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Joz Norris

  • Tape 135: My Mugger & I

I had to catch a train to Manchester at 7am. I was walking along, phone in hand, checking the details of my ticket, when someone shoved me in the back, causing me to stumble awkwardly forwards a couple of steps. My phone was then snatched from my hand, and as time has gone by in the days since the event, my next immediate thought is one that’s caused me increasing confusion. The thought was “This must be my friend!”

I simply couldn’t compute the idea that I was being mugged. You know when you see someone you know unexpectedly in public, and you try to spring some sort of surprise on them? Perhaps you’ll tap them on the shoulder, or even jump out at them and go “Bah!” and they’ll jump at first, but then you’ll both laugh, and go get some gelato or something. I assumed that was what was happening. I didn’t have an immediate guess ready to hand as to which friend it might be that had gambled on shoving me and stealing my phone as a form of impromptu greeting, but I simply assumed that was the only possible explanation.

What happened next keeps replaying in my head over and over – I turned to my mugger with an expression of surprise and delight, assuming I would be met with the face of a good friend. Painfully slowly, my brain pieced together the fragments of information in front of me, and the moment seemed to crawl in slow motion. “Which friend is this? Why is my friend wearing a mask over their nose and mouth? Why are they on a bike? Why aren’t they stopping? Why don’t I recognise them from their eyes? Why aren’t they greeting me with a friendly expression? Where are they going? Hey, they’ve still got my phone! Oh hang on, that wasn’t my friend.”

I chased after them for a while (I’ve since been told this was a terrible idea, as the people who do this often carry knives), but it was pointless, as I am not a bike. I cancelled my trip to Manchester and trudged home, hurt and betrayed. How could my friend do this to me? Oh wait, that’s right, that wasn’t my friend, was it? A policeman came to talk to me about it and told me he was sorry this happened to me, but my phone was gone. This mugger would’ve been part of an organised crime network. My phone would be wiped and sold and shipped to China. Nonetheless, he took down the details of my phone in case it turned up. “Sometimes, if they can’t make any money off a particular phone model, they just dump it,” he said. As he left, he complimented me on my flat. “Lovely flat,” he said, “very cosy.” I sat in a funk for half an hour. My friend had stolen my phone, and my flat was small. What a life. Oh wait, that’s right, he wasn’t my friend, was he?

Then the policeman rang my girlfriend and said my phone had been found. “Mugger must’ve just dumped it,” he said. “It must be a terrible, worthless phone that belongs to a loser.” I felt even sadder. The mugger had just dumped it in the street as soon as he had actually seen what it was. He hadn’t even waited until he’d got back to his lair so he could take a proper look at it to see if it had any good games or anything. There was some good music on there. A couple of Meat Loaf albums you can’t get on Spotify. Some Marillion. Good stuff.

I had missed my train to Manchester. My flat was small. My phone was worthless. And my stolen goods had been returned to me within an hour, meaning I no longer even had the distinction of being a victim of crime. I was just a guy with a shit phone who had been briefly inconvenienced by his friend. Oh wait, that’s right, it wasn’t my friend.

I went about my life as normal for a few days, but life felt greyer. Flatter. I couldn’t stop replaying the moment of eye contact – me turning to him with a big, delighted grin only to be met with his blank indifference. I also couldn’t shake the feelings of embarrassment and shame – why was I wandering around with my phone in my hand like an idiot, like a zombie? Why was I so enslaved by this device? The truth was, I hadn’t been checking my ticket. That was just what I told the policeman in order to legitimise myself in his eyes. I had been filming content. I had been trying to get better at making comedy reels for social media as people keep telling me that’s the most important place to be putting effort at the moment (I’m as depressed about this as everybody else), so I was walking along filming a brilliant sketch about Christopher Walken choosing what to include in his meal deal. My thinking was that people love impressions of Christopher Walken, and people love small talk about their preferred meal deal components. I thought I had a surefire viral hit on my hands, and just as I was getting into the swing of it, my phone had been snatched from me and now I felt stupid and embarrassed.

I had avoided watching back the sketch. I was too ashamed. But eventually I thought maybe I could purge some of these feelings of embarrassment by confronting the truth of what happened. I opened my camera reel, and stared dumbly at what I found. My phone was full of videos of a young man, hood up, scarf obscuring his face. I played the most recent one, and recognised the eyes of my mugger.

“Alright, mate,” he said. “I didn’t realise I’d stolen the phone of an alternative, independent, DIY comedian. I looked through your camera roll and thought you had some really good stuff in there. Really fun, inventive content. You’ve inspired me to try it myself, if you don’t mind. Feel free to post whatever you feel like!” I watched some of his sketches. They were good! The first one I watched found him doing an impression of Alan Rickman responding to Christopher Walken and explaining what he liked to have in his meal deal. At the end, he slipped out of the impression and addressed me directly, saying “I thought this could be a sort of companion piece to the Walken one? Maybe they could go out as a diptych?”

I watched some more. “Why Do Boomers Stand So Close To You In Queues?” “That One Friend Who Repeats Everyone’s Jokes.” “Boyfriend In A Botanical Garden.” “What’s Going On With Rawl Plugs?” “I Can Drink More Water Than You.” “People In The Co-Op Finding Out There’s A New Ghostbusters Movie.” It was good stuff! I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood all the references, but I was laughing my head off at some of his takes. Many of them reminded me of things in my life, and that made me laugh.

At great personal risk, he had included his contact details in his final video for me, so I reached out and we went for a burrito. I needn’t bore you with the details because we’ve all made a new friend before, but suffice to say, a friendship blossomed. It became a source of great comfort to me, as I’d been feeling anxious about my friendships over recent months. Some friendships that meant a great deal to me had become marked by distance as our lives had gone in different directions. Others had become defined entirely by work. It was a relief to form and nurture a bond with someone that felt so easy to maintain. It had been our mutual love of creating content that initially drew us together, but it was quickly forgotten as we recognised that we just loved spending time together. We made one another laugh. We had as much fun seeking out outlandish activities together as we did doing nothing. My initial impulse when he first shoved me in the back and snatched my phone had been proven to be correct after all – he was my friend. I must have just been experiencing time in a non-linear fashion, like a Tralfamadorian or one of the aliens from Arrival, which would also explain why the moment continued to play in slow motion every time I thought about it, which is every day still.

Last night he came over to watch Bottoms on Prime Video with me and my girlfriend, because we kept hearing great things about it and I thought it sounded like it would really gel with his sense of humour. We stayed up late eating leftover Easter chocolate and coming up with a definitive tier list of all the Prime Ministers. He missed the last tube and we put out the sofabed for him.

I am writing this today in my otherwise empty flat, sat cross-legged on the floor and typing it on my phone, the only possession he did not make off with, adamant in his continued belief that it is not worth his time. He somehow took the bed from under us as we slept. I’ve tried calling him but am met with a message telling me the number no longer exists. I don’t know how my friend could do this to me. I now wonder if the friendship ever happened, if what we had was ever real. I feel so silly about it now, for believing in it, but it felt real. I have to remember that.

PLUGS! I’m making a new show. It’s called You Wait. Time Passes. and it’s about waiting, and closure, and expectations, and failure, and moving on. It won’t turn into a finished show until next year, but it’s been going down really well at WIPs and I’m really enjoying it. Over April and May it’s coming to BathMachynlleth and London. If you live in or near any of those places, I’d love to see you there, or if you felt able to share it with anyone nearby who might enjoy it, I’d love that too!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Luke Rollason has written and starred in Quiet Life, a wonderful short film for the Beeb about a man who tries to get rid of his phone and live a solitary life without digital intrusions (he should just try being mugged, it’s a great way to get rid of your phone for almost two whole hours). There’s a real visual inventiveness to the storytelling and some fun cameos from various alt comedy heroes (Silcox! Brice! Bye!) Give it a watch, it’s great fun!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Miranda and I recently finished the third series of How To With John Wilsonand there’s a moment where an ex-cop is talking about how hard it is to forget the smell of a corpse exactly as a waitress approaches to offer them some milk, and I honestly haven’t laughed that hard in ages.

Book Of The Week – Just finished Into Thin AirJon Krakauer’s memoir of the 1996 Everest disaster. It’s absolutely horrific, but an incredible read. It’s so captivating I briefly started entertaining the idea of trying to climb Everest myself, but the more I read, the more I thought “Nah, I’m not sure if I fancy this, actually.”

Album Of The Week – Well it has to be Beyonce’s Cowboy Carter, really, doesn’t it? For the record, I’m still undecided on whether I really like this album or not. “Texas Hold ‘Em” is great. “Ya Ya” is great. But it’s so long! I think there’s a very good normal-length album in there somewhere, but I think a few songs could’ve been trimmed. I doubt my thinking this will hurt its sales, though.

Film Of The Week – I deliberately included Bottoms in the story because it’s the second-best film I’ve seen this week and I think it’s genuinely great and everyone should watch it. But I cannot include any film other than Robot Dreams in my “Film Of The Week” section this week, because Robot Dreams, the story of a lonely dog who buys a robot companion for himself, is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I can’t remember the last time I fully ugly-cried at a film. It’s a story about friendship and loss and moving on and it ripped my heart out.

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know your thoughts and if you enjoy the newsletter, please do send it on to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d really appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,

Joz xx

PS I have no plans to actually charge for this newsletter or put it behind a paywall, but I do write it for free and the comedy and media industries are in a perilous state right now, especially for freelancers. If you value the Therapy Tapes and enjoy what they give to you, and want to support my work and enable me to keep writing and creating, you can make a one-off donation to my Ko-Fi account, and it’s very gratefully appreciated.

PPS Here’s a chicken I met on Easter Sunday:

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