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Joz Norris

  • Tape 137: You Wait. Time Passes.

I’m back again! Here we are! Here we go! Oh my goodness! Sorry these newsletters are becoming so much more sporadic than they once were – life happens, I suppose. But I went on holiday, if that helps, so I’m slowly getting better at remembering to fill my life with things other than work. I went to Lisbon and met some dolphins and ate some wonderful food and remembered how to relax. But I’m back now, so here we are again.

A New Show

I’m very excited because this weekend I’m returning to the wonderful Machynlleth Comedy Festival with the latest work-in-progress outing of a brand new show, called You Wait. Time Passes. Do please book tickets if you’re heading to Mach, or perhaps send it to a friend if you know other people who are going. I’ve sold quite a few tickets for it and I’m told it’ll probably sell out, but the part of me that worries about ticket sales is never quiet, so any help spreading the word or filling those remaining seats is much appreciated!

I realised I haven’t said very much about this new show yet in the newsletter, so I thought I’d write a little bit about it and what I’m trying to explore with it in advance of sharing it with all the beautiful nerds at the nation’s finest comedy festival.

Last year I ran a couple of workshops on solo show-making for Angel Comedy (I may run more of them in the future, but like various other projects I tentatively began last year, that idea is currently sitting on a shelf until I figure out what to do with it, for reasons directly connected to the theme of this new show). As part of a writing exercise for that workshop I wrote a monologue from the point of view of someone who was so excited to be writing a TED Talk on his favourite subject that he forgot to mention his favourite subject. The character was so preoccupied with the idea that he was about to do something he really wanted to do, that he forgot to do it. There was a nugget at the centre of the monologue that I found really funny and exciting, more so than any of the other live ideas I’d been playing with last year.

I did a couple of work-in-progress shows last year for a handful of festivals and they ended up largely being a framework in which to share various short stories I’d written over lockdown, some of them funny, some of them more earnest and thoughtful. The live shows were kind of interesting, but I was keenly aware that they didn’t contain the blueprint for a proper show – it was just a forum for stuff. But this character I’d created who was so enjoying the idea of doing something that he didn’t do it felt like much more of an engine, something I could craft a story around and sculpt something substantial from.

After sitting on it for a while, I figured out why this theme resonated so much with me – I spent most of last year trying to come to terms with the realisation that, after you’ve done something you’ve always wanted to do, your life just continues, and it’s up to you to define what it’s working towards next.

At the end of 2022, I made a radio sitcom for BBC Radio 4 with my girlfriend and writing partner Miranda Holms – only two episodes, but we loved making it and were excited about making more. We really got to know our characters while writing those two episodes, and were so blown away by the life injected into them by our amazing cast that our heads began to fill with ideas for more stories about those characters and the world we’d built around them. I was really proud of it, and as much as it was a bit of a weird thing to just make two episodes of a narrative comedy show like that, I still liked to think of myself aged fourteen or so dreaming of one day getting to write and star in my own sitcom, and hoped he’d be proud of me. I told myself that hopefully the best was yet to come.

Some of the cast of The Dream Factory having loads of fun without me as I am trapped in a box

And then, as so often happens in this business, the commissioner changed and, while the commissioner who had initially asked me to make the show really loved what we’d made, it wasn’t the new commissioner’s cup of tea, and we didn’t get to make any more of it. I didn’t mind too much at the time, because I know this business well and I know that when one thing doesn’t work out, you just feel thankful that you got to make something good and then you move on to the next thing.

But as the year went on, I found myself really struggling to know what the next thing was. I had never in my life struggled to be creatively prolific. If anything, I’ve spent most of my career up to now making too much stuff when maybe I should’ve reined myself in a bit and upped the quality control on some of my projects (I don’t think this about too much of what I’ve done, but it definitely applies here and there). But last year, I just couldn’t work out what to do. I threw myself into scriptwriting and filmmaking, and made good progress, but these were big, long-term projects that would take years to pay off. When it came to trying to get the ball rolling on a new project I could undertake autonomously by myself – a new show, a podcast, a full course of workshops – I just kept running into brick walls.

I couldn’t really articulate it, because I knew that the feeling was irrational – I knew that just because I’d done this one thing, this ultimately rather inconsequential thing in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t mean that I was entitled to have the rest of my life drop into my lap and for someone else to point me directly towards what I should do next. And at the same time, I knew that just because this one thing hadn’t worked out in exactly the way I had always imagined it, it didn’t mean that the rest of my life would be doomed to some twilight existence of wandering between liminal experiences, wondering when I would ever get to make anything ever again. Reality lay between those two extremes, in the simple fact that I was an ordinary person leading an ordinary life, and I would come up with something else to do sooner or later.

And so I started writing this show about someone who believes they have completed their life’s work, and can’t contain their excitement about it, but of course, deep down, they don’t really want it to be over. Even as they reveal the extent of what they’ve lost to the driving obsession to do the thing they always wanted to do, still they can’t really find it in themselves to truly want it to be done. And I started performing bits of it at gigs just before Christmas and, for the first time since putting Blink to bed at the end of 2022, I remembered how fun I find it being silly onstage. I spent an entire year forgetting that it’s one of the things I’m best at. And people seemed to be really enjoying it and engaging with it, more so than with any of the other, more scrappy, story-based WIPs I did last year.

I think the trick was that I’d remembered how to care and not care at the same time. Audiences can feel it, and it can’t be faked. If you care too much, it makes them tense. If you don’t care enough, it frustrates them. When you care about what you’re doing, but you don’t really care what they think – then it feels like magic. I suddenly started enjoying that magic again as 2023 rolled into 2024, and I started building this thing.

So far I’ve done it in its entirety twice, at Leicester Comedy Festival in February and Bath Comedy Festival in April, and I’ve been really happy with how people have responded to it. I don’t know exactly what its path will be – it’s in London at the end of May, Berlin in July, Edinburgh in August (but only for a 3-day WIP run), then we’ll see. Maybe it’ll launch properly next year, I’ve no idea. I’m just thrilled to be back in the driving seat of my own creativity again, and making something that both myself and others seem to be really enjoying. I’ve missed it.

Hope to see you in Mach or at another show in future if you can make it!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Well I can’t give this to anything other than MachFest really, can I? It’s always such a delightful weekend. You can check out the full lineup here, and in particular I’ll draw your attention to Cerys Bradley’s new show, which I have co-devised and directed, and Luke McQueen and Mark Silcox’s nonsense, which I have a small cameo in.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This week my new character “The Smell Goblin” made his first ever appearance at a corporate charity gig and, while it’s fair to say that not every lawyer in the audience loved him, I absolutely pissed myself.

Book Of The Week – Currently reading Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland, a novel about a New York painter infiltrating a circle of fine artists who are haunted by the death of their most brilliant member. It’s a slow-burner but hugely compelling and I’m loving the world of it. I can’t quite work out where it’s all going, but I’m hooked.

Album Of The Week – All Born Screaming by St. Vincent. I’ve wanted to love St. Vincent for years, and just haven’t been able to. All the albums of hers I’ve listened to just wriggle away from my being able to really enjoy them, despite my best efforts. This new one is fantastic. It’s still got all the weird, atonal dissonance I associate with her, but it’s tied into something that feels bolder and more coherent than before. I’m a big fan of it. “Sweetest Fruit” is an incredible song.

Film Of The Week – Challengers. This is one of those films that feels imperfect but that probably sticks in your memory longer because of it. It’s a study of an intense, competitive love triangle between three tennis players, and the performances are superb but I never quite got a handle on what it was saying besides “People who are competitive and obsessive in their work lives are doomed to repeat that behaviour in their romantic lives.” Maybe that is all it’s saying, and maybe that’s enough. I kept wanting it to go that little bit further in terms of having a perspective on what it was about, but I really enjoyed it and will think about it.

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoyed this newsletter enough to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely 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 Look at these dolphos I met:

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