One random comedian, eight random questions: it’s the ultimate test of funny person and fate. This week that person is Joz Norris, who’s had a pretty dramatic time of it recently – check his Twitter feed (@JozNorris) for details.
Now current Norris agnostics may well recognise the immensely agreeable comic/actor from odd TV appearances, or from Mark Watson‘s marathon live business, or his splendidly diverse array of short films. But for those of us who frequent Britain’s comedy rooms, Norris is widely renowned as an absolute tonic, his live work bringing an hour of joyous respite from a bewildering world. Or they have been previously, anyway: at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe he may well be following a new groove, or two.
“I’m doing a new solo show, called Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad,” he says, “which is a sort of nonsense exploration of anxiety and loneliness and connection and so on, via the persona of a live-action cartoon character in a fake beard wrestling with the fact that he doesn’t exist.”
It’s Christmas come early. Meanwhile he’s also doing a double-act show with the anti-comic supreme Ed Aczel, called Ed & Joz’s Deleted Scenes. “We try and fail to make a sketch show based on ideas that didn’t make it into our short films, and that’s just an experiment in building our creative partnership in a new context and playing with a new sort of show, and just trying to be silly together every day.”
As the chat below will attest, Norris favours a cerebral sort of silliness. So is there a particular outcome he’s aiming for in Edinburgh this year?
“I took a year off from making my own Fringe show last year (sort of) and having given myself that space I feel I’m coming back with better control over what sort of show I want to make,” he says.
“I’d just like lots of people to come and see the shows and enjoy what I’m trying to explore with them, and ideally they’ll enable me to carry on making more new and exciting things after the Fringe, but all that side of things is out of my hands I guess! I hope people have a nice time watching them.”
Knowing him, they will. Joz Norris, your Random 8 await.
Who was your childhood hero?
Gonzo the Great, from The Muppets. As a kid, I didn’t really know why Gonzo appealed to me so much, he was just by far and away the one that captured my imagination and made me laugh the most. I really liked the running gag of nobody knowing exactly what he was supposed to be, and the fact that that never deterred him or deflated his optimism, and I loved how gung-ho he was about doing ridiculous things.
As an adult I have far greater insight into why it was Gonzo that appealed to me. I read a Jim Henson biography recently in which Dave Goelz, Gonzo’s performer, said he loved Gonzo because he knew deep down that he was a wretched creature, but desperately wanted to prove he had value and that’s why he did all these ridiculous stunts, and Goelz used that aspect of the character to work through his own self-confidence issues.
I think even as a kid I was captivated subconsciously by the fact that nobody else seemed to care about Gonzo’s stupid over-the-top acts of derring-do or understand why they meant a lot to him, but that never stopped him leaping into them wide-eyed and cackling and determined that they were going to show everybody he could do something ridiculous.
Is there a book or film that changed your life?
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I’d been doing comedy for a few years when I read it, and was still sort of trying to be good at everything and impress everybody. That year I’d done a Fringe show in a paid venue with a big producer and I felt I’d compromised what I really wanted to do because I wanted to make everybody happy, and wasn’t sure where to go next.
I went on holiday to Cambodia to visit a friend who was living out there at the time, and she read Breakfast of Champions while I was there and lent it to me afterwards and I read it in one go on the flight home and had never read anything like it.
There’s a bit near the start where Vonnegut says he’s writing it because he’s “just trying to clear the nonsense out of his head,” or something like that, and suddenly I understood exactly what I ought to be doing. I wanted to make stuff that made people feel the same way that book had made me feel, and I wanted to transform the inside of my head into something fun and silly that other people could look at and almost understand, but not completely because you never can.
And from that point I stopped thinking of myself as a comedian and started thinking of myself as someone who makes stuff, and I prioritised only ever doing the things that I felt in my head that I was good at and that I loved and that I was meant to be doing, never the things I felt I ought to be doing in order to please other people. Everything I’ve made that I am truly proud of I owe to Kurt Vonnegut.
What’s the most regrettable thing you’ve ever bought?
I actually very rarely buy things, but I do often acquire things – whether it’s things I find, or things I inherit, or things I get given, so my flat is full of random wooden crap which my flatmates enormously resent and keep putting on my bed in the hope that I’ll get the hint and remove them from communal areas. I always try to sneak them back.
A lot of those feel like regrettable purchases, even though very few of them are things I’ve bought. There’s an ongoing debate at the moment about a fruit bowl my mum made out of a bird’s nest, which is technically too big to live in the place I’ve decided is its home. I’ve worked out that as long as it constantly has fruit in it, nobody can accuse it of taking up space for no reason, so I’m spending an enormous amount of money on fruit at the moment just to put off the inevitable day when I need to find a more suitable home for it.
The most regrettable things I’ve ever spent actual money on was during a six-month period where I kept buying 160gb iPod classics from eBay – because I’m obsessed with listening to music on obsolete formats – then either dropping them, losing them or finding out they were faulty to begin with, and having to buy another one. Got through about four.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
I’m sure I had crushes on celebrities before this, but they haven’t really stayed with me, but when I was about thirteen I developed a habit of listening to music with headphones in and lip-syncing along with it, watching my performance in the back of a CD (I guess I must have not owned a mirror? Bit weird).
I remember doing this along to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams once, and I’d been a big fan of Fleetwood Mac for a while, but didn’t know what they looked like, and when I was done lip-syncing I idly flipped through the sleeve notes of Rumours and saw what Stevie Nicks looked like and went bolt upright and fell totally in love. She looked quite a bit like a girl in my drama group that I really liked at the time, and I just thought she was amazing.
I started genuinely putting a lot of thought into how I could meet Stevie Nicks and make her fall in love with me. I think I must have thought Fleetwood Mac were a contemporary band or something, and not realised that the photos I was looking at were about 25 years old. Either that or I thought our love would be so strong it would transcend the quite large age-gap, which I think is very romantic and lovely of me.
Which TV show would you love to have been in, and which part?
Ah, tricky. The one that leapt to mind is that I think Murray in Flight Of The Conchords is one of the best comedy characters of all time, and I bet he’d be an absolute blast to play, but then when I thought about it, I think so much of what makes Murray great is the tiny little subtleties in Rhys Darby‘s performance, and it would probably do the character a real disservice to sever him from that performance, even if I was trying my best.
I think Peep Show is maybe the greatest sitcom of all time, and I think I could possibly have made a good Jez (I feel like a Mark, but I think my acting style is more Jez). And I think the TV show that would have been the most fun to be a part of would’ve been Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace; literally any character. Everybody must have been having the absolute time of their lives doing that. Sorry, I named three, that’s cheating.
What’s your favourite fact?
When caterpillars go into their chrysalises (chrysali?) to become butterflies, they don’t actually transform into butterflies. They dissolve into a sort of goo and then the cells of that goo reform into a butterfly, so the butterfly is essentially a new creature. The caterpillar basically dies and is rebuilt into something new. Creepy.
Even creepier – they have conducted experiments that prove that butterflies can remember things from when they were caterpillars. So even though the bodies and the organs of the caterpillar are broken down into a (presumably non-sentient?) goop, somehow memory still exists within that blob of cells.
I think this fact would be a good starting point for arguing for the existence of the soul, but people don’t seem to latch onto it as much as I think they should.
Ever gatecrashed anything interesting?
Well, it’s not really gatecrashing, because I was in there legitimately, but I did sneak my way into a situation I shouldn’t have been in. I was at the Groucho Club with my friend (her friend has a membership so we were just in there gawping at the rich people, it’s not somewhere we belong) and we noticed Michael Gove was just over there having dinner. We thought this was too good an opportunity to ignore and we had to take advantage of it and play some hilarious prank on Gove.
I’m often told I look like him and I thought maybe I could use that in the prank. So we went over to him and only as I drew level with him did I realise that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do and I was absolutely terrified. And then I heard myself saying “Hello, Mr Gove, I’m often told I look like you and I wondered if I could have a photo?” and he said yes, but to be subtle because you’re not allowed to take photos in the Groucho.
So my friend took a photo of me sat next to Michael Gove, then someone came over and got very angry and threw us out. And I was left with this horrible photo of me sat next to one of the most appalling people in the country, simpering like a fan and just sitting in my embarrassment that I failed to think of anything funny to do. He really does look like me, as well, so it looks like I’ve just gone out for a posh dinner with my dad.
Do you have a signature dance move?
I hate dancing, I find it very embarrassing, so not really. But that said, I do quite like dancing onstage because I feel like its inherent silliness and social embarrassment becomes a self-aware factor in it being quite fun.
So in 2015 I made a one-off show for Leicester Comedy Festival which was a staging of an ELO musical I wrote when I was 18, and came up with a big dance move which would be the show’s signature bit, just like how West Side Story and Billy Elliott and Stomp all conjure up specific movements in your head when you think of them.
It was called the Tumbler Shuffle, and it was going to be a move where all the Tumblers (a cool street gang who take Horace, God’s least-favourite nephew, under their wing) stand side-on to the audience, extend their arms in a Christ pose, put their feet together, turn their heads to look directly at the audience, lean back slightly so all their bodies are sort of at a 45 degree angle away from the audience (dunno how I expected them to do that) and then shuffle towards the audience in unison in several small hops.
Still think that would’ve looked great.