January is generally a desolate wasteland of a month, with only colder weather, a break from booze and a tax deadline to look forward to. Bloody marvellous. But for those of us who enjoy a potter round second-hand shops on our free afternoons – which, in the comedy biz, is most afternoons – rich pickings are to be had, as people give away unwanted presents and great swathes of other interesting stuff in the great post-Christmas clear-out.
And so it’s the perfect month to launch an occasional feature in which we wander round just such a worthy establishment with an enthusiastic comedian, give them a tenner and see what weird and wonderful stuff they end up with. But we did wonder which act would turn up for this debut fixture, at our prearranged meeting point in Brixton, South London.
Hopefully that man would be Joz Norris, a wide-eyed jester who crops up regularly in these pages as he’s invariably up to something interesting, having evolved from prop act to comedy/drama guy to bloke-in-a-betting-ad to indie filmmaker. He recently resolved to give up live comedy altogether, in fact, then introduced a replacement: a weird-beardy freak called Mr Fruit Salad.
The show that’s emerged from that period – Joz Norris is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad – is popping up around the country over the next few weeks: at London’s Vault Festival on January 30, The Leicester Comedy Festival in February, Glasgow in March and Bath in April.
Thankfully, though, today turns out to be fruitless. It’s Norris who turns up outside the tube station, so we wander to the charity location he’s chosen: a huge shop that raises funds for the Chartwell Cancer Trust, which also has its own rather nice café next door. Canny selecting, it turns out.
The whole idea for this actually came about because Joz is a bit of a fiend for books and records – he’s a prog-rock head who gets through huge piles of books – but takes just a quick dip through those well-stocked sections in this store. Turns out he’s got a big unread heap of books at home already and “I never actually listen to vinyl,” he says, while delving deep into a box of it. “I just buy LPs that I already love, and put them on display.”
That LP search throws up no Norris favourites, so we wander off to the other side of the store, and a huge table of bric and – spoiler alert – brac. According to a friendly chap called Klaudie, behind the counter, this place has all-sorts going on.
There’s an artisanal furniture-upcycling pop-up store next door, the café next to that, and upstairs they run yoga classes; all for the charity, which supports cancer patients in South London and Kent. They even do some interesting stuff with robots, which is worth checking out: chartwellcancertrust.co.uk. Meanwhile, Norris is getting excited.
“I think I’m going to have to get these,” he says, holding up some remarkable cutlery. Now, Joz rarely uses props onstage anymore, but still has an eye for weird stuff (you wouldn’t be surprised if some of the items he picks up here end up in one of the short films he makes with fellow comics like Ed Aczel, Lucy Pearman and Matthew Highton). Purchases made, we retire to the Chartwell Trust’s Hygge-themed café for a couple of lattes and a natter. He’s pleased with the haul. His housemates might not be.
“I bought two ramekins, and the reason for that – we have about 25 ramekins in my flat, of various types, and we started collecting because you get them free with Goo puddings. Myself and two of my flatmates really like the free ramekins; the other one hates them, and is constantly trying to throw ramekins away. So it became a feud for a while.”
Those Goo ones do tend to slide around on top of each other, in an annoying fashion.
“They do. Then last year my grandma died, and we had to clear her house which was very sad, quite solemn; and I spent the whole thing collecting her ramekins, because she had loads. I think I was just giving myself a silly project, because it was so sad. So it became ‘I’ll get as many ramekins as possible because that’ll annoy my housemate.’ My grandma would probably be happy to know they’ve gone to a good place. So now I’ve bought two more, as it’s fun to keep filling the cupboard. And these stack, which helps.”
2. An enormous carved knife and fork
“I don’t know why I’ve got these: I feel they’re just for show, because they wouldn’t work, unless they’re for tossing salads. But they’ve also got these ornamental heads, which look hand-carved.
“I’ll probably get into trouble for buying them, because the living room is already full of wooden stuff that I’ve bought, been given or inherited. It’s a real weakness. Myself and Matthew Highton both bought matching wooden ducks, from a service station.
“I’m not a hoarder, because that’s a proper serious thing, but whenever I think about throwing something away, there’s always something that says ‘Ah, but it’s connected to that…’
“Actually maybe these are for feasts: you’ve got a lot of people round and you want to show off.”
3. An elaborate pole
“You don’t see an African Chieftain’s Stick in a regular shop. They said it was a King’s Stick but it says ‘Chieftain’. It’s got a bike bell, a torch, a bottle of liqueur, that the guy in the shop said was really lovely, and a funnel. The funnel has a plastic tube that goes down to the bottom of the stick which apparently is for pissing into, which I find odd. The rest of it is quite regal and impressive, but the funnel reduces its majesty.”
Perhaps it’s a Queen’s Stick?
“The shop manager said it’s for weeing surreptitiously. But I think if you undo your trousers and wee into a funnel attached to a stick, people are going to notice.”
It might be useful for camping, at night.
“Yeah, it’s got a bell, a torch, a liqueur – it’s for festivals! I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it – I can’t go out with it, it’s too eccentric. I find people who wear eccentricity out into the world like that quite grating, something that says ‘I’m unusual!’ I’ve got no time for them. But I wear Hawaiian shirts, so I suppose everyone’s got a thing. I’ve got a chieftain’s stick.
Who is Mr Fruit Salad?
Purchases safely re-bagged, we get onto the performance he may not be at. “It’s called Joz Norris is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad – I’m either retired, or dead, it doesn’t really matter. And I’ve been replaced by this guy – people now expect to see him, rather than me. Friends of mine have been doing that too, wondering which one is going to show up.”
That happened with Andy Kaufmann’s character…
“Tony Clifton, yeah – I was thinking this was pretty new, then I remembered him.”
That’s the first time it’s sounded slightly similar though: because other people sometimes played Clifton, so everyone was totally confused.
“What I quite like with Mr Fruit Salad, in a way it’s indebted to that Kaufman thing: ‘which is the performer and which is the persona?’ Except that it’s all rubbish. I like that idea of doing something that claims to be quite thoughtful and quite interested in what’s real and what’s not, but actually the way it manifests in the real world is rubbish and paper-thin.”
“I think everything I do, you imagine yourself to be one thing, but actually in the real world you’re probably quite a clumsy idiot. I kind of think he’s become the manifestation of that.”
Who is Mr Joz Norris?
Didn’t you stop doing live comedy for a while?
“I stopped for a bit, and tried to do films, and writing, and acting and things – I did a theatre show then, but it didn’t really go anywhere because I came to sort of associate it with that. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to go back to it.”
It sounds a bit like the film Inside Out – that core memory has gone blue.
“Yeah, when I came out of the bad place, that show felt part of it. So it’s easier to do a new thing. Get a beard!”
I got the impression that there’s a subtext to Mr Fruit Salad’s show too, though.
“There was a period where I was quite upset, and I tried to make a very sincere show about that. Then last Edinburgh I just tried to cobble things together and have fun, and because all that stuff was in my head it came out naturally.”
“Some bits I found really interesting came out of it, and stuff I thought was really funny. I think you make your best work not when you sit down and go ‘I’m going to make a really sincere show,’ but when you go ‘I’m just gonna give myself some space to do whatever I feel like doing.’ Then whatever comes out is very natural.”
And with that, we head out. Thank you, Joz Norris: enjoy your massive cutlery.