Happy New Year! (A 2016 Retrospective, By Joz Norris)

January 1, 2017

Happy New Year everyone! Remember to just:

 

1. Work hard

2. Have fun

3. Be proud

4. Be yourselves

5. Resist the rise of fascism (A new entry this year)

 

And the rest will follow.

 

This post is Part 1 of a two-stage blog I do every New Year in which I look back on what I achieved (or, at the very least, did) in the previous year, then look ahead to outline my major goals and projects for the new year. I have no idea if anybody reads them or finds them interesting, and I'm aware it's a bit narcissistic to use the New Year to self-analyse and reflect on your own work and then publish it in a blog as if it's something that'll interest other people, but I always find it a very useful thought exercise to try and take a moment to be proud, or realistic, of what I've done, and to outline some specific goals for the future. It's also always fun looking back on last year's to see what things I've forgotten to do in the last twelve months. So, on the off-chance that's interesting to you, here it all is!

 

Side-note for 2016 - Obviously this year's had its fair share of disasters and frightening, worrying things. This blog is purely for me to reflect on work-related things, and on the whole I've been pretty proud of what I've done, so apologies in advance for what might be a fairly cheery, optimistic tone. I'm well aware a lot of things in the world went very wrong in 2016, and one of next year's goals is to try and do whatever can be done to tip the balance the other way, even if it just means small things like being kind to everyone. But that's a separate matter entirely.

 

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts and reflections on what I outlined as my goals and projects for 2016 this time last year. You can read my initial thoughts on them here.

 

1. More Festivals, Fewer Gigs - This time last year I started trying to think of myself less as a "comedian," or certainly less as a "stand-up comic" and more as a "maker of things," whether that be short films, webseries, solo comedy shows, scripts, etc. I was aware the club circuit, such as it is, was neither something I excelled at in my comedy writing, nor was it something I hugely aspired to, even though I love performing live. As such, one of my promises was to only gig when I was asked, which usually means I get invited to lots of innovative, exciting gigs or one-off happenings rather than proper clubs, and play more festivals instead, so that my performing this year mostly consisted of previews or performances of full shows. I certainly succeeded in not asking for any gigs this year, and still managed to perform regularly, and I feel much more comfortable and settled in delineating for myself that I prefer making full shows and taking them to people than trying to also keep my feet in the club side of things. I performed at festivals in Swansea, Leicester, Glasgow, Bath, Brighton, Belfast, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Latitude and had an amazing time at nearly all of them - I will certainly plan to return to all of them this year if I can (with the exception of Brighton, which, in my opinion, is too expensive to register for). I'm already booked in at Swansea, Leicester and Glasgow this year, so will hopefully be finding plenty more opportunities to play the festival circuit and take my shows round the country.

 

2. An Edinburgh Show Of Some Sort - It's funny to look back on last year's blog and see how ill-formed my ideas for an Edinburgh show were this time last year, considering I ended up making a show that was, I think, my best and most fully-realised yet. This time last year, it look like all I had planned was a vague mess of ideas and jokes, but it later took better form when I decided it would explore the death of my Grandad, and my relationship with Eleanor. I was really proud of the show, and lots of people really enjoyed it at the Fringe. My middle week there was my favourite week I've ever had at the Fringe, as it sold out for about a week solid and got loads of really lovely things said about it by lots of people who know what they're talking about in the comedy industry as a whole. The final week it slowed down a bit and, though a few press people said lovely things about it, most of the reviewers came in the first week when it was still a bit muddled and hadn't hit its stride yet, so most of the critical consensus was supportive and encouraging but not ecstatic, sadly. So, even though people were being really nice about it in that middle week and recommending it to lots of people, it sadly never crossed over into a critical hit or a "must-see" show or anything like that. But I was still immensely proud of the show and have been taking it round to a few festivals and theatres. The final performance (unless somebody else asks me to do it somewhere) is at the Bill Murray at the end of January.

 

3. Joz Norris's Breakfast Of Champions - This was my experimental one-off show for the Leicester Comedy Festival last year which, taking its cue from Alan Ayckbourne's House & Garden, was a one-man show performed in two venues at the same time. I was never quite sure what it was going to be - it was possible it would either be an incredibly tightly-plotted, carefully constructed technical triumph, or a bewildering mess. I worked out a few bits with Adam Larter and Marny Godden (thanks to both of them) to try and inject some structure into it but, predictably enough, it didn't quite end up being as coherent as I imagined, and quickly devolved into an anarchic, confusing hour of me running back and forth between two venues as Adam and Bob Slayer got naked and started moving the audience around between the two venues alongside me, and culminated with me playing clarinet to sixty people on the top deck of a bus while Bob ate an ice lolly. While the end results weren't exactly what I planned for, it was certainly a triumph in terms of trying to do something stupid and exciting that plays with form and structure, and I really enjoyed it. It may be an idea I return to one day as I think it's a funny premise I can do more with.

 

4. Little Rock Pictures - At the end of 2015 I released the first series of my webseries The Girl Whisperer, a collaboration with Ralf Little and Little Rock Pictures. It did really well and got loads of lovely feedback from lots of big comedy names, so we pressed on with a second series. Ralf was unavailable to collaborate on the second series directly, so the amazing Harriet Kemsley became the co-lead and I was in charge of writing duties myself. I was really proud of it and, even though I loved Series One, I felt I was able to push certain elements further towards my own sensibility this time, and make something gentler and sweeter that explored themes of friendship as well as looking at dating. The second series did ok, and again got lots of lovely feedback from comedy people, but didn't reach as wide an audience, so we're in the process of working out what we do next. It's difficult to know what the next stage is for these characters, but I love working with Little Rock, so whether it's more Girl Whisperer or whether we decide we're done with that project but might work together on a new thing, I hope there'll be more to come from me and Little Rock. I've also submitted The Girl Whisperer to a film festival in America that specialises in selecting online films and webseries so hopefully, if it gets accepted, then I might be able to send it off with a few award nominations or similar to its name, which would be a lovely way to round the project up.

 

5. Other Writing Projects - I outlined a few other writing projects last year that I wanted to move ahead with. One was a sitcom called Deathbed, which ended up being performed at the Soho Theatre as part of The Comedy Project in June. I was blown away by the amazing positive response it received, and it led to lots of exciting conversations with some lovely producers that I might perhaps be able to try and work with this year. Whether Deathbed itself is something that ever emerges in another form I don't know - it worked really well as a one-off pilot, but I struggled to ever work out how to spin it out into a longer-running sitcom, so maybe that will always remain as a lovely one-off performance that I'll always have very fond memories of, and at the very least it announced me as a writer to a few people that hopefully I can work with on other projects in the future. I also mentioned an animated sitcom called The Town which I was working on with Jon Brittain - sadly, we didn't make any progress on it this year, largely because Jon is insanely busy with loads of incredible projects (his wonderful play Rotterdam transferred to the West End this year, for one), but it's always there on the back-burner if we ever find time for it. I also mentioned Double Act, a film which, at the time, I was considering making with Matthew Highton. One year on, not only did we make and release Double Act online to lots of enthusiastic feedback, we then collaborated on a second film, Robert Johnson & The Devil Man, which has been filmed and is now in post-production for submission to festivals this year! So two of those writing projects achieved great results, even if the third was one we didn't really find time for.

 

6. Other Acting Projects - This was probably the one goal I made the least progress on this year. While I acted in a number of film projects initiated and written by myself, I hoped I might do a lot more comic acting in other people's film projects. I did a little bit, but perhaps less than I could have - I played the lead in a fun short film called Survival Badge, about a guy with a phobia of human contact who joins the Scouts, which is now playing at festivals, and thanks to my dear friend John Kearns I played a couple of very silly, fun little cameos in a couple of lovely projects - a sketch about urban loneliness for ITV2's topical sketch show @elevenish, in which I play a creepy neighbour/kidnapper, and a spoof lecture on money for Dave's online series The Dave Talks, in which I play a hopeless audience plant who sabotages John's lecture. That was about it for film acting outside my own this year, which is a shame as I could've pushed for more, but I did get to do lots of stage acting this year thanks to Chief Weirdo Adam, playing the role of Billy Teeth every day at the Fringe in his 80s business show Return On Investment, and at Christmas playing irritating wedding planner Wando in the 5th annual Weirdos Panto, My Big Fat Weirdos Christmas Wedding. I also got to play idiot folklorist Nathan Sullivan in Dave Pickering's improvised magical-realist mystery podcast The Family Tree, which I really loved.

 

7. Comedian's Cinema Club And ACMS - Both these collectives have trundled along in a lovely fashion this year. Comedian's Cinema Club played a few really fun, exciting one-off gigs such as Latitude, a couple of shows at Soho House, a show for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, and similar. We also had an enjoyable Edinburgh run (albeit a trickier one than usual as we were doing harrowing Oscar-winning films), and also appeared on BBC Radio 4's Film Programme to talk about Ghostbusters. ACMS continued to be its usual ridiculous, delightful self, both in its residency at the Stand during the Fringe, and in its new residency at Angel Comedy's Bill Murray pub. Even more excitingly, myself, Eleanor and Elf Lyons were officially hazed onto the ACMS Board, replacing the treacherous Josie Long, Bridget Christie and Tom Bell, who have all been exiled.

 

8. Things I Didn't Anticipate - As always, there's a few things that occurred work-wise this year that I didn't set out in January, but happened by surprise. One of the things I'm most surprised by, looking back, is that I didn't mention Weirdos last year. I think it might largely be because I was worried I was annoying Adam by always putting Weirdos in my plans of projects for the year, considering Weirdos is very much Adam's vision and his project, so maybe I didn't want to look like I was claiming ownership of it. But even so, 2016 was a big year for Weirdos, seeing the release of the collective's first ever online content in the form of the audio sitcom Jalapeno High and the webseries A Load Of Croc, and our biggest, most ambitious Panto ever, upgrading our venue from the Heroes Grotto to the main space of the Leicester Square Theatre. Here's to much more fun in 2017. The other big project I didn't see coming is an ongoing collaboration with the amazing What Larks! Productions, who got in touch after Edinburgh to see if we could work on some sort of autobiographical sitcom having enjoyed my show and some of my film work, and we're now in the continuing stages of trying to hammer something out. It's already the best thing I've written, I think, so I'm hugely grateful to Louise for her interest and enthusiasm and support and very excited about where we go next. The other big thing I didn't anticipate was mine and Bob's daft appearance on ITV's kangaroo court reality TV show Judge Rinder, in which I sued Bob to settle an old score. Most of the Judge Rinder viewers claimed we were awful and should be sacked as comedians. Most of the watching comedy fans claimed we were staging some sort of anrcho-punk performance art piece about truth and fiction that deconstructed the very nature of deconstructed comedy. I'm not really sure what it was, but it was a lot of fun. We're aiming for Couples Come Dine With Me next.

 

That's about it for this year's projects. The next blog will be setting out my goals and projects for next year!

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