One handy benefit of being an actor/filmmaker as well as a comedian is that you can knock up some novel publicity for your upcoming Edinburgh show by making a proper trailer for it. That’s what Joz Norris has done for this Fringe, a fun short film starring his dad. But what of the show itself?
“The new show has a stupid long title and it’s sort of part-stand-up, part-storytelling, part-general-nonsense and part-conceptual-theatre, in that it involves me physically trapping myself inside a giant web for half an hour, then spending another half-hour trying to finish off all the points I was making while now trapped in the web I’ve built,” says Norris. “I think it’s a metaphor for something, but a smarter audience member than I will probably figure that out for themselves rather than have me shoving it down their throats.”
It’s always good to keep yourself busy in the between-gig downtimes, although much of Norris’ spare time in Edinburgh will be spent in other shows. As a board member, he’ll be performing at the multi-comic Alternative Comedy Memorial Society “as often as I can, and on the 19th I’m involved with Mark Watson‘s Festival Of Bad Ideas to help John-Luke Roberts stage the first ever live adaptation of Fukuyama’s The End Of History. Oh, and I play a stupid soothsayer in Adam Larter‘s show at The Hive.”
And post-Fringe? What’ll he be working on then? “Mostly new ideas for short films, online releases for films I made this year – a horror film with Lucy Pearman and a documentary with Ed Aczel – or scripts I’m trying to get off the ground and so on. I’ve given myself lots more to work on once all this has blown over, so I don’t end up twiddling my thumbs any time soon.”
The very thought. Now, back to an earlier, less-busy era.
I can’t remember if all of those guys were on that night, but I remember I went onstage and said “I’ve got socks with ‘Thursday’ written on them, how cool is that?” and got a massive laugh and a really extended round of applause, which says a lot about how easy those student audiences were to impress and how far out of control our egos got the more we performed there.
Favourite show, ever?
I think it was All Day Edinburgh this year – it’s not the biggest gig I’ve ever done, but it was a really lovely vibe, where dozens of brilliant comics come together for a day to raise money, so there was a lovely communal atmosphere and you got to see loads of amazing people sharing excellent ideas.
But mainly, I seemed to tap into something in myself that made me feel amazing onstage. I don’t know if it was objectively the funniest I’ve ever been, because I didn’t see it, I may well have been rubbish, but it was the funniest I’ve ever felt.
The fun thing to do with this question is give an example of a gig that went so spectacularly wrong that it becomes ludicrous, and funny, and stupid, but that would be dishonest. The most horrendous gigs are the ones where nothing remarkable happens at all other than that a large number of people just don’t find you at all funny for a long period of time.
My worst one of those was also this year, at the Chickenshed Theatre. I don’t know if I was objectively terrible, or they just didn’t take to me, or what it was, but I played to 20 minutes of silence, with the odd supportive laugh from the other acts at the back.
At the end I said “You’ve all been very kind and patient, and I’ve been here,” which is the sort of thing you say at the end of a bad gig to try and acknowledge it and claw back a bit of goodwill and maybe win some smiles from them for at least having some self-awareness but they just all nodded menacingly at me like they were thinking “Yes you HAVE been here. And we HAVE been patient.”
The weirdest gig?
Has to be the Malcolm Hardee Memorial Show. It was 10 years since his death, and there was a big audience consisting of all the regulars of the old Tunnel Club, and Terry Alderton pretending to be Hardee, and an amazing line-up of loads of really great exciting new absurdist comics.
And some of the acts smashed it, but lots of others (myself included) just got booed and heckled off long before they’d had a chance to really share their ideas, and I think the audience were more interested in recreating that anarchic spirit of the Tunnel Club than in actually watching most of the acts, but we had to figure that out for ourselves.
It meant lots of us got offstage having just been booed off and told to kill ourselves and thought “I’m not sure if I just had a horrible gig, or helped to pay the perfect tribute to Hardee’s memory.” It was all very odd, but he’d have liked that.
Who’s the most disagreeable comic/promoter/agent you’ve come across in the business, and why?
I’m not going to name specific people, but the people who wind me up are the careerists and the people who seem to think there is a system of how to ‘make it’ in comedy, and you have to game the system and tick all the right boxes to impress all the right people.
I always think you should just make work you’re proud of and that you think is interesting, then hopefully the interest and support of other people follows after. And even if it doesn’t, at least in the process of it you made something important that you liked.
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn’t?
No, there are dozens. The most recent one is an extended pitch for a road-trip caper movie about ZZ Top shaving off their beards and shaving their heads and then going undercover as Buddhist monks to escape all the tabloid attention that results from their new look.
There is a middle ground in the venn diagram of “Comedy Audiences” and “People Who Know Who ZZ Top Are And Can Picture Them Clearly Enough To Find This Image Funny” but it’s smaller than it needs to be for that idea to really take off.
What’s your best Fringe survival tip, for Edinburgh rookies?
Don’t get sucked in. I think there’s a myth that the best thing to do in Edinburgh is stay out late and drink loads because you’ll bump into loads of other comedians and industry people and you can sell your show to them.
But doing that makes you tired and ill, and it’s bad for your mental health because you’re constantly wrapped up in pursuit of buzz. So your enjoyment in your own show diminishes, and the whole thing becomes a slog.
The top, top, top priority is that every day you enjoy your show enough to perform it well and give that audience a good time, so do whatever needs to be done to make sure that happens every day. If that means staying in and going to bed early and eating proper meals, then absolutely do that.
The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?
There was a period where a lot of people who worked in the comedy press started joining in with an in-joke Adam Larter started within [comedy collective] Weirdos where my characters were always bullied by everybody else in the show, including the audience. The same joke has now spread to other collectives, including ACMS and beyond. I guess I have a really punchable face.
But there was a year or so where several reviews or bits of press coverage went out of their way to join in with it and call me names. Chortle called me an “exoskeletoned twat” when I played a lobster in 2015. Time Out called me a “jerk” while actively recommending my Edinburgh show in 2014.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I feel so honoured and proud that I get to perform for a living and I get so many opportunities to share my ideas with people, either live or on film.
In the last year or so I’ve realised the things I enjoy are making Fringe shows and making scripted film stuff – shorts, webseries, and so on – so I’m trying to focus more exclusively on those two things and consider myself less of a “gigging comedian.” And that’s made me feel much more confident and less competitive and happier with what I’m making.
I’ve got a bunch of film projects ticking away which I’m really enjoying, and while nobody’s falling over themselves to make any TV scripts of mine, people are more aware of my work and the sort of things I make and I keep getting opportunities to make more of it. And every time I do, whether it’s a new show or a new short or whatever, it’s always better than the last thing and that makes me so excited.