isolation got channelled into the very fabric of that show – it was a show about coming to terms with feelings of worthlessness – so that putting that costume back on felt like going back there, and as soon as the audience were done applauding I had to run offstage and just sit and cry for a bit and let the feeling wear off.

Blink, by contrast, is loaded with all the pride I’ve taken in discovering myself in the years since Mr Fruit Salad. I became a more confident person, and a more collaborative person, so those elements of myself were channelled into a complicated, theatrical show made by a large creative team that centred on a version of myself whose ego and self-confidence had gotten so out of hand that they needed to be destroyed by the show itself. Ultimately, it’s a show in pursuit of nonsense, so the thing the character learns isn’t that he’s worthless, it’s that his fragile defences aren’t necessary if he can get in touch with, and accept, his own playfulness. Ultimately, the show ends with the character, having been destroyed and humiliated by his vanity, finding his way back on top, back in a position of strength, but this time delighting in his foolishness, which I feel is the place I’m in now, in comparison to the place I was in when I made Mr Fruit Salad, which ends on a note of loss and of mourning.

Performing them back-to-back – starting with the show that more closely resembles who I am now, and then moving back to the show that chronicled who I was 4 years ago – left me very aware of the ways in which creative projects represent stages of your life, and left me feeling very unsure of who I will be in this next stage, and what will come of it. That’s the feeling of being alive, I suppose. I’d be interested in making work that holds onto the confidence and the weirdness and the collaborative nature of Blink, but perhaps shaves off some of the more extreme edges – the theatrical intensity of it, the flashes of darkness, the stupidly childish sequences, etc. I think those elements feel to me now like hangovers from the pandemic – a need to air some of the darkness and paranoia of that time paired with a desperation to return to absolute stupidity and nonsense after a difficult time. Those elements now feel like the elements that have perhaps come full circle and served their purpose, just as the self-pity and the desperation to connect in Mr Fruit Salad no longer feel like parts of myself that I recognise.

Everything I’ve written so far this year has been noticeably gentler and kinder and softer than Blink, and a little more settled in the real world rather than in the fantastical (other than a short film script I just finished that involves a giant fly monster eating brains). I think yesterday I felt like both shows were the product of a stage in my life where I wanted to build worlds that made people think “Oh my God, what even is this world? This is nuts!” I think the next step is to build worlds that make people think “I just love being in this world,” whatever that might mean from project to project.

So quite what happens next, I don’t know. Back in January I decided one of my major plans of action for the year was to get both those shows filmed for posterity, and now that’s done, so I must look to the second half of the year and work out what I want to get out of it. Here’s a little wish-list. Perhaps I’ll come back to it at Christmas and see how I did:

  1. With any luck, the actual edits of those show recordings should be out by the end of the year so those of you around the world who didn’t manage to see those shows live can finally see a version of them.
  2. I’m hoping to keep working on the investigative nonsense podcast I’m developing that I talked a bit about last week, and perhaps be in a position to start releasing episodes by the end of the year, if I can pick up the pace of recording them. I’m planning to put in a bid for some funding so I can produce it more efficiently.
  3. Mine and Miranda’s short film Good Boy should be finished in the next few weeks, and we’ll be launching it in the autumn, hopefully with a premiere and then maybe a season at as many film festivals as will accept it.
  4. I’d love to at least shoot one more short this year, although the one short I’m in talks with people about is so complicated (fly monster, brains) that it might not be until 2024 that I can actually get all the pieces in place for it. It’s called False World and we’ll see how it goes.
  5. I’d love to do more acting, but this kind of work isn’t really under my control. Do hit me up if you’re working on any scripted projects I might be a good fit for, though!
  6. And I would love to get some sort of option or commission on one of the two scripted projects I’ve been tinkering away with, although again, this isn’t in my control so I must be careful about setting it as a goal. I may as well include it in the list as the thing I’d love to happen more than any other while accepting that there’s not much more I can do about it beyond what I’m already doing.

There’ll be things outside of this – I’m sure there’ll be surprises and unexpected creative opportunities. For now, though, that list gives me just enough to try and close my hands around before I embark on the next stage. Who will I feel like when I look back on the final forms all of those projects take, I wonder? I hope he’ll continue to evolve into someone I can feel proud of being.

What about you guys? How are you feeling at the midpoint of the year? How are all your various creative or personal endeavours coming along? Did you set goals you’ve moved towards in the first half of the year? Have you discovered things that change your goals in the second half of the year? I’d love to hear how things are coming along!

Finally, thank you again to everyone who contributed to the lives of those two shows. You all know who you are.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Channel 4 have just launched a really great-sounding new award in memory of Sean Lock, to help discover new talent that are capable of being funny across disciplines like scripted, entertainment, etc, just like Sean was. There’s some great names nominated for it, so big congrats to all of them!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I think this was John-Luke’s Morrissey impression during his recording of A World Just Like Our Own, But… It’s absolutely delightful.

Book Of The Week – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. This is great so far. I’m not far into it, but it’s a really compelling and well-told (and so far, absolutely devastating) story.

Album Of The Week – My Back Was A Bridge For You To Cross by Anohni and the Johnsons. Last week I naively and prematurely declared PJ Harvey’s new album the “best album of the year” having not yet heard Anohni’s latest, which is her first album with the Johnsons in 12 years. Anohni’s music with the Johnsons holds a very special place in my heart, and hearing them make music together again has been incredible. I hereby declare this the album of the year, and I apologise if something else comes along to knock it off its perch. The songs “Scapegoat” and “Rest” are particularly astonishing.

Film Of The Week – Elemental. Coco and Soul aside (both masterpieces and all-time personal favourites), Pixar have been gradually grinding down their reputation as a peerless creative powerhouse beyond reproach for about eight years now. I found Onward, Luca, Lightyear and (to a lesser extent) Turning Red so unremarkable that I went into Elemental expecting absolute rubbish. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find that it’s actually a perfectly lovely film! The central romance is fine, and the “sentient elements” concept feels very generic Pixar and never really becomes as funny or inventive as they probably wanted it to be, but there’s a surprisingly effective narrative about immigrant families and the burdens of family expectations, so every scene between Ember and her parents is really brilliant. It might be the third-best Pixar film of the last eight years, although the gap between this and Coco is admittedly massive.

That’s all for this week! As ever, please do let me know what you think (I started getting replies again last week, for the first time since moving to Substack! Apparently this email now looks like it comes from a no-reply account, but if you get this email in your inbox, you can still reply to it and it will go directly and privately to me, so I’d love to restart all the wonderful conversations I was having before I moved the newsletter to a new platform!) If you enjoy the newsletter enough to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, meanwhile, then I’d hugely appreciate it!

Take care until next time, and all the best,

Joz xx

PS This is the last picture I have of the baby seagull who was living on the roof opposite mine for a few weeks before he got strong enough to fly off, which he sadly did while I was out filming those shows. Good luck to him out there. I miss him:

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