Happy New Year! (A 2017 Retrospective, By Joz Norris)
It's New Year and that means it's the one time of year I give over to public acts of staring into my own belly-button looking for meaning in there (an image I can't take credit for, Bruce Springsteen said it and I thought it was wonderful). Every New Year I post a two-stage blog, one looking back at the career targets I set myself in last year's blog and assessing how well I managed to achieve them; and one looking forward at the year to come and setting myself some career targets to look back on in a year's time.
I'll be completely honest - I'm particularly aware today of the self-indulgence and pointlessness of this task, just as I am every year. As I type this I'm sat on a train from Edinburgh to London which is delayed because somebody's been hit by a train just south of Wallyford. And sadly, my festive season this year is ending on a slightly sad note due to a family issue which I'm a bit upset about this New Year. The career goals I set for myself a year ago feel a bit less important than everything else in the world, all things considered. But, all sermonising aside, this is a little checklist I set myself every year which I find really helpful from an organisational perspective, and I'm gonna be on this train for a long time, so I may as well get stuck into it. Plus, I'm happy to find, reading back on last year's blog, that I did pretty well this year with a lot of my goals, so I'm going to try not to let the rather sad mood my year is ending in affect my positivity about a good year too much. So here we are, here's my thoughts on the things I outlined in my blog last year, which you can read here:
1. Please Be Normal. This is a sitcom about social anxiety and technology addiction that I started writing for What Larks! Productions last October and have been slowly nudging ahead with ever since. This year they officially optioned the script, which is the first option I've ever got and felt like a big achievement, and it was pitched to Channel 4. As I mentioned in a previous news update here, the people at Channel 4 really liked it, but eventually passed on it as it was a bit too similar to another pilot they'd recently commissioned. I thought that might potentially be a quiet end to the project and that I might have to shelve it and just be proud of the progress it made, but in the autumn myself and the amazing team at What Larks! have done some more work on it and we're now in talks with some other broadcasters about a slightly reconfigured version of it to try and make it work in a slightly different format. As ever with development stuff, it might be another whole year before this sees the light of day, or it might never happen, or it might get commissioned and produced and made sometime in 2018, who knows? One way or the other, I'm really proud that we kept working on this script in 2017 and got such amazing feedback from commissioners on it, and are continuing to find potential homes for it and give it our all as a team. It remains the best sitcom concept and collection of characters I've ever developed, and one of the best scripts I've written, and I'm so proud of it.
2. Look At Me, Don't Look At Me. It didn't end up being called this (I ended up opting for the more ridiculous, albeit slightly self-sabotaging, title The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!!), but this was my new live show this year. It ended up being probably, from an objective standpoint, my most successful show yet - nice busy audiences all through its Edinburgh run, save for the odd quiet show, mostly really lovely audience feedback (including a couple of performances I enjoyed so much they rank among my favourite Fringe performances ever), the best critical response I've ever had to a show (a couple of rave reviews and a few more really lovely ones, and a little nod from the Guardian in a Comedy Picks of the Fringe feature), plus some nice feedback from comedy heroes like Daniel Kitson. Also, at the end of the Fringe, the show was acquired and filmed by comedy streaming platform NextUp, and is now available as a professionally filmed special on their service and on Amazon Prime, which seems to have introduced it to a wider audience worldwide.
3. Hello, Goodbye. My Fringe show from last year, which I officially wrapped up and put to bed at the start of 2017. I performed it two final times, once at the Oxford Playhouse and one delightful final performance at the Bill Murray, which I filmed and edited myself (a useful crash-course in home-editing a live video! I don't think I did too awful a job on it) and put out online to some really lovely responses from people. It wasn't as objectively successful in commercial or critical terms as this year's show, but I still have an enormous fondness for this show and think in the long run it'll probably end up being my favourite show I did. I'm really glad both of them are out there for people to see, albeit on different platforms, as I think together they represent my best live work so far.
4. Other TV & Online Projects. Probably the field of work of which I'm proudest this year is how well all my development work for TV and online projects has gone. A couple of years ago I started to move away in my head from thinking of myself as a "comedian" and trying to free myself of the pressure to gig as being a professional gigging comic didn't feel like a desirable end-goal for me. Instead I tried to shift my focus onto scripted TV or online projects I started to develop as I knew my own comic ideas come across better in films or scripts than they necessarily do in live routines. Happily enough, it seems like various comedy producers agreed with me on that front, as I now find myself working on seven different projects with different producers who approached me over the year to ask about working on something together (more on those in the next blog). Regarding the two specific projects I mentioned last year, Ed Aczel and I developed, wrote, produced, shot, edited, made and distributed our anti-documentary spoof In Search Of Something this year with director Jonathan Brooks (you can watch it here) to some lovely responses from producers and the comedy press, and it's led to some exciting new projects. And the daft sitcom I mentioned about a time-travelling private detective has gone completely dormant, sadly. I tried to interest a few producers in it but the general response was that it was a bit "too idiosyncratic for an unknown writer," which is fair enough. Maybe one day it'll have its day. Like I say, I made enough progress in this field in general in new, unexpected ways to not feel too bad about that one specific project falling by the wayside.
5. Highton-Norris Films. I'm enormously proud of the two short films I made with Matthew Highton, though due to both being overloaded with a whole bunch of projects throughout 2017 we didn't make quite as much progress on organising ourselves as a filmmaking "brand" this year as we might have hoped a year ago. Our second film, a sort of gentle supernatural comedy about the Devil called Robert Johnson & The Devil Man, was screened to some really enthusiastic responses at the start of the year, and was released online by Turtle Canyon in the summer (you can watch it here). We had plans to make a third this year (the idea for it is loosely about copyright infringement and identity), but didn't get round to it. Fingers crossed we'll have clearer diaries at the same time in 2018 and get the third in the trilogy out!
6. Other Independent Film Ideas. I did make quite a few independent films this year, although, amusingly enough, the two I specified in last year's blog didn't happen. The silent short about a living statue never materialised as the producer ended up snowed under with other projects and unable to get the ball rolling on the anthology it was supposed to be a part of, but I'm hoping to revisit the living statue premise for another short this year. And the sitcom about stock photos that me, Sam Nicoresti and Lottie Bowater wanted to make hasn't materialised, but mostly because the three of us ended up absorbing all our energies into a different idea, a short Gothic horror thing called The Baby that me and Lucy Pearman had devised. This film took the best part of a year to emerge as we were all so busy and because it was such a strange project it took us a while to get our heads around what it was. It was screened publicly for the first time recently and is truly stunning and unnerving and brilliant, and I think really benefited from the time we took over it. Over the course of the year I also made a few more well-received online shorts or sketches, including the tragicomic World's Worst Ghost Walk (here), and the truly horrifying How To Draw An Elephant (here), another collaboration with Matt; and I became part of the regular writing team and cast for the absurd satirical talking-heads series Apoca Lips from producer Alex Hardy.
7. Weirdos, Cinema Club & ACMS. As ever, these have remained a delightful bunch of collectives with which to fool about with exciting and unusual ideas. All three of them are my favourite creative playgrounds for developing live work and consist of just the most brilliant collection of creative minds. With Weirdos I played a role in a number of Adam Larter's new stupid projects this year, from playing the Texan president of English Heritage in the one-off charity spectacular Live From Stonehenge to playing a little cameo and helping out with Adam's solo show L'Art Nouveau at the Fringe, to playing one-antlered moose Trent in the over-the-top extravaganza-on-ice The Battle For Icetopia at a sold-out Alexandra Palace Ice Rink (a project which, I confess, I was worried we wouldn't be able to pull off, and which proved wrong all my most cynical fears. I will never again forget how glorious Adam's imagination is). Cinema Club's residency at Top Secret Comedy Club was a bit tricky to get off the ground this year, but we're having a ball now at our new new residency back at Aces & Eights, and I also enjoyed doing a bunch of podcasts with CCC this year and some really fun, memorable one-off shows including Aladdin at the Underbelly South Bank and Jaws at the Royal Albert Hall. And ACMS remains a monthly stupid opportunity to push my own persona as "irritating thorn in everyone's side" in amusing new directions. I also got to be a part of ACMS co-host John-Luke Roberts' live adaptation of Francis Fukuyama's The End Of History for Mark Watson's Festival of Bad Ideas at the Fringe this year, a show for which I ate an entire pineapple including the skin while playing Brian Eno's Apollo album to represent the weakness of strong states.
8. Acting! I put this on the list every year in the hope that one of these days I'll land a plum role in a big TV sitcom, but the trouble with setting acting goals rather than creative ones is that the whole acting business is largely out of your control. I've auditioned for some great shows this year, but sadly not been right for any of the TV or radio roles I've been considered for yet, but never mind. It's a waiting game really, eventually the right role will come along, and maybe it'll be next year! Still, I was called in to audition for some really great shows by some writers I really admire, I filmed a brief cameo role in Harriet Kemsley and Bobby Mair's Viceland sitcom Bobby & Harriet Get Married (cut from the final version, sadly, but I think I'm in the background in an attention-seeking suit at one point), and I filmed a few other roles in some sketches and short films for other production companies including The Hook and Boondoggle among others, and I continued to play my regular role of Nathan Sullivan in the ongoing mystery drama podcast The Family Tree. So I at least kept my toe in the acting waters.
9. A Promise. I promised myself last year to always remember that what I am doing now is what I always wanted to do, and to try not to approach my creative work as some sort of showreel or audition to impress far-off, elusive industry professionals who might be judging my every move. That whole attitude, which it's easy to have to your own work, is a bit of a fantasy really, and I think the key to making good work is just making things you're proud of and think are good. A big part of this was my letting go of that part of me that thought of myself as a "stand-up comedian" and trying harder to write scripts and treatments and films, and to make independent films and sketches and so on. As I say, my audiences and collaborators seem to have responded positively to that so I think I've managed to broadly keep this promise despite the odd descent into the whole "Oh please love me" way of thinking that it's easy to lapse into during the Fringe.
10. Things I Didn't Expect. Like I said before, several producers I'd not worked with before approached me over the last year asking me to work on really exciting ideas which I'm now hugely enthused about pushing ahead with over the next year, which was really gratifying and exciting. I also played clarinet (remotely, via a pre-recorded track) in a support slot for Wheatus at the Isle of Wight Festival as an absent member of the band Laminate Everything, and my webseries The Girl Whisperer, which I'd considered pretty much consigned to the past now, became an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Webseries Festival and I was nominated for awards for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Lead Actor. Finally, I contributed to the work-in-progress shows and backstage documentary for Ben Target and Pope Lonergan's fascinating Care Home Tour project, which you can read about here. And my personal highlight of the year was being best man at my brother's wedding. Big shout-out to Barney and Charlie, and lots of love. xx