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Joz Norris

  • Tape 124: Elf On The Self

Warning – this newsletter has nothing to do with elves. But Christmas is coming, and it IS about selves, so the title was inevitable, really. Anyway. On we go.

They got me onto The Now Show to pretend to be Jeremy Clarkson and a Dalek and Boris Johnson and Professor Brian Cox, among others. I had such fun. I spent a lot of this year moaning about how I wanted to do more comic acting, and I always thought the voice acting roles on The Now Show looked like a fun job – it felt nice to wrap the year up with my first gig on that show, and to stretch my voice acting muscles a bit. You can listen to the episode here, and perhaps with any luck I’ll be back on it in the future sometime. Thanks so much to the team for having me!

After the show, there was much well-done-ing and patting-on-backs (apparently this is a thing after live radio records if you didn’t need to do any retakes, something which I wish had been explained to me before everyone started chasing me round the stage trying to pat my back. I thought the game was that I had to stop them from touching my back, and now I know what the tradition actually is I can see that I made a fool of myself). During all this, my agent mentioned that one of the things that had made it easier to pitch me in for it in this instance had been that I had spent much of this year pretending to be Keir Starmer on the brilliant Rosie Holt’s satirical podcast NonCensored (in an impression that started out sounding quite a bit like him, and has drifted further into the realms of nonsense with each passing episode). Having done that, I was a clearer fit for someone to come in and do multiple voices, she said.

“Because normally with your stuff,” she mentioned, “you don’t quite perform as yourself and you don’t quite perform as a character, so sometimes it’s hard for execs to know exactly what they’re going to get.” This went off like a firework in my head, and has honestly cleared away so many cobwebs, creativity-wise. Since she said it I’ve come up with about three or four new ideas for major projects next year, after a year when major completed projects have been fairly thin on the ground. One is a podcast, one is a live concept/format show, one is a tentative seed for a potential solo show, and there’s another big scripted idea lurking at the back of my mind beginning to take shape. I’m sure not all of them will come to fruition, but it feels nice to stumble across a late burst of direction and energy in terms of what I want to do, after spending much of the year waiting for things to happen, or wondering about what I could do instead of just doing it. (I’m choosing not to regret this, but to look at 2023 as a big creative reset which I hope will have laid the groundwork for things that may emerge in the future).

The Now Show – nice gang, lovely time.

I’ve spent the last week reflecting on this simple observation – that often in my work, I’m not quite myself and not quite someone else either. “Who ARE you?” is a question you hear a lot in scripted development. “We love this script, and we love this writer, but who ARE they?” gets thrown around a bunch. I used to find it frustrating, partly because I’ve always self-consciously tried to make work that falls into the cracks between selves, rather than always reflects one single worldview. I’ve tried to never crystallise myself into someone who has a “stand-up persona,” because that means making concrete decisions about what my perspective on the world is, and I don’t feel like those things are fixed in myself.

I don’t know if it’s normal, or particular to me, but I feel like who I am shifts hugely based on where I am and who I’m with and what’s required of me. Sometimes surprise myself, coming away from certain jobs or engagements thinking “I don’t know who that guy was. That didn’t feel like me, or like my understanding of who “me” is.” I don’t know if this is anxiety, or some sort of neurodivergence, or just how I experience the world, and not that big a deal. But rather than solve that problem by simply creating concrete characters and hiding behind them, which somehow felt to me like cheating, I instead always tried to make work that gave voice to this experience – where the essence of who I am was something that felt unmoored within the work itself, and difficult to pin down. Because that felt like an honest reflection of how I felt. When it worked and I managed to explore that in ways that felt deliberate, it resulted in really good work – the Mr Fruit Salad show was entirely about this feeling, as was Blink to a certain extent. When I didn’t quite nail it, it meant sometimes making work that felt a bit tonally confused or ill-defined (big chunks of the shows I made from 2013-2015, for instance).

As I mentioned in a previous Tape, I have a workaholic attitude that assumes that my self-worth is somehow contained in the work I’m able to do, and the things I’m able to create and produce. What I’ve come to realise is that, because I’ve applied that attitude to a field of work that involves being in the public eye, it also at some point developed into a self-image that believes I only exist when I’m visible. For much of my life, the answer to the question “Who are you?” was “Well who do you need me to be? I’ll try to be that.” Mr Fruit Salad was the first step in my trying to dismantle that wall. The pandemic was the second. Blink was another one, and I think in a funny way, the past year has been the most significant one yet. It’s the first year of my life where I’ve just tried to teach myself to be patient, and to be quiet, and to listen to what I want to do, without turning it into a product, and to find in there some comfort in the idea of who I might be.

I recently had a development meeting about a bunch of scripted ideas I was in the early stages of working up. “I really like all these ideas,” said the producer. “Thank you,” I replied. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she went on, “because they’re all very very different, in terms of tone and style and concept, but somehow they all feel like they have the same energy. I can find you there in all of them.” I was really thrilled. I think at one stage that wouldn’t have been the case. Each new idea would have been me trying to squeeze myself into a different box. But maybe you have to disappear for a while in order to work out who you are, and how to put that into what you do. I’m looking forward to coming back next year.

What about you guys? Those of you who are stand-ups, do you feel like the persona you’ve created for yourself is an honest reflection of how you feel day-to-day? Or is it a character you write for? Those of you who aren’t, how often would your answer to the question “Who are you?” change? Are you the same person today as you were yesterday? Which bits are constant, and which bits move?

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Speak of the devil, a film I wrote in lockdown about dismantling the impulse to make art in order to feel seen has just come out! We shot it back in 2021, but it’s been held up by various things, and now it’s out! It’s directed by Stuart Laws and co-stars Stevie Martin, Ali Brice, Lucy Pearman, Liberty Hodes and Alwin Solanky. I’d not seen it in a long time and rewatched it today, and it’s absolutely nuts. It’s like watching a dream. Big thanks to Stu for liking the script enough to take it on and make it! You can watch it here.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This, from my favourite kid on the internet, whose name is Jacob and who I am obsessed by.

Book Of The Week – I’m just finishing up The Secret History Of Magic by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer, which is a really interesting overview of how the perceived facts of the history of illusion design have consistently obscured what was actually happening within the field. Blink led to a lasting fascination with all this stuff, so I’ve really been enjoying this.

Album Of The Week – I’ve not listened to it yet, but today is the day Peter Gabriel’s first new studio album in 21 years, i/o, is released. He’s been releasing new tracks from it every full moon all year, and I’m absolutely buzzing.

Film Of The Week – Not seen any films this week, but hoping to catch Napoleon this weekend. I’ll let you know what I think!

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoyed the newsletter enough to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves, and catch you next time,

Joz xx

PS Your obligatory reminder that next week I’m curating a night of short film screenings and script readings at King’s Place where I’ll be unveiling mine and Miranda’s latest short, Dog HouseA sneak peek at it below. Please do book your tickets if you’re planning on coming, it’s not far off selling out!

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