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Joz Norris


Tape 142: Eggbox Returns!

  • Tape 142: Eggbox Returns!

I never liked the Guinness “Good things come to those who wait” ad. I thought it was quite boring. I was fairly young when it came out and hadn’t learned to appreciate black and white films yet. It was only relatively recently that The Spy Who Loved Me had made me realise that live action film was an acceptable form of entertainment as opposed to animation, so I wasn’t letting go of colour just yet, especially not in my ad breaks. I was only watching this damn ad because I was waiting for Roger Moore to come back onscreen, for goodness’ sake! Don’t make me work for this!

I wasn’t into surfing, so didn’t really understand why I was supposed to care about this guy waiting for his big wave (I get it now, I’ve seen Point Break). I quite liked the big horses, but would’ve preferred them if the whole thing had been in colour and didn’t look so drab, and if somebody had even acknowledged them. All the surfers seemed so numbed to the whole thing. If they didn’t seem to give a shit about the situation, why should I? At the very least, I wanted one of them to turn to the camera and go “Fucking hell, look at the size of those horses!”, although I can’t remember if I knew that word at the time. Also, I thought the narrator’s voice was really dull, and didn’t understand why they’d asked him to read the script in such a monotone. Where was Vincent Price when you needed him? He’d have brought some pep to that monologue. He’d have yanked that ad off the chain.

I remember being stunned when it was named the greatest advert of all time. I much preferred the Coco Pops ad where the hippo is too nervous to dive into a swimming pool, so the monkey has to fill the pool with Coco Pops so that the hippo dives in when he sees the milk go chocolatey. Nobody could accuse that monkey of being numbed to the situation around him. His voice positively cracks with excitement as he sings. If he were your friend and you were in a social situation with him, you’d need to tell him to calm down, but it’s the perfect energy level for selling cereal. I thought the only reason the Guinness ad could possibly have triumphed over the Coco Pops one was down to intellectual snobbery on the part of the judges.

I’ve just rewatched “Surfer,” the Guinness ad (and was excited to learn it was directed by Jonathan Glazer, of The Zone Of Interest fame – glad he went on to great things!) and can concede now that it’s pretty good, though I still cannot put my hand on my heart and say that it’s better than the Coco Pops ad (I wonder if that one was directed by Christopher Nolan, that’d be fun). There are still moments where my brain, unbidden, starts singing “When he saw the milk go chocolatey” to myself, and the same simply cannot be said for the droning, apocalyptic bassline in “Surfer.” I’m prepared to accept this may simply be a matter of temperament. There may well be people reading this who hear that oppressive bassline in their heads all the time and never once sing “When he saw the milk go chocolatey” to themselves a propos of nothing, but that doesn’t sound like any kind of life I’d like to live. Good luck to you if it’s yours.

Anyway, it turns out good things do come to those who wait (all that just for this segue, wow what an intro), because Miranda Holms and I have just announced the return of EGGBOXour showcase of short films and new writing from the scripted comedy community! “What?” I hear you ask. “What are you on about? I don’t know what that is, I only signed up to this newsletter quite recently when it got recommended on someone else’s Substack.” Well, thank you for saying that, it was brave of you to give voice to your feelings of confusion and I am here for you. Let me explain what Eggbox is, and invite you all along to its next outing!

Big thanks and love to Ada Player, who drew this wonderful logo for us

Last year, I took a break from making live comedy shows on the trot. I kept having meetings with TV producers who said I’d have a lot to offer the world of scripted comedy as a writer-performer, but I needed to put some time aside to really concentrate on it, rather than letting it be something I do on the side in between making shows. They were right! I mostly avoided live performance for a year, and freeing up that time and headspace meant I was able to make so much more progress in the world of scripted comedy than I had previously. I wrote and pitched about five different scripted projects, acted in a few short films and pilots, and wrote and produced my own short.

Sadly, it was also one of the worst years for the TV and film industry in decades, so it coincided with commissioners all becoming very cash-strapped and risk-averse, so none of the things I pitched were picked up. But nearly all of them led to other things. Once upon a time I’d thought of TV as being a bit of a “make or break” industry – you get your shot, and either you hit or you miss, and if you miss then it’s back to whatever you were doing before until someone takes a chance on you again. But last year I realised the whole thing is just a case of shifting tides and building relationships, and each thing that didn’t get commissioned tended to turn into a conversation along the lines of “Ok, not that, but what about this,” and that’s led to a lot of the stuff I find myself busy with this year. Time will tell quite which of the projects I started last year turn out to be actual successes, but I’m really enjoying the process of it all.

What I did realise, though, was that the world of scripted comedy can be quite lonely and disempowering at times compared to the world of live. In live comedy you can decide what you want to do, book a space, and then do it. When working on film or TV ideas, you spend a lot of time waiting for other people to make decisions, because you simply don’t have the same agency to just try making the thing you want to make – it’s expensive! It’s true that social media has slightly democratised the capacity for people to just try out a filmic or scripted idea, but there are still certain kinds of ideas and approaches that you simply can’t explore without the time and money to indulge them. So very often you’re reliant on industry figures to make decisions about whether they can give you that time or that money.

While wrestling with this, however, I met so many other people who were in the same boat, and realised there’s a huge community of people writing and making great scripted comedy all across the country. They’re just not as visible as the country’s thriving and exciting live scene, because there are fewer opportunities for them to showcase their work. I started getting to know a lot of these writers and filmmakers, and really enjoying the stuff of theirs I saw, at film nights like The Paddock and Up Close And Personal With Mister Tibbs.

We launched Eggbox because we wanted to find somewhere we could premiere our short film, Dog Houseand we also wanted to find an opportunity to stage a live reading of some scripts we were working on – my sitcom The Happiness Chain, and Miranda’s sitcom Serenity Springs – but we wanted to find a way to do those things without making it all about us. We wanted to create a space that showcased the community we’d become part of, and were enjoying getting to know.

So alongside Dog House we screened films like Jazz Emu & Sam Campbell’s Eggerson KeaveneyAda Player & Bron Waugh’s Johnny & TommyTom Bell’s Knock Knock (Knock)and more. We got a cast of amazing actors to read out mine and Miranda’s scripts, as well as an extract from Nat Luurtsema’s feature film We (Heart) Libby. We launched Eggbox at King’s Place to a sold out crowd who really loved the format and were excited to see more of it, but we wanted to find the right venue for it, so we’ve taken a bit of time to get it right (apologies to all the writers and filmmakers who submitted amazing work to me in the meantime and who I’ve left hanging!)

EGGBOX will now be back on the 1st of October in the Main House of the Pleasance Theatre in Islington, and I’m actively curating it over the next couple of months. Ideally we’d like to showcase work from people we’ve worked and collaborated with ourselves, to maintain the night’s identity representing a community and a scene, but we’re also always looking to expand that community and that scene, so I’m very keen to see short films from filmmakers I don’t know! So if you’ve made a short you’d like to be considered for Eggbox, feel free to get in touch and I’d love to see what you’ve made. If it’s a good fit and there’s room in the programme, then I might be able to include it! And if not, now it’s found its new home we’re keen for the show to become a semi-regular thing, so hopefully there’ll be more opportunities ahead.

I was really proud of the first Eggbox for showcasing some really great work by some really talented friends, and I’m excited to finally be bringing it back. If you’re a fan of comedy, of film, of new writing, then do book your tickets and come along, and if you’re in the business of making scripted comedy yourself and would like to introduce yourself, please feel free to reply or comment or say hi!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Darren Maskell, a good friend and a wonderful, daft, silly, idiosyncratic comic, sadly died earlier this year, and friends and legends Hatty Ashdown and Adam Larter have organised a tribute gig in his memory on the 11th of June at Up The Creek, featuring Lou Sanders, Nick Helm, Sooz Kempner, Luke McQueen, Mark Silcox and more. It’ll be a glorious, stupid, fun way to pay tribute to a wonderful soul who we all miss very much. Hope to see some of you there!

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I was in a writers’ room for a TV show this week which I’m not allowed to name, but essentially it involved a bunch of comedy writers being taught about various subjects so we could write sketches about them, and one of them was so disgusting that we all started cracking up at the sheer idea of trying to make it funny. Watch this space to see how we do!

Book Of The Week – I just started reading a graphic novel called Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid In The World by Chris Ware. I’ve literally only just started it, but it seems like you have to read it in conjunction with a complicated technical manual full of small print and diagrams that the graphic novel itself is wrapped in. I’m a sucker for anything that plays with your own physical experience of reading it – House Of Leaves is an all-time fave – so I’m looking forward to this.

Album Of The Week – Magic And Loss by Lou Reed. Reed’s New York is supposed to be his major comeback album, so I’ve always thought that that’s the essential one for his late 80s/early 90s output, but I just gave this a try and I think it’s even better. I think that, because Lou Reed is actually quite a bad singer, guitarist and songwriter who papers over his lack of ability with sheer attitude, I’m always more struck by his very personal albums than the ones that find him in posturing mode, because the lack of polish feels more like vulnerability than arrogance. This one is about losing two friends to illness, and it’s wonderful and sad and defiant and brilliant.

Film Of The Week – Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. It’s a real shame this has bombed, because it’s great. I have all sorts of complicated feelings about it bombing – I don’t know why on earth Warner Bros approved a $170 million budget for a 2.5-hour R-rated arthouse movie that was obviously catering to a niche audience, and Hollywood has to stop making these ridiculously expensive movies and get back to taking more risks on lower-budget stuff. But what a shame something so good had to fail for that message to trickle through. There are few action films as stylishly put together and artfully crafted as this. The storytelling is really simple but also really confidently and maturely handled – it doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence in the slightest, it just commits to painting a huge, strange world with utter confidence. It’s like a graphic novel. I loved it. Go see it if you can, help it out a bit.

That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know your thoughts, and if you ever felt compelled to send this newsletter to a friend who might enjoy it, or encourage others to subscribe, then I would be eternally grateful. I’ve been very overwhelmed and grateful to see so many new subscribers joining in response to one recommendation from a very kind reader over the last couple of weeks, and I would dearly love to keep building this space and this audience. Any help or support very much appreciated!

Take care of yourselves until next time,

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 John-Luke Roberts and I have been slowly taking the world of social media by storm as we unfurl our magnum opus, The Barry & Tony Quintology. You can watch the latest instalment here:

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