Foolishness, ferrets and failure: An interview with Joz Norris

Photo: @JozNorris

Ahead of his performance at our show this coming Monday, Joz Norris very kindly wrote lots of interesting things for us in an interview. It’ll appear in issue #3 of our fanzine, but in the interests of curtain-raising, here it is in full “online”. Why not print it out and carry it around with you?

Hello! How poorly have we explained the remit of our own night to you? 

I think it’s good when acts just get to figure out the remit of the night themselves. Make it a test of their intuition. I’ve been studying the marketing materials, and I think I get it. There’s an owl saying a pineapple is an alien, he’s got a mortarboard on, it’s all there if you look for it. I’ve got to say stuff is other stuff, and then graduate, right? Think I’ve got this in the bag.

In the unlikely event our readers haven’t heard of you, how would you describe yourself to a 47 year old marketing executive from Dunstable?

Depends on the context. Is this at a party? I get quite shy at parties. I usually hide in the corner with the people I already know, and if I end up talking to a stranger I’d just mumble something like “I do comedy stuff” then move the conversation on.

But I guess if it was more of a work meeting, like maybe this marketing executive is someone I need to impress so they can do the marketing for my new show, I’d say something about how I try to avoid labels like “comedian” or “writer” or “artist” but that I try to make stuff – films, live shows, radio programmes – that explore the spaces in-between comedy and something more unusual and conceptual, and that use absurdism as a way of looking at what it means to be human. You can’t talk like that at parties, though, you’d be rightly shunned.

Can you think of something particularly factually inaccurate that you believed for a long time? For example I was today years old when I learned going swimming with a cold sore won’t cause a herpes epidemic.

Thought ferrets were essentially manticores until I was 8. My brother gave everyone in our family animal-themed spy code names and mine was “Ferret” and I’d never heard of one so he told me it had the body of a lion, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion.

I believed that for about four years then went to a village fete with my dad and saw a sign for ferret racing and lost my mind, and insisted we go and watch it, and was utterly heartbroken to see the little pipes the ferrets were going to run through. Felt the ground give out from beneath my feet.

Picture the scene. It’s midnight, you’re very tired, and you’re told you have to write a 1980s style choose your own adventure book lest be imprisoned forever. What would yours be about?

I like the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure book where you, the reader, are put in the position of a Rumpelstiltskin-esque character. You have to travel across the kingdom finding people to trick, and if the kingdom at large learns your name you lose.

So you’d have some sort of Notoriety score, where the more outlandish deeds you do, the closer you come to having your name discovered, so you’ve got to tread the line between doing enough pranks and japes to make your fortune, but while keeping to the shadows so people don’t find out who you are. Like a Splinter Cell video game, but you’re Rumpelstilstkin.

You wrote in an interview somewhere that being funny in front of other people is a “doomed enterprise” and this made me cry a bit. Could you expand on this a little, as I think I know what you mean but I suspect I am not as comfortable with the beauty of failure as you are.

Did I??? What a weird thing to say [1]. It sounds like the sort of radical opinion you pretend to have when you haven’t quite figured out your personality yet, and I think a lot of my attitudes to art and comedy and making stuff have shifted a lot in the years since I said that.

I think basically, yes, my understanding of comedy is that it’s got a lot to do with failure, with getting stuff wrong, with messing up, with falling down, trying again, continuing to believe in yourself even when everything you do ends in disaster (though comedy shouldn’t glorify shitty behaviour – I’m talking about glorifying disaster the way the Muppets do, not the way some narcissistic stand-ups try to use comedy as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for their own bad behaviour).

It’s a celebration of the fact that being human is to mess up, to be an idiot, to contradict yourself, to embarrass yourself, that if we can embrace those parts of ourselves and be as proud of them as we are of our achievements and our strengths, then we can finally be a whole, complete, real person.

Writing off the idea of comedy as a “doomed enterprise” sounds like it was an overly posturing attempt to try and make that point, but ultimately, I think the best comedy is the stuff where you find yourself watching some utter fool taking real delight in their foolishness, because it makes you as an audience member feel heard and understood and think “Maybe it’s ok that I’m foolish too.”

I’m a latecomer to performing comedy, doing it for the first time at 39 and realising very quickly that I’m much happier and less nervous on stage than off it. As someone who’s always wanted to do this, can you empathise? 

Absolutely yes. I wouldn’t say that I’m happier onstage – it’s sort of a different kind of happiness, where I can take pleasure in being ridiculous and big and over-the-top, whereas offstage most of my pleasure actually comes from quite small stuff, like walks and music and jigsaw puzzles.

But nervousness, yes, definitely. I often meet people who know me initially through my stuff onstage and I think it always takes them a while to recalibrate to my offstage personality, which is quite nervous and thoughtful and quiet. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, maybe I should get better at moving the two sides of myself so they’re closer together, but personally I quite like having a place where I can go and let go of nervousness and just enjoy exploring those other bits of myself for a while.

You’re working on a new sitcom for Radio 4 called Dream Factory. Could you tell us a bit about that?

I’d love to! I won’t spill too many beans, because at some point we’ll probably try to do more of a press-y announcement about it, once we’ve got the cast pinned down and all that kind of thing, so I’ll only spill a couple of beans for now if that’s ok. But essentially, it comes off the back of a comedy special I made for Radio 4 earlier this year that was set inside my own head, where various weird sketches and characters popped up representing my inner monologue.

Steve Doherty, my wonderful radio producer, and I, came up with a story idea that would enable us to do a similar thing while telling a fun, original story, so it’s about a Dream Delivery Boy working for the Dream Factory, where all the dreams come from. It’ll be out next summer, I think, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

For some reason I’ve just remembered Adrian Mole’s mum saying “There’s only one thing worse than hearing about people’s dreams, and that’s hearing about other people’s problems”. This isn’t true, is it?

Funnily enough, I saw the amazing Liam Williams tweet about this the other day. He said he never understands people who say other people’s dreams are boring and that basically if you think that what you’re really saying is that you’re not very interested in other people. You get to peek into someone else’s psyche for a bit, and that’s fascinating.

Also, yeah, sometimes they’re just a bit boring, but if you talk to people enough about their dreams, a lot of them are incredibly funny. People’s subconscious-es (is that a word?) come up with some really great absurdist left-turns sometimes.

Other than the aforementioned dreams show, are there any other projects in the pipeline you can or indeed want to tell us about? It’s fine, this is a safe space; we’re a fictional owl.

I’m starting to work on a new live show called Blink with my director Alex Hardy and my creative companion/collaborator Ben Target with a little bit of help from Soho Theatre, which I hope I’ll take to the Edinburgh Fringe next year, so watch this space for more of that. My girlfriend Miranda Holms and I are also making a new Joz Norris Sexy Calendar for 2022, which you’ll be able to preorder soon.

Joz with last year’s edition. Photo: @JozNorris

She designed, photographed and edited the first one kind of as a joke project to raise some money for the amazing charity Turn2Us, and it actually sold surprisingly well and lots of people wanted another one, so we’re making another this time as a fundraiser for some of our creative projects next year. So if you like parodies of classic pin-up design, that’ll be coming out fairly soon.

That’s it! Please end this by giving us an extremely wise piece of advice that will change our lives for the better.

The two most important things you can do is to pay attention to what your curiosity moves towards, and where your enjoyment comes from. Pay attention to how your body feels after you see someone or do something, and pay attention to where your brain goes when you’re walking by yourself or listening to music or looking out of the window. Let those two things be the poles you move between.

Joz Norris performs at Factually Inaccurate Stand-Up at Hoopla at The Miller on Monday 13th September 2021, alongside Eleanor Morton and Richard Vranch. Tickets are here.

You can follow Joz on Twitter @JozNorris or go to his website to find out all the lovely stuff he’s up to.

[1] Editor’s note: I asked this question poorly. In the interview I’m referring to Joz is very thoughtful and interesting, certainly not performative or flippant – you can read his full answer here.

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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