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Joz Norris


Tape 49: Comedy Is Not A Solitary Pursuit

  • Tape 49: Comedy Is Not A Solitary Pursuit

Leicester Comedy Festival

I’ve just got back from the Leicester Comedy Festival, which I’ve been performing at as part of the “Weirdos Weekend” more or less every year (pandemic notwithstanding) since 2014. These days, it’s always a bit up-in-the-air whether or not the final weekend of the LCF is actually called the “Weirdos Weekend” or not, or if it’s a “Weirdos & Friends Weekend,” or whatever. What it’s actually styled as is beside the point, really. What it essentially means is that a dozen or so comics who all know one another through having worked as part of Adam Larter’s big collaborative Weirdos projects, come up to Leicester to put on performances of their new solo shows, and we all watch each other’s stuff and hang out and have a nice time. For the first few years of going up, we’d play to audiences of a dozen or so, and just wheel out our work-in-progresses and then get the last train home with bruised egos after playing to the odd titter. By now, though, thanks largely to Adam’s hard work and commitment to bringing something special and unique to the festival, along with the support and hard work of promoter TripleCeePee, that final weekend, and the comics who are part of it, seem to have become a sort of landmark event within the landscape of the LCF. A lot of the rest of the festival, as I understand it, tends to involve more traditional stand-ups bringing tour shows or work-in-progresses on their own, so I think a weekend dedicated to unusual idiots doing weird stuff as a community has sort of taken hold of the hearts of the people who live there, and these days it’s an absolute pleasure to see friendly faces in the audience when I come up. This weekend, while I sadly didn’t manage to make it back into Leicester for the second day of the weekend (I was staying out of town), every show I saw played to a packed house, and I was so blown away by the shows I saw, and proud of my friends for putting them together.

I saw Andy Barr perform as his alter-ego Alistair Bridge, reading memoirs about accidentally getting involved in people trafficking because he missed his cleaner. I chatted to Richard Herring (technically not part of Weirdos, to be fair) for his RHLSTP podcast and blew his mind with a fact about caterpillars that acts as proof of the existence of the soul. I saw Ben Target playing Twister with himself while sharing memories of his uncle Lorenzo, and the haircut he got before he died. I saw Ali Brice recounting his journey through therapy over the last two years, and his ensuing belief in impossible things like vibrating squirrels. I performed my own new show Blink to an absolutely wonderful audience. And I played a thirsty impressionist in Adam Larter’s outrageously complicated, inventive Royal Mail-based murder-mystery-cum-escape-room The Envelopes, co-starring such other brilliant Weirdos as Matthew Highton, Sam Nicoresti, Michael Brunstrom, Charlie Vero-Martin, Eleanor Morton, Sooz Kempner and more. It felt really nice to see these friends, many of whom I’ve journeyed alongside for nearly a decade now, excel themselves and be so brilliant.

Comedy As A Solitary Pursuit

This big love-in got me thinking about one of the most poisonous attitudes towards comedy that exists, one which I’ve been actively trying to dismantle in my own work for the last few years – the myth that comedy is a solitary pursuit. This is a myth that pervades everywhere, from the stereotypical image of a comedian as someone who drives alone up and down motorways in the middle of the night, to comedians whose girlfriends essentially co-write and direct their shows but receive no credit and no payment (this is rife). There is a very dangerous lie that comedy shows are the work of lone, isolated geniuses, and it produces toxic attitudes and, I think, bad work. The existence of the Weirdos collective meant that I was always a little more collaborative in my work than perhaps the average comedian, in that I had a little community to share ideas with and to ask the advice of, but I still mostly built my shows on my own, isolating myself and not sharing my ideas all that much. In 2019 I made a show with a creative team for the first time, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m now in the middle of making a show with an even bigger creative team, and it feels like it’ll be an even better show. Being part of the Weirdos family on Saturday and watching everybody perform such brilliant stuff made me remember afresh how important it is to involve other people in your work, and to think of yourself as one small part of a large organic system, not some rarefied jewel.

I would love it if more people in comedy started to recognise the way collaboration and openness and community improve the work they make, and the paradigm started to shift a bit. If we could do away with the “lone genius” trope and start to have comics fold the people around them into their work a bit more, and share the rewards of what they do with the people who helped them make it. I think we would see better shows, more effortful shows, funnier shows, made by happier, more enriched, less embittered comics – comics who thrive on the process of making work with a creative community, rather than thriving on the idea of what awaits them if the rest of the world acknowledges their genius. Collectives like Weirdos have historically shown how that sort of attitude is possible, and I know there are more. But let’s shout about them more! Let’s celebrate the work of collectives and communities as much as we celebrate the work of individuals (how about Pinata, for a start? They’re great). Comedy would be a much richer world for it.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Well, while I’m on the topic of celebrating the work of collectives and Pinata in particular, why not get yourself down to see their next outing in a couple of weeks? Well, because it clashes with one night of my Soho run, that’s why, but I guess you could go to it if you promise to come see me on another night, yeah? Yeah, cool, cool, it’s a deal.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Monday’s ACMS was one of the most fun ones in ages, I absolutely loved it. Ben Target and I hosted, and there were loads of great new acts who’d not done the night before. At one point Ada Player, who is brilliant, asked an audience member where they were from and then said “Oh I love that place” and I can’t explain why but it made me howl.

Book Of The Week – The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 And 3/4. No idea why this has taken me so long to get round to, but oh my God, it’s brilliant. The bit where Adrian spends a week painting his room black, only to end up with a room his dog now whimpers to be let out of, is one of the funniest passages I’ve read in ages.

Film Of The Week – Jackass Forever. I never watched Jackass as a kid. I thought it looked horrible and puerile and gross. I watched the new film with Ben and Miranda, ostensibly as “research” for my show, to explore the line between “childish silliness” and “too much.” They cross the line a few times, but when they’re just being silly, this film is amazing. Something about watching them still kicking each other in the balls and feeding each other to bears in their 50s is actually kind of wholesome and life-affirming, almost.

Album Of The Week – In My Own Time by Karen Dalton. I think Ali Brice put me onto this, and it’s really good. She’s a semi-forgotten early-70s folk singer-songwriter, and her stuff is somewhere in between Vashti Bunyan-esque pastoral folk and Janis Joplin-esque smoky blues. I like her a lot.

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you’d like to share this newsletter with a friend, or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves, and see you next time,

Joz xx

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