Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hi reader! My name’s Joz Norris.
Reader – Hi Joz, I am the reader. How’ve you been?
Me – Not bad, keeping on, keeping on.
Reader – I recently read a self-help book that said if you reply to the question “How’ve you been?” with “Not bad, keeping on, keeping on,” then you need to have a long, hard look at yourself and work on your self-esteem.
Me – Yeah, I read that book, too. Honestly, it’s one of the worst questions in the world and I have a panic attack every time somebody asks me it, especially if it’s someone I know well, because I absolutely do not know what to say to it.
Reader – So how have you been?
Me – Yeah, great, went to see Billy Joel at the weekend and been learning how to cook Moroccan pomegranate chicken.
Reader – There we go!
How would you describe your show?
I’m going to be completely honest – I’ve been doing a lot of these Q&As and I’m wary of just saying the same thing over and over. I saw Nick Cave last week (I know, I know, I’ve been going to see a lot of cool music) and he said he got so bored in interviews he would just make stuff up, and that led to an ugly rumour that there was a thing between him and Tori Amos. I don’t want to start any ugly rumours by making stuff up, but I do want to start changing up what I say, so I’m going to describe some specific moments from the show and the reader can piece them together. A man in a fake beard, sunglasses and a floppy hat takes a flower out of a vase, then puts it back in. A hand emerges from a trans-dimensional portal holding a banana. A cartoon character trips over a traffic cone. The Pink Floyd album Atom Heart Mother is sold in a disco auction.
Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
I’ve been doing it for 8 years now and I can’t think of any good reason to stop. It’s exhausting and can get stressful and draining, but it also focuses all your creative energies and enables you to live your entire life as a creative expression of what’s going on in your head – whatever trouble you go through, whatever ideas you have, you’ve always got somewhere to put them because you’re always looking to the next Fringe. It’s just such a wonderful creative opportunity. I tried to not do it last year because I was tired, then I was offered a role in a play and accepted it because I realised if I didn’t go I’d feel horribly left-out and sad.
What differentiates it from other festivals?
I guess just the length. There are plenty of other comedy festivals I love performing at, but it’s the only one that offers the opportunity to explore a show every day over a month-long period, and I think that intensity forces you to confront more things and open up more doors in your head than any other festival. I know some of the Australian festivals are equally marathon-like, but I’ve not done them and can’t speak for them, but certainly within the UK there’s nothing else that offers even half as much opportunity to really drill down into an idea and get to the bottom of it.
What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?
I think the Muppets opened up a door to silliness in my head when I was very small, and I love everything about them with my whole heart. Then Terry Pratchett made me fall in love with writing and with the imagination, and then Marion & Geoff and Alan Partridge made me fall in love with comedy. Since I was fourteen my goal for my entire life was to one day make something that made somebody else feel the same way the final shot of Marion & Geoff made me feel. Then things like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh made me fall in love with nonsense and mess and stupidity, and Peep Show just made me raise my game at how well comedy could tell an incredibly human, sad, ridiculous story.
I never really wanted to be a stand-up, I wanted to make comedy, and I guess the live circuit, specifically the Fringe, is a way of building up your ability and your self-belief and your repertoire of what you want to do in the hope of one day making that big thing.
If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?
I decided at eight years old I was going to be a writer, so I don’t know how far back I’d need to go in order to undo the track my life ended up being on. I didn’t know I would end up specifically in comedy until I started doing stand-up at uni, and before that I was also open to the idea of being a novelist, or a playwright, or an actor. If that’s too similar to what I actually do to count as a good answer, then I don’t know what to tell ya, really. I honestly think if I didn’t have my current job, I’d be trying to get it. I’d be doing this whatever. It’s what I do.
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Ah, now, this I do have an answer for. Clinical psychologist. Because of the above, I know I’m never going to end up doing anything with my life other than what I’m already doing, BUT in another life, in another reality, I think I’d love to be a clinical psychologist. I worked in the admin office of a clinic for children with OCD for a while, and I found it fascinating, and learned a lot about it, and I really enjoy reading about psychotherapy and counselling and so on. People’s inner lives fascinate me. The version of me that I actually am could never be disciplined and focused enough to actually be a good counsellor or psychologist or therapist, I’d be dreadful at it, but somewhere out there there’s a version of me that followed his interest in that and ended up doing that instead. I think I’d love it.
What is your earliest childhood art memory?
We had a huge print of Matisse’s The Snail in my house growing up, and it was also one of the first artworks we were shown in school. I think it really appeals to kids because it’s brightly coloured and, while it’s a fairly abstract work, it’s ultimately supposed to look like a snail, so it’s easy for a kid with zero understanding of art to look at it and think “Oh yeah, I see, it’s a snail, but fun and brightly coloured.” I wonder if a lot of my understanding of art came from that.
I think the more you understand and know about art, the harder it is for art to really speak to you, because you’re always trying to interrogate it or contextualise it or whatever, and the harder it is to just let it communicate itself to you. All my favourite art experiences have been the ones that felt the same as when I first saw The Snail, where I saw a thing and immediately felt something and went “Yep, that got me.”
Do you ever feel any pressure to be a social commentator, or constantly update material to respond to events?
Not at all, to be honest. The things that inform my work are interior worlds, really. I also find what’s going on in the world too depressing to know how to make it silly, and I find it weird when comedians are so certain that their opinion on what’s happening in the world is the right one that they decide to make it the centre of their act. It means the act inevitably only really works in front of audiences who already agree with you, and everyone gets stuck deeper and deeper in their entrenched beliefs, and I think that lack of nuance is a big reason for things getting worse in the world. I like the idea that comedy, and absurdity, and nonsense, is capable of appealing to a common humanity in people, so I just don’t have much interest in incorporating social commentary into the things I make.
Equally, do you think there has been a shift in public sentiment that has affected your work?
Well, that’s the flipside to the above – I think it would be wrong to say that silly nonsense cannot have a social impact, even if I consciously choose to not explore social or political things onstage. I think the world becoming a more polarised and frightening place has meant there is a greater hunger for kindness, and warmth. Going to see things that make us smile and make us laugh and make us wonder is a really important thing, because it does speak to that humanity within people and it makes them want to find that feeling more often in their lives, and maybe that has a ripple effect where the laughter and warmth from a show spills out into the street afterwards, and to the people that audience speaks to later that day. So yes, as the world has become a scarier place I have tried to make my shows dafter, kinder, gentler, warmer. I’m not a big fan of comedy that thrives on meanness or unpleasantness, I don’t think it’s useful.
Describe the last year in 5 words or less?
The world’s full of worms.
If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?
Jim Henson. Greatest genius of all time. Kindness and stupidity and wisdom and nonsense and anarchy and heart. Same Myers-Briggs type as me, as well, so we’d get on.
Why would a performer opt to do either a ticketed event or participate in the free fringe? What are the benefits and limitations of both?
The paid fringe does guarantee an infrastructure that makes it feel like you’re doing a proper show – nice theatrical venues, staff to help things run smoothly, all that sort of thing. But most of the paid venues are part of these big corporate engines that are overly concerned with profit margins and so on, so acts sometimes have to bankrupt themselves or do these ridiculous crowdfunding campaigns to even be there, and come home crippled with debt, and that kind of pressure has a huge impact on what sort of show you’re able to make, because it’s governed principally by stress, not by enjoyment.
The free fringe gives you total creative control and licence to do what you like, but sometimes it’s a bit of a crapshoot in terms of what sort of room you end up in, and that might diminish your sense of whether you’re really doing a show, or if you’re just a guy talking to people in a pub while they’re trying to have a drink (this was me in 2013). The Pay What You Want Fringe is the best of both worlds; more people need to be looking at what Heroes and Monkey Barrel are doing because it’s revolutionary.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?
Do it. Just do it. Don’t worry too much about trying to make it into a career, don’t worry about trying to schmooze the industry or find the best venue or grease the wheels of the press or whatever. Maybe eventually, when you’re brilliant, there’ll be time for all that. If you’re good enough, and truly believe in what you’re doing, then hopefully eventually all that will happen by itself anyway. But all you need to do is make a thing, and work hard on it, and care about it, and be proud of it. Nothing else matters in the slightest.
When and where can people see your show?
My solo show is at 16:40 at the Hive on Niddry Street. I’m also doing a double-act show with Ed Aczel called Ed & Joz’s Deleted Scenes which is at 20:40 at Dragonfly at the bottom of Grassmarket.
And where can people find, follow and like you online?
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JozNorris, you can visit my website www.joznorris.co.uk or you can like my Facebook Page JozNorrisComedy.