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Joz Norris

  • Tape 5: Lessons From The Fringe

Hello! And welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, a weekly interactive notepad project from reforming Dr. Pepper addict and “so-called comedian” Joz Norris. You’re receiving this because you signed up via my website, but if this is no longer the newsletter for you, you can unsubscribe any time – please go with my love and my blessings. And if you’re still with me, read on for this week’s Tape!

Lessons From The Fringe

Won’t lie, I logged in this week expecting to see quite a few Unsubscribes because of the sheer amount of times I used the word “bumhole” in last week’s newsletter. So imagine my surprise when I log in to see that the subscriptions have only grown from last week! Thanks so much to those who shared it, who knew that writing a funny story about my bum was the way to get this to achieve exponential growth? Hey ho. There’s less bums this week, sorry about that.

Thanks also to those who replied about objects you’d save from a fire last week, it was really lovely reading through your stories. So far I’ve been growing this newsletter project towards an uncertain goal, and in a way, trying to do without the concept of “goals” all together. I started this year realising that I always look at every year of my life thinking about what thresholds I want to cross that year, what progress I want to make, what things I want to tick off, and realising that that sort of mindset really diminishes the amount of day-to-day fulfilment and pleasure you’re able to take in your life, which is actually going on around you at the moment, not sitting waiting for you at an unspecified point in the future, on the other side of an imagined threshold. So up to this point, the Therapy Tapes have been an attempt to follow a process for the sake of the process and explore ideas for no clear purpose, rather than a journey towards the completion of a goal.

This week, though, I’d love to ask for your contributions towards a specific project I’m in the early stages of getting my head around. I think a large proportion of the people who are signed up to this are regular Edinburgh Fringe-goers, either as audience or as performers, and I’m starting to gather some material for a project which will explore the Fringe and what it has taught people about life. So my question this week, which I’d love to hear your thoughts on if you’d be happy to answer it, is this:

What made you go up to the Edinburgh Fringe the first time you went, in whatever capacity that was? If you’re a regular attendee, what kept you going up there? Did those two things change at any point, or has the reason remained consistent?

Possibly in future Therapy Tapes I’ll expand a bit more on what this project might be, but for now I’m just trying to gather a few testimonies and thoughts to see if they help me unlock the idea in my head a bit. For now, I’ve been thinking about the way the last year has encouraged me to reflect on my own relationship with live comedy as a form.

Going Back To Comedy

On two separate occasions this week, completely independent from one another, people have asked me if I think I’ll go back to performing live comedy if and when it starts to reopen again. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer to that question is. This entire process has been a valuable opportunity to really examine the parts of my life I took for granted beforehand, and questioning which of them were things that really mattered to me and that I need to get back to, and which of them were things I just accepted because I’d never really explored the opportunity to do things any differently. In my heart I know that my life will always revolve in some way around making funny, interesting, silly things that examine the way I feel and try to express it through stories and images and ideas rather than through words, because that’s at the heart of everything I’ve done for the last ten years. I no longer know whether the communal, shared experience and direct feedback of live, in-the-room laughter will continue to be a key component of that process for me or not. There’s a much bigger process of relearning that I’ll need to go through as and when we can get back onstage again, and I think for a long time it’ll feel like starting from scratch – trying to remember what sort of contract a performer establishes with an audience, how you create trust, how you break trust, all those things. It’ll be quite an awkward, painful experience of trying all those things out again as if for the first time before I know whether or not it’s something I still need in my life.

When Steve Doherty and I were working on my radio special, A Small Talk On Small Talk, which was originally supposed to be a live stand-up secial, we were given an update from Radio 4 that, because of Covid, we could either record it with a digital audience or rewrite it to have no audience whatsoever. I jumped at the chance to do the latter – my anxiety around live performance, and the way I struggle with my own self-esteem in front of other people, have always been the biggest stumbling blocks I have to overcome in order to make a good show (I only ended up making a successful one when I hid my face for the entire thing). In a funny way, it felt like being given an opportunity to continue making strange, funny stuff while being able to remove the thing that had been a source of pain to me in earlier years, and I was really surprised by how satisfying I found the end result – it felt like it more clearly and directly communicated the feelings and ideas I always wanted to communicate.

I’m always going to be someone who processes my life by being silly and making things, simply because it’s what I’ve learned to do with my life and with my feelings. But I do wonder if the days of needing to stand in the centre of the things I’ve made, and show them to people and measure my own self-worth by whether I can see them enjoying it or not, might be behind me. The flip-side of this is that, while it’s easy to dismiss live performance as a form of egotism where you measure your own success by the volume of applause you receive, it’s also possible to look at it from a place of generosity – you create an experience in a room with a group of other people where you celebrate the ridiculousness of things together, and you create real, tangible connections with strangers that come to mean something to them as well. Which of those aspects of live performance comes to define my relationship with it in the future remains to be seen.

The Edinburgh Fringe was an enormous part of that time for me, the time when a stage was the place I went to in order to communicate and make sense of my ideas, and I’d love to hear what the place means to some of the readers of this newsletter too. Perhaps next week I’ll gather some of those responses together into some sort of celebration of what the place taught us about life, and how we all feel about it in its absence over the last year.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The radio special I mentioned above was the first in a new weekly series of comedy specials from various comedians that go out on Sunday evenings. They’ve all been really brilliant and shown real ingenuity in the face of far-from-ideal circumstances as people have found ways to record live stand-up without real, in-the-flesh audiences. But I particularly loved Gemma Arrowsmith’s Emergency Broadcast, which so far is the only other one besides mine to have done without the audience all together. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong approach for which route to go down, but having gone down the no-audience route myself, it was really interesting to see how somebody else created a sort of kaleidoscopic, sketch-show vibe through sound, and those who enjoyed my special might well enjoy hers too!

The Thing That’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Ok, so I’ve long been uncomfortable about the fine line between celebrating and bullying when it comes to enjoying the work of absolute lunatics on the internet. You know the sort – people who are doing things so utterly bizarre and inexplicable and, often, unfunny, that it crosses over into something approaching genius. Maybe the extent to which I enjoy that type of thing is verging on cruelty, but honestly, I think the people who just commit themselves to making stuff so weird that you don’t even know where to begin are the real comedy heroes, actually. Anyway, this week Sean Morley unearthed this guy on TikTok who pretends to be Mr Bean and I’m obsessed with him.

Album Of The Week – Original Sin by Pandora’s Box. I already talked about Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman last week, so I’ll try not to bang on too much about this but, while Braver Than We Are is absolute dogshit, Original Sin is exactly what you want from a Jim Steinman project. Pandora’s Box was a girl-group Jim Steinman created in the late 80s to record all the songs he’d written for Meat Loaf that Meat Loaf wouldn’t sing because they weren’t on speaking terms at the time. Meat Loaf would eventually record nearly all of them when he and Steinman patched things up, but there’s something about the folly and excess of Original Sin that makes it all the more glorious, its numerous spoken-word and symphonic rock instrumental interludes and all.

Film Of The Week – The Ladykillers. This has been one of my favourite films since I was a kid, but I rewatched it for the first time in years this week wondering if its spell might have diminished coming back to it, but it’s still a masterpiece. It’s just absolutely charming, and the comedy beats and setpieces are still laugh-out-loud funny today, there’s nothing dated about its sense of humour despite being 65 years old. It also includes one of my favourite bits of dialogue in film history – “I always think the windows are the eyes of a house, and didn’t someone once say that the eyes are the windows of the soul?” “Oh, I don’t know, but it’s such a charming thought, I do hope someone expressed it.”

Book Of The Week – Ways Of Seeing by John Berger. I’m only part-way through this, but it’s great so far. It’s about the fact that a child learns to see, and to visually perceive the world, long before they learn the words for the things they can see, and develop the inner logic that allows them to organise their visual surroundings into language. As such, it’s another book that articulates my pet favourite concept, the gap between who we feel we are and who we’re able to make ourselves seem to others. And, in coming back to the subject of this week’s Tape, the reason this concept is so important to me is because I think absurdist comedy, along with music and painting, is one of the art forms that best articulates that gap without the need for words. Ways Of Seeing is a book about visual art, but I’m reading it as a book about comedy and it’s a game-changer.

This Week’s Story

I haven’t included a story this week, just as an experiment, really. I’ve got one ready to go, and I’ll probably include it in next week’s newsletter, but I’m aware that writing up a new short story every single week might be unsustainable, and also maybe it’s good to sometimes send out a newsletter that’s less dauntingly long. So perhaps it’ll become something I do every now and again rather than religiously every week, just for my own sanity, and my ability to get any other work done.

Thank you so much for reading, do let me know your thoughts! And if you’re enjoying the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, I’d love you to share them with a couple of friends and encourage them to subscribe too – it’s really lovely growing it with you all!

Have a great week, everyone. Here’s another picture of a parakeet, because they’re really proving the defining feature of my Lockdown 3. This one kept trying to eat my hair because it had some sort of avocado-based oil in it (a legitimate hair product, not just a messy day in the kitchen).

Joz xx

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A weekly creative newsletter. The Tapes function as an interactive notebook/sketchpad exploring comedy, art, creativity, making stuff, etc.. More Info.