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Joz Norris

  • Tape 34: Live Comedy’s Back

Voyager Gold Record – Your Thoughts

First up, I promised I’d share a couple of my favourites from your contributions for potential do-overs of the Voyager Gold Record that told a more honest story about ourselves as a species. A handful of highlights include:

  1. A supercut of the best, worst and weirdest Eurovision performances – This is perfect, I think. I can’t imagine a better representation of everything that is bizarre and daft and wonderful about the human race than Eurovision.
  2. That time Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed Janet Jackson’s boob – Would teach the aliens a lot about celebrity, gender politics, body shame, etc.
  3. Barry from Eastenders singing “Something Inside So Strong” – just absolutely yes.

Live Comedy: The Comeback

So, I’ve been thinking about live comedy this week, and what it’s been like going back to it. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed gigging again in the last couple of months and, without wanting to descend into narcissistic “I’ve been smashing it on the gigs front!” territory, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the fact that the ideas I’ve been exploring and playing with have been making people laugh, and seem to be coming together into something good. Quite often over the last 18 months I told myself that maybe I was done with live comedy and wouldn’t go back to it, but it’s become clear to me that that was a story I was telling myself because I couldn’t go back to it, and that actually it’s something I really enjoy. There have been lessons learned, of course – I’ve realised how much I don’t enjoy the constant late nights of gigging all the time, and the inevitable way your social life is morphed and constrained by them so that you barely ever see your friends outside of the context of asking them to come to your shows. I’d like to not get back to that state, so am going to be more mindful of preserving a good balance between gigs and my social life.

The other thing it’s tricky reconciling with is that I still feel very weird, verging on uncomfortable, in rooms full of people. I’ve mostly been trying to keep myself distanced from actual crowds, whether that’s using dressing rooms or just trying to sit slightly separate from the press of people in a room. That’s partly down to just trying to minimise risk, and partly because the pandemic has fundamentally rewritten my own comfort levels in busy public places – I never particularly enjoyed them, and I enjoy them even less now. When you want to make work that you perform live for a living, busy public places are a necessary evil, of course, but I do find myself wrestling with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to the live performance scene over the next year.

So I’d love to know – what are your thoughts on live entertainment at the moment? Are you a performer as well, and gigging as much as you can? Or being very selective and careful in the gigs you agree to do? If you’re not a performer yourself, are you going to see as much stuff as possible because you missed that environment and are done cutting yourself off from it if you don’t legally have to? Are you going to the odd thing, but being very careful and taking lots of precautions? Are you fundamentally still uncomfortable going to anything live, and still trying to watch things online instead? I’d love to hear what the makeup of opinions is in the readership of this newsletter, so please let me know where you’re at!

Just me smashing it at another gig. Photo by Miranda Holms

Making Plans

I ask because at the moment I find myself in the middle of making various grand, ambitious plans for a show I’d like to stage next year. I’m applying to a bunch of festivals, and starting to collaborate with Alex Hardy and Ben Target on new ideas for a show I’m genuinely excited about, and think could be really good. This is essentially with a view towards the Edinburgh Fringe in 2022, because at the moment it feels far enough away that if I’m having ideas that I’m actively enjoying working on, then it makes sense to do what I can to work those up into a show, as long as I make sure my plans can respond to whatever the global situation is.

At the moment it feels a lot like we’re being told to plan our lives as though the pandemic is over, and to act as though all live entertainment can go forward exactly as it always did for the foreseeable future, and I’m sure lots of people feel that way themselves – that they’re going to get on with the things they used to enjoy doing. But we also all know that theoretically, things could go catastrophically wrong – a new variant could emerge, cases could shoot up again, new restrictions could be introduced. Of course, if the worst should happen, my plans to go back to making a show would respond to whatever was going on, and I would gladly shelve them all if it became clear that live shows were a threat to people’s health once again. But the difficulty is that by far the most likely outcome is that things will be somewhere in the middle, and it’ll be up to us as individuals to work out what we’re comfortable with. People will put on shows if they feel it’s safe to do so, and hopefully they’ll put them on in responsible ways, and people will come to see them if it feels safe to do so. Unfortunately, the economics of live performance will undoubtedly be exactly as they were, if not even more precarious for artists than they were before, with no guarantee that audience confidence will be what it once was, and no way of knowing that the same levels of financial outlay can guarantee the same levels of reward in terms of audience take-up and income from ticket sales.

The sensible thing to do would probably be to take one more year off from making shows to see how the comedy and arts scene remoulds itself to become sustainable again in whatever new circumstances we find ourselves in in 2022, but then making shows and performing them is one of only a few things I know how to make a living from, and taking yet another year off from making a living isn’t really something I can either afford to do, or particularly want to. Personally, I’m keen to continue enjoying the return to live performance and gradually scale it up towards eventually making another full show, but there is a nagging voice at the back of my mind that says I ought to get more of a sense of what the world at large makes of the idea of going to see shows at festivals again as they once did. So over to you guys! What are your thoughts on the return of comedy and theatre and live performance? Any advice you might have would really help me out in making sense of where I’m at!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – John Kearns and Tim Key have a new show out on BBC Radio 4 called Lastieswhich is a series of short plays about last orders in a pub. Episode one is out, with three more to come! Listen to it, they’re two of the best.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Michael Brunstrom’s tribute to John-Luke Roberts at his final ACMS gig on Monday. Various different acts had to give John-Luke a clock to mark his retirement, and Michael handed his over deciding that the most alternative thing he could do was to be sincere, and shouted “I fucking love this guy, and we’ll miss him, and I can’t possibly see how this gig can work without him.” There are certain contexts in which naked sincerity is just incredibly funny.

Book Of The Week – Work: A History Of How We Spend Our Time by James Suzman. As the title suggests, this is a historical, anthropological account of the concept of work, and how it came to be the central factor in our lives. It’s incredibly, will probably be writing about it next week.

Album Of The Week – Aerial Ballet by Harry Nilsson. This guy’s great, it’s taken me way too long to get familiar with his stuff. He’s like the Beatles, but much more charming, and it turns out way more songs I like were written by him than I realised.

Film Of The Week – Not seen any. Might go see No Time To Die at the weekend. S’posed to be good, right?

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you ever wanted to send this newsletter to a friend, or encourage people to subscribe, I’d be hugely appreciative. See you next week, and take care of yourselves,

Joz xx

PS Here’s a picture of the parrots that sometimes hang out on Primrose Hill. Their names are Sonic and Phoenix.

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