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Joz Norris

  • Tape 81: Dinner Time Update

Dinner Time Update


As I wrote about in this Tape a few weeks ago, in October I launched a creative residency with Vault Creative Arts alongside collaborators and dear pals Ben Target and Miranda Holms. We’ve staged two nights of sharings at the Glitch in Lower Marsh. “How’ve they been going?” I’m sure you’re all wondering. Well, I thought I’d feed back!


I had absolutely no idea what I wanted Dinner Time to be when I first set it up with the people at Vault. Discussing it with Ben and Miranda, we half had it in mind that perhaps it would end up being a good space to build a new collaborative show together – something in the same vein as Blink, perhaps, but pushing the collaborative elements even further and being more focused on its cast of creatives and less on me as a “solo” performer. We had Adam Riches’ Coach Coach shows in mind as a reference when we talked about moving in this direction, and perhaps Dinner Time would be a place to explore those group dynamics, try out ideas for stories or sketches, and so on. As things have turned out, that’s not the direction we’ve gone in as individuals – Ben is working hard on an exciting new solo show; I’ve crystallised my desire to move temporarily away from live comedy and explore more scripted narrative ideas; and Miranda is establishing herself as a filmmaker and writer. Trying to make a collaborative live show together suddenly seemed like something that wouldn’t serve any of us particularly well, and simply serve as a distraction from the things we’d each individually decided we cared about.


Because of that, I went into the first Dinner Time with no idea of quite what purpose the night would serve, either for us or for the audience. We had the feeling that we needed to somehow “put on a show” for the audience, and kicked things off with something half-formed and weird that almost attempted to create a sketch troupe dynamic between the three of us, before presenting our own individual ideas or fragments to the audience. For me, what was exciting about the night suddenly became clear as soon as each of us finished presenting our ideas and asked the audience what they thought. It turned out that the audience, far from needing to be presented with a “show,” had come fully aware of the work-in-progress, collaborative nature of what we were doing, and all of them were really keen to enter into a creative discussion about what worked, what didn’t, what they found interesting, where it could go next, and so on. Ben used a series of his drawings as jumping-off points for stories about travel; I tried out a couple of experimental ideas about using the audience’s laughter as a template for the shape of a story and then another idea about quantifying and trading promises with the audience; and Miranda used the audience’s suggestions to generate ideas for stories, and then directed Ben and I in act-outs of those stories. One of my favourites involved a man who doesn’t want anyone to know that his dog can talk, but his dog can’t talk, so he has to do impressions of it to pretend it’s talking in order to convince people it can, while also trying to make sure nobody notices. It was ludicrous. Also I eventually got to the point of finding a promise with a fixed value equivalent to an audience member’s shoe, which I was then entitled to claim.

Having learned what worked about Dinner Time – the audience’s collaboration and contribution to the ideas themselves – November’s outing dispensed with the attempts to stage it as though it was a sort of sketch show, and leant into the presentation of half-formed ideas that the audience could then have some say on. Ben let the audience choose which drawings they wanted to hear about, and told them more stories about the ones they chose. I read out a short film script I’d written and then discussed its virtues and problems, and Miranda got the audience to co-write a collaborative murder ballad exploring a story of hers about an incel being murdered by a mermaid. One of my favourite moments involved Miranda and I pitching a ridiculous idea for a TV sitcom to the audience and finding, to our surprise, that there was actually something in it, and slowly shifting it into an arthouse short film in front of their eyes as a result of their feedback. I’ve now written that idea up as a short script and will read it next time to see what they make of the thing we built together.


I have no idea what, if anything, will come of Dinner Time. I know that Ben’s show is shaping up to be something very special, but I think Miranda and I are less concrete in what results we’re trying to take from it each month. I don’t know if the scripts and stories I come away with each time will turn into actual projects I try to make, or if they’ll just be things I mess around with in front of the audience each month, and then never think about again. It sort of doesn’t matter to me. I’ve been really happy that a core audience of regulars have been coming back each time, and seem to value being part of a creative conversation like that. Olivia, one of our regulars, mentioned last week that it feels like a different proposition to even the rawest of new material nights, because nothing we’re doing at it really could be qualified as “material.” It’s instead a night where we turn up, hold something up in front of the audience and go “Hurgh?” and see what they do, and I actually think there’s great value in creating a tiny space like that within the comedy landscape. We’re encouraged so often to think as though some invisible power is measuring our progress, and that we need to make sure we’re always offering a polished product that we can use to showcase ourselves, but shining more of a light on those periods of creativity where things are tentative, ugly, unformed, weird, half-hearted or just plain flimsy feels like an exciting thing to admit to, and invite people in to be involved with. It’s gone from being something I had no idea what it would be to being a little pocket of playfulness each month that I really look forward to.


The final Dinner Time for now is on the 15th of December, and tickets are available here. It’s going to be a Hallowe’en special, because we think that’s funny, so we’ll probably try to share something spooky. We’d love to see you there if you can make it and would like to come and join the conversation!


A Cool New Thing In Comedy – There’s a bunch of great shows on at Soho Theatre this week, and I’d like to give them all a plug! Mat Ewins’ Danger Money was one of my favourite shows I saw this Fringe, and Sami Abu Wardeh’s Bedu was one I missed as it clashed with mine, but I saw it this week and it’s fantastic. Finally, Mr Chonkers by John Norris (who a lot of people thought was an alter-ego of mine) was rightly one of the word-of-mouth hits of this Fringe, and if you don’t see it you’re missing out on something totally ridiculous and brilliant.


What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – There’s a moment in the new movie of Tim Minchin’s Matilda musical where Sindhu Vee cries out “Let’s call the police!” with such a sweet, earnest sincerity that I burst out laughing in the cinema, and couldn’t stop for about thirty seconds. It’s such a lovely moment.


Book Of The Week – I’ve started The Age Of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For A Human Future At The New Frontier Of Power by Shoshanna Zuboff, which is about how tech companies have created a new model for society that’s genuinely threatening our humanity. I imagine I will never read anything else again. It’s about a metre thick and the text is very small, with each letter roughly the size of a mustard seed. I look forward to spending the rest of my life reading it. (It’s very good so far).


Album Of The Week – Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis Morissette. This is great! I always wondered why Alanis’s legacy is so tethered to Jagged Little Pill, it turns out it’s because that album became so successful, and she became so famous, that she went to India for a year to find herself, then returned with this, a 75-minute album of Eastern-influenced art-pop which confused people so much that she sort of dropped off the mainstream’s radar. But it’s really good! Her most recent album is 2 hours of meditation music. I think I’m gonna get into all her stuff, she seems cool.


Film Of The Week – Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical. This is brilliant. It’s so fun. I came out buzzing. It knows exactly what sort of film it is, and it does it all really, really well. I loved it. Definitely my most fun film of the year.


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


Joz xx

PS Here’s a fun Yeti I found in a shop-front in Soho:

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