We asked our NextUp members to come up with some questions for stand-up comedian Joz Norris, and here are his beautifully detailed answers. *Please note that NextUp may receive a small percentage of any revenue generated by any sales of turtle-necks, anywhere, forever.
1. If you were to start a cult, what would it be called and what would its top three commandments be?
I think I struggle with my ego a lot as it is, and making a cult is ultimately always quite a selfish thing to do, so I would need my cult to at least TRY to disguise the fact that it was secretly all about me. So it would be called something like “Precious Friends Getting Out Of The House And Giving Their Love To One And All” and two of the top commandments would be along the lines of “Don’t forget to have a good time!” and “Nurture something every day – a friendship, a plant, anything! – and you will really be nurturing yourself” but the third commandment would be “Isn’t the cult leader handsome? Get him a Dr. Pepper.”
2. Who would be your double-act partner if you could choose anyone (alive or dead) and why?
Does Gonzo from the Muppets count as a comedian? Technically, Fozzie is a comedian and Gonzo is a sort of performance-artist/stuntman, so I think he can be my answer. But yeah, I would 100% do a double-act with Gonzo. He’s the most famous person I can think of who I reckon feels the same way about life as I do, though I’m sure everybody who grew up watching the Muppets and felt a bit lonely and a bit weird thinks that.
There’s that bit in the 2011 film where Walter says to Gonzo “When I was a kid I saw you drive your motorbike through a flaming hoop while reciting Hamlet and it made me feel like I could do anything,” and every time I see that I burst into tears.
3. What’s your best tip for budding comedians?
Make sure you’re not doing this because you’re trying to get somewhere. Make sure you’re doing it because, right now, there is nothing else you want to do, or even CAN do. Make sure you’re doing it because there’s something inside you that you can’t put your finger on or express, an itch that only gets scratched when you do this. If you feel like that, and you keep following that feeling, you’ll probably become brilliant.
4. If you could change something about the comedy industry what would it be?
For me the great dream has always been that one day I wanted to make my own TV sitcom. These days I’m closer to that goal so I have a better understanding of how that process works, and I’ve had some ideas rejected for not being clear enough what demographic or target audience they would work for.
I feel like I grew up falling in love with TV shows with no clear, studio-mandated target demographic; that just took risks with unusual, bold ideas and then worked hard to make them fly, and I wish there was more of a culture in TV comedy of taking a punt on a creative idea rather than trying to exhaustively prove its commercial potential BEFORE it’s been made. I realise why that culture exists, because nobody wants to lose money, but I also feel like some of my favourite shows growing up would struggle to be made these days.
5. Whats the best way you have found for yourself to build up your confidence, on and off the stage?
Onstage – disguise yourself. This doesn’t have to be literal, though it currently is for me.
Offstage – wear turtle-necks. They make you feel incredible.
6. What’s your top life hack?
Not sure what to do with used coffee granules? Plant some gernaiums in a windowbox. Densely pack the coffee granules onto the topsoil. It’s great fun and will give you something to do.
Here’s another – throw away your handkerchief. Buy a packet of biscuits. Eat the biscuits over the course of several days. During this period, use your hand as a handkerchief. When you’ve finished the biscuits, use the empty packet as a handkerchief for another few days. Go to the tip and get your handkerchief back. What a crazy week!
7. What are your top three tips for Edinburgh Fringe attendees?
Take risks. Go and see things you’ve never heard of. That includes going out of your comfort zone. In 2014 a friend just said “I’ve heard this performance art show is good,” and I trundled along, thinking “I don’t know anything about performance art,” and it remains the best thing I’ve ever seen (Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson).
If you end up watching free/PWYW shows, pay for them. You don’t have to pay a lot, but people have invested huge amounts of their time and energy into making something they believe is good enough to share with the world, and all of their soul is caught up in the making of the thing. It doesn’t matter if you sat there hating it all, to be honest, chuck some shrapnel in the bucket. We’re all just people, and it’s an hour of your time and a bit of loose change versus the performer’s entire heart and soul. Pay for everything you see.
Thirdly, and possibly this clashes with my first point, but hopefully I can explain why I believe both are important – read up just a tiny bit about what you’re going to see. I mean, go outside your comfort zone and see things you’ve not heard of and so on, but also, double check what it is you’re going to see so that, if it ends up being something that’s really not your cup of tea, that’s on you, not the performer. It’s never the performer’s fault for performing their own show. You’re also not obliged to like it, of course, and if you don’t then that’s a shame. But I’ve seen people hate shows that it was really obvious they were going to hate if they did even the tiniest bit of research, so spend five minutes figuring out what you’re about to see and if you didn’t, don’t hold that against the show.
…hey! Wanna see more Joz?
Watch his stand-up comedy special on NextUp – a digital comedy club with over 100 stand-up comedy specials for your stream wherever, whenever.
8. What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you during a gig?
At the Fringe in 2013, Weirdos (a collective of comics I’ve been collaborating with for years, run by Adam Larter) put on a gig called “The Wreestling” which was a spoof of the Fringe cult hit The Wrestling. It was just a really rubbish redux of that show really, with ten obscure comics pretending to fight each other in a sparsely-attended Free Fringe basement.
The day before, we had done another one-off gig in the same venue in which we did a spoof of The Fawlty Towers Dining Experience (I played Manuel), and the audience consisted entirely of the cast of the real Fawlty Towers Dining Experience. Anyway, the Wreestling remains the most unexpected gig of my career because one comic, who hadn’t spoken to Adam or the rest of us prior to the show to work out what the joke was, didn’t realise we were supposed to be PRETENDING to fight, and instead just wrestled me to the ground and strangled me until I passed out.
When I came round I couldn’t speak for about a minute and have a horrible memory of what it felt like to be aware of your surroundings but unable to form a coherent thought or verbalise how you’re feeling. I just drooled onto my chest and screamed for about a minute until my brain started working again. I don’t speak to the comic in question any more, even though he asserts that because he stopped strangling me at the right time, he actually saved my life. Fun gig, though.
9. Can stand-up comedy change the world?
Absolutely. I think things like Nanette show that a particular comedy show can have the power to actually effect real, tangible, meaningful change in the world, to force people to confront things they haven’t confronted, and to start having conversations about things that need to be talked about, that could eventually really shift the balance of how society works.
But more importantly, I think comedy changes the world by changing the tiny little worlds inside people’s heads. I was a fairly lost, lonely teenager who stumbled across Marion & Geoff and Alan Partridge and Peep Show and Garth Marenghi and the Mighty Boosh just because I was up late, and they lit up bits of my brain and made me feel differently forever, and changed the way I looked at the rest of the world for the rest of my life. If it can have that profound an effect on one person’s internal world, if it can do that thousands and thousands of times over in all these different internal worlds, then that can’t help but eventually manifest in real life in some way. I think comedy’s an enormously powerful thing.