Happy New Year! (A 2019 Retrospective, By Joz Norris)
I know everybody's feeds are full of this sort of thing at the moment, what with the whole "End of a decade" thing, and I always feel a bit embarrassed posting these blogs at the fact that I imagine anybody else might be interested in them. But hey, I do this every year and always find it a useful opportunity to set targets and take stock, and I suppose that if you're on this page reading this it's because you DO have some interest in it, so I should stop second-guessing everything and just get on with it.
So, every New Year I write a 2-part blog, the first part of which looks back on last year's blog and assesses what progress I made on the various goals I set for myself. Part 2 sets a bunch of goals to look back on this time next year. So here's how I did in 2019 compared to my stated intentions, which you can read back here.
1. TV, Radio & Development Stuff. My biggest goal this year was to make more progress with the TV, online and radio projects I was developing and pitching at the start of the year in the hope that something might actually get commissioned. Of the five specific projects I hinted at, four have now been shelved or just fallen out of my brain, and one is Job Pig, the mid-form thing about the gig economy which had a rehearsed reading at Soho Theatre back in March. That script I really, really love and is still being pitched to a couple of places, and if it doesn't work out I may well try to fund it and film it as a taster myself, because I'm extremely proud of it and would love it to exist somewhere rather than just putting it in a drawer. BUT I've also been developing and pitching a bunch of other new ideas over the course of the year, all of which have been gradually going somewhere, and most excitingly, I have recently been commissioned to make a thing by a broadcaster, which was my big goal for this entry last year. I'm not allowed to say what it is yet (maybe even this is too much??!) but I'll reveal it all soon and it's very exciting to go into 2020 with a specific project I know I need to get made. Hopefully that one might lead to some of the other pitches nudging forwards a bit too, but we'll see. Overall, I'm really happy with how this one turned out.
2. Ed & Joz. I was also developing and pitching a bunch of stuff with Ed Aczel at the start of the year, and I think we had hopes that our pilot/taster thing, Ed & Joz's Heist Movie (which you can watch here!) might be a big step towards making something together on a bigger scale. Sadly, as happens with these things, the producer of the Heist Movie changed jobs and the rest of the team at Tiger Aspect weren't sure where to go with it so, while I'm immensely proud of it and enormously indebted to all the people at Tiger Aspect who helped us make it, it's ended up being a bit of a one-and-done thing rather than leading to a big commission or anything. But still, the fact we got to make it and release it as a really good showcase of the kind of thing we wanted to make together means a lot, and this year we're going to come up with some other things we can pitch off the back of it so that it's still been a valuable project. We also made a double-act sketch-show this year which we took to the Fringe and, while on some days it utterly baffled people, in general it was such a huge amount of fun, and I honestly enjoyed performing it every day more than my solo show because I got to stand next to Ed and watch him being the funniest person in the world and just join in with the silliness of it all. I loved it.
3. Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad. This was the big one, and it was honestly a big surprise that it ended up being the big one. I think I went into 2019 thinking that it would be good to make another live show to gradually rebuild my confidence with live performance, and that the show would be a good way to keep in contact with my live audience, but that it would be my secondary focus after my scriptwriting and development stuff. The show ended up being the most successful thing I've ever done, and I think really pushed me forwards on the comedy scene. It wasn't the biggest hit in the world, obviously, but it played at a bunch of festivals I really enjoyed (especially Glasgow and ARGComFest), pretty much sold out its entire Fringe run, won the Comedians' Choice Award for Best Show, was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, was longlisted for the Edinburgh Comedy Award (nobody publishes the longlist and it's ultimately meaningless unless you're shortlisted, but I have it on good authority I was in the running and it's the biggest award in live comedy, so I'm owning it as an achievement), and transferred to a run at the Soho Theatre which was then extended because of popular demand. It's also led to a lot of really exciting things, which I might touch on later. All of this was an overwhelming surprise and an honour and I didn't see it coming and I'm still taking it in really.
4. The Mr Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes. From the biggest success of the year to one of two big disappointments. I had this idea for a podcast well over a year ago now, and I wanted it to do something very unusual and different with the podcast format, and be quite strange and disorinting and unusual while also being very silly and imaginative and fun. I've even recorded a fair bit of material for it with the incredible Alison Thea-Skot and genius producers Elise Bramich and Louis Brennan. Unfortunately, I've really struggled with it as an idea. I think when I dabble in experimental film, I understand the language of visual storytelling enough to get the idea out of my head and forge a rough approximation of what I want, that I can then tinker with. Audio stuff and podcasting and so on is such unusual territory for me that I just have no idea how to begin when it comes to assembling the material into a shape that does justice to what I want it to be in my head, especially when what I want this project to do is to take a shape and then consciously subvert and disintegrate its own shape. I've officially shelved it for now, and I hope that perhaps when me and Elise and Louis all have the time for it it's something we can put our heads together with again, as it's territory I really struggle with on my own. It might be that I need to get to grips with making some more conventional audio/podcast-type stuff before I can feel confident making something so strange, so maybe this will go back onto my list of projects in another year or so.
5. A Big Short Film Project. This was my other big disappointment - last year I wrote a short film with the amazing Emily Richards and wanted to make it this year as a more high-effort, high-profile short to submit to festivals and maybe pave the way towards securing funding for a bigger feature or something. It was going to be the first steps towards a big, long-gestating passion project, I think, and I really loved the story we'd come up with together. Unfortunately, the deeper we got into it, the more we realised that some key story elements just weren't working, and things began to emerge in the development of it that seemed to suggest that any finished version of the film we succeeded in making would involve elements that either me, Emily or the director wouldn't have been happy with. Ultimately, rather than make something that one or the other of us felt compromised on, and risk a bunch of good friendships and working relationships, we decided to abandon the project. It's a great shame, as I still believe there were ideas in there which could have made a great film, but I'm happy I put my friendships before my need to get this made, and when I shelved it I specifically told myself to put more energy and focus into my live show to make up for it, and that ended up going pretty well, so I can make my peace with this.
6. Other Independent Film/Online Projects. Yep, did lots of these. I've just noticed how much I'm rambling on in this blog, so I'll just say yeah, I did loads of these. I recently did a thread including every bit of independent online content I made or contributed to this year that's still available to watch or listen to, so have a browse through that if you like! Big shout-out to Matthew Highton in particular, who was my main collaborator for maybe a good half of the things I made this year.
7. Weirdos & ACMS. As ever, had an awful lot of fun with these collectives this year. ACMS remains one of my favourite regular playgrounds to try out a dumb idea, even though I wasn't very good at staying up late for their Edinburgh run and only appeared at a handful of them. I also had a great time being part of the ACMS Lord of the Rings panto in December. As for Weirdos, we put on three very stupid late-night shows at the Fringe and closed out the year on our first big panto since 2016 at the Bloomsbury Theatre, which raised nearly £5000 for Great Ormond Street and which culminated in Weirdo stalwart William Lee proposing to his girlfriend Dee live onstage in front of a few hundred people, which honestly made my year.
8. Acting??!!?! Did a little bit of acting this year. As ever, most of it was in my own projects, but I did a handful of things for other people - I played a couple of guest roles in some sketches for BBC Three's Blindboy Undestroys The World, which you can watch here, though you'll notice I'm not in it as all the sketches I was in have been cut. Still fun being part of it, though. I also did a couple more BBC Three Quickies with the great Ben Sutton, played a role in a sitcom pilot taster by Sasha Ellen and Bennet Kavanagh, and maybe did something else as well. Can't remember.
9. A New Way Of Working/Interesting Live Projects. This was an interesting goal. Reading it back, I think it's a product of the fact that last year was tough and destroyed my confidence, so I was promising to not put myself in situations that hurt my confidence, which is a sensible, self-preserving goal. However, after the success of my Fringe show I started being booked for a few more high-profile gigs by big promoters, which I'm unused to and sounds like exactly the sort of thing I was promising to do less of in that blog post last year. To my surprise, they went really well. I think I realised this year that, while a lot of what I do doesn't translate to a broad mainstream audience, sometimes my self-confidence means I don't even try to put myself forward for things I might be good at, and it's nice to get to the end of the year and realise that I'm actually capable of things I previously thought were beyond me. I still stand by what I said last year about how I want to go about making shows, though, and it's how I made this year's show and it's how I'll make next year's.
10. Things I Didn't Expect. There's not a huge amount to add in this one, really, that I haven't already hinted at above. Obviously so much happened as a result of the show that I didn't expect - I was invited as a guest onto Stu Goldsmith's amazing Comedians' Comedian Podcast and onto BBC Radio 4 Extra's The Comedy Club Interviews, and things like that; and as I said it also led to a bit of a shift in the sort of gigs I get asked to do now, and that's all really lovely. But I think what I've said here pretty much covers everything this year, with the exception of the fact that I now co-host a weekly radio show with my dear pal Matt Highton on Resonance FM, which I didn't know would happen this time last year. That's been a real delight, and I'm excited to start it up again next week!
And that's it! Onto Part 2 for setting next year's goals...