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Joz Norris


Chortle: Unforgettable Five

 By Steve Bennett in Chortle Posted on Saturday, July 27th, 2019
  • Chortle: Unforgettable Five

The biggest wake-up call I’ve ever had

Joz Norris recalls his most memorable gigs

First Gig

Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club at the Queen Charlotte, Norwich, while I was at uni.

I’d been writing comedy scripts for the student radio station and Jon Brittain [now a playwright and director] told me I’d be good at stand-up and I should come and do his gig sometime. I’d always wanted to write and perform, but with a view towards one day being in a sitcom or something, and had never really thought about doing stand-up, so I sat down to really figure out what I could possibly bring to the table as a stand-up comedian.

I remember thinking one thing I could do would be to buy a big bottle of Smirnoff Ice, empty it, fill it with Lilt then go onstage with it and down it, then tell the audience, ‘Don’t worry, it was only Lilt!’ Never actually did that, which I think we can all agree is a crying shame.

What I did do is wear a white linen suit, because I had this idea at the time that comedians should look smart, and when I got onstage I blanked and said ‘My socks have “Thursday” written on them, isn’t that great?’ and because the room was full of my friends that got a round of applause.

I think if 1984 ever came true my Room 101 would be full of videos of my first few gigs, and I would have to sit there and watch them and be made acutely aware of the fact that the amount of laughter and support I was getting, which was enthusiastic enough to make me keep going for long enough to actually become good, was wildly out of proportion with the quality of my performance.

Great gig, though. Absolutely smashed it.

Best gig

My actual best gig was a performance of my show in 2017, about halfway through the Fringe. I had Somebody Important in who I wanted to impress, so had heaped more significance onto that one performance than most of the others, and for whatever reason all the alchemy went right for it to be the best performance of that show I ever gave. I remember walking home and feeling like I was floating, which I had never felt after a gig before.

The one I always think of as my best gig, even though I know that show in 2017 was the best performance I’ve ever given and the best response I ever had, was a sold-out show in the main house of the Leicester Square Theatre in which the Weirdos collective put on a performance of a Harry Potter spoof show in which we all played grown-up versions of the characters whose adult lives were really boring (this was a year or so before Cursed Child did the same premise but with fewer gags).

I was playing Malfoy, and it just so happened that Weirdos founder Adam Larter had booked the show to be on my 27th birthday, and when he realised he decided to rejig the plot so everyone was meeting up for Malfoy’s birthday party.

This resulted in me singing Shake It Off to 450 people, then coming out of character and revealing it was my actual birthday and having ‘Happy Birthday’ sung back at me by more people than will ever sing it to me in my life, I imagine.

Gig that taught me the biggest lesson

I was booked to do warm-up for ITV’s rebooted Celebrity Squares, hosted by Warwick Davis, a few years ago.

I don’t know why they booked me to do it, it was an error of judgment on their part I think. The producers told me it was really easy, I just needed to chat to the audience, and they made me watch their regular guy do it for the first recording and he was so good that he did, indeed, make it look really easy.

When it was my turn I immediately slipped over on the shiny floor then got up and burst out laughing because I thought that was hilarious, and they all stared at me in silence.

Then I spoke to one woman and asked if she’d had a nice day and she said, ‘No, I’ve been visiting my mum, she’s very ill in hospital’ and I asked her how old her mum was and she said ’84’ and I said that was pretty good and then asked her what she did and she replied, ‘I don’t do anything, I’m disabled’ and then I said ‘Oh, right’ and then everyone was quiet for a few seconds.

Eventually Warwick Davis came out and told me I was sacked and everybody laughed, then the producers took me to one side and said, ‘You are actually sacked.’

I’ve told this story a lot but I’ve not often told what I did afterwards. Earlier that week I’d been talking to Sofie Hagen about the difference between mainstream comedy and alternative comedy, and why we need to label things like that as though presupposing what people will or won’t enjoy, and I was so humiliated and angry with myself after this gig that I texted her and vented a lot of spleen about how pathetic and sad it made me feel that it was so hard to make stuff that everybody could enjoy, that I’d tried to put myself in front of a different sort of audience to the one I’d usually cater for and they’d found absolutely nothing to enjoy about me and it had made me feel strangely worthless.

She sent a text back saying something along the lines of, ‘Stop trying to do things you’re not good at, and that you’re not meant to do. You’re not a mainstream entertainment person and you won’t ever be, you’re a very interesting artist so stop wasting your time and focus on the things you’re good at and the things you enjoy and the things you find fulfilling. You don’t need to impress Warwick Davis or the Celebrity Squares audience, and what’s more, you don’t really want to, so don’t waste their time either.’

That text was the biggest wake-up call I’ve ever had in this job.

Sometimes, when your natural ability steers more towards the alternative/independent end of the comedy spectrum, it’s easy to paint yourself as some sort of angry outsider who wishes the industry would tear itself down and rebuild itself around you, but that’s an appallingly selfish way of looking at things.

Different people are good at different things, and the longer you try to convince yourself you can be good at everything and please everybody, the more people’s time you’re wasting, especially your own. So you’ve got to do what you’re good at, and let other people do what they’re good at, and not worry so much about trying to impress everybody.

Most unusual location

Weirdos once took over a karaoke club in Leicester, where a different comedian would ‘host’ each booth while in character as a famous musician, and do skits and songs along with whoever came into the booth.

Adam Larter dressed as all the members of ABBA and was greeted in his booth by a big gang of middle-aged women who had an amazing time singing ABBA hits with him.

I was dressed as Prince and was sat waiting in my booth when the door opened and a large gang of lads with hair gel and jeans and shirts who had just done a lot of coke came in. I tried to say hello to them while in character as Prince and started singing When Doves Cry at them and one of them said, ‘What the fuck is this gay shit?’ and they all stared at me singing for a while, then one of them went over to the screen and said, ‘Let’s get something proper on and do some real singing, yeah?’ and then put on Angels by Robbie Williams. Absolutely one of my favourite gig memories ever.

Least welcome post-show comment

After a performance of my solo show in Edinburgh in 2017, somebody who was a bit drunk but not that drunk came up to me and said: ‘You’ve got an absolutely incredible comedy character there, mate. But you need some material.’

This was a stand-up show in which I performed as myself and told stories about my family, about performance and about social anxiety. I asked him to explain.

He said “The character is unbelievably brilliant. It’s one of the funniest comedy characters I’ve ever seen. But there was absolutely no material there.’

I explained that there was no character, that it was just me, and that I’d written quite a lot of material for the show. He sighed and shook his head and put a tenner in the bucket. ‘Keep the character,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to see you get rid of such a brilliant character. But you’ve absolutely got to come up with some material, yeah?’ then walked off. I think about this exchange, and what it could have meant, at least once a month.

My other favourite post-show comment was an audience member who came to see Roxy Dunn’s play Timmy, in which I played Tim last year.

The woman in question came up to me and said: ‘That was an absolutely fantastic performance. Are you autistic?’

I said no and she looked very impressed and said: ‘Really bold, interesting choice to play him autistic, and such a well-observed performance.’

I said I hadn’t realised I was playing him autistic, and she said: ‘Oh, believe me, that’s absolutely what you were doing,’ then left.

• Joz Norris is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad is on at Heroes @ The Hive, 16:40

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