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Joz Norris

  • Tape 87: Private Dancer

Private Dancer

Some of you may well have been enjoying Mark Watson and NextUp’s Access Festival over the last couple of weeks, a specially curated online-only festival of livestreamed comedy shows from such heroes as Mark himself, Alex Horne, Tim Key, Bilal Zafar, Sarah Keyworth, Laura Lexx, John Robertson, Stuart Laws, and many more. It’s a lovely project, and Mark has done an amazing job of flying the flag for online comedy over the last few years. During the pandemic we all learned how important it was to find ways of serving audiences at home that had historically found it difficult to attend live comedy shows in person, and Mark has set up Access Festival to make sure we don’t abandon that way of doing things as the days of lockdown recede further into the memory.

This Sunday, at 7pm, I’ll be streaming the very first outing of a brand new show called Joz Norris Is Your Private Dancer (A Dancer For Money), which I’ve written specifically for the online format. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this – during lockdown, I attempted a couple of mostly improvised, unplanned comedy livestreams but didn’t enjoy them much and so mostly abandoned any attempts at streaming my comedy. But I still felt it was important to make comedy that was accessible to audiences at home, which was part of my reasoning for turning my abandoned 2020 show into a film.

Since then, I planned to try and stream my 2022 show Blink via NextUp, but bailed on it because it became clear that adapting the show into a form where it would successfully translate to the audience at home would require a huge amount of work which I didn’t have the time and headspace to do during Edinburgh (I’m still planning on doing that work and filming an adapted version of it later this year, so those of you who haven’t seen it, I am hoping you’ll be able to by the end of the year perhaps!) When I heard about Access Fest, it felt like a great opportunity to finally do something for those remote audiences that I hadn’t done the best job of serving over the last few years – to write a show from scratch specifically to be watched and interacted with via livestream, and to confront the things I find difficult about that format and hopefully get my head around them.

The reason I filmed my show in 2020 as an edited feature film rather than attempting to perform it as a stream was because the thing I found most difficult about livestreaming was its unpredictable, ramshackle nature – often the things that audiences liked most about it were the unplanned accidents or the bits where things went wrong, and the best performers at it were the ones who were able to thrive on that sort of unplanned chaos. But what I had always found most rewarding about writing and performing comedy was the ability to write and prepare and make something that I could then show to an audience in exactly the way I wanted – to feel like I could show them what the world looked and felt like to me by sharing something I had carefully prepared. The idea of losing that control, and throwing myself into the random chaos of livestreaming, was very frightening to me, and I didn’t like the idea of having no idea how any of it was coming across – whether people’s internet connections meant some of the jokes weren’t landing, for instance.

When I started working on Private DancerI realised that the way to solve this problem for myself in writing an online show was to embrace the broader philosophical implications of that dilemma. My assumption that I was able to control how other people perceived me when I performed live on an actual stage, or when I was writing and editing a film, but not when I was performing via livestream, was a total fabrication. We never know how other people are perceiving us, no matter how carefully we try to curate that (this was also one of the main themes of Blink, so was very present in my mind as an idea when I started thinking about writing an online show). In order to start to understand this properly, I thought I would make it not just the subject of Private Dancer, but also bake it into the form of the show itself.

The content of the show is going to be a series of short stories I’ve written, most of them autobiographical, some of them imaginary, mostly about the gap between how we think we’re coming across and who other people actually see us as, or the gap between our thoughts and our feelings – generally about the gaps and the near misses that make up a human being. I hope they’re vaguely funny, but it might be that they’re more interesting than they are hilarious. The comedy of the show, I hope, will come from the fact that while reading out these stories I am also entirely subject to the whims of the audience, who can force me to interact with a series of different objects and materials in whatever way they wish, either to create something beautiful or to subject me to ritual humiliation. I hope that these two elements will come together into a sort of mad collage of the gaps between intention and effect – a show that aimed to be a philosophical exploration of what it feels like to be human that inevitably descends into mess and nonsense and chaos. Yes, this is exactly the same thing I was doing in Blink, but I think starting a new project by picking up from where your last one left off is always an interesting way to start. I’m sure the nature of the stories, and of the audience-generated format of the show, will end up shaping it into something very different, and I’m excited to see what that will be!

(By the by, on the subject of one project starting where the previous one ended reminds me of this film that Miranda edited recently, about the artist Gabriela Giroletti, in which she talks about how one piece of art needn’t answer every question you’re asking as an artist at that time, it’s fine for one piece to start by trying to answer a question you didn’t quite answer last time around).

I’m performing Private Dancer at least once more this year, at Machynlleth Comedy Festival at the end of April, to find out how the same concept works in front of a live audience as opposed to an online one. Between the two, I’ll hopefully get a sense of whether there’s a show in there I want to develop into something bigger and more long-term, and can also figure out whether to develop it as a purely online thing, or as a hybrid of online and live. If you’re interested to see what it is I’m putting together for it, then get yourself a pass for the Access Festival and tune in via NextUp on Sunday at 7pm!

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – VAULT Festivalone of London’s biggest theatre and comedy festivals, relaunches in a couple of weeks! I’m doing a show there (ahem), but there are some other amazing comics doing shows new and old there as well. This tweet by ACMS has some great recommendations to kick you off.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I was lucky enough to see the great David Sedaris recording the new series of his Radio 4 show at the weekend, and he’s just one of the world’s funniest people. His comments on which words are and are not permitted to be broadcast on Radio 4 had me in stitches.

Album Of The Week – Every Loser by Iggy Pop. This is his latest album, and it’s outrageous. He’d taken a turn on recent albums (2016’s excellent Post Pop Depression; 2019’s weird Free) into making music that sounded actually quite mature and interesting and grown-up, and on Every Loser has taken an abrupt turn back into making stupid, primitive, loud punk rock. It’s great fun.

Book Of The Week – I just finished reading Bob Dylan’s The Philosophy Of Modern Song. It’s really terrible. Frequently misogynistic, and generally pointless. It consists of 66 essays about favourite songs of his, and includes such insights as the 3-page essay on “Blue Suede Shoes” being a song about a guy who really likes his shoes, or the bit where he claims “My Generation” is a song about “blabbing about your age group.” Really quite shocking for Bob Dylan, of all people, to write a book claiming to share insights into popular songs and then to reveal that he has no greater insight than a 14-year-old googling the lyrics and then looking in a thesaurus.

Film Of The Week – Saw Sam Mendes’ Empire Of Light last night. I loved it, it made me sob. It’s very shmaltzy, but it worked on me. Then I googled all the reviews and found it’s generally been slated for being overly sentimental and confused! Very surprised, I really enjoyed it. Am I wrong? Are the critics wrong? Are we both right? Who knows! Anyway, I liked it, Olivia Colman’s fantastic in it.

That’s all for this week! As ever, if you’ve enjoyed the newsletter and feel like sending it to a friend or encouraging others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care until next time, and all the best,

Joz xx

PS Here’s a pic from the Tate Modern’s exhibition of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s giant wool sculptures. This room was my favourite, it was like being among ancient forest spirits or something.

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