This is a true story. The events depicted in this interview took place in London in 2017. At the request of the Joz Norris, the names have been left the same. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
I duck into the trendy cafe in Soho where I’ve agreed to meet the comedian, writer and actor Joz Norris.
I’m ten minutes early, as I always am for interviews – I walk in, remove my gloves and hat and smile as I’ve given myself a good ten minutes to get myself a coffee and prepare for our chat. That’s when I see him – sat at a well-lit table in the window, reclining confidently in his chair, beaming at me and looking like he’s been here getting comfortable for ages. That’s when I remember – there’s no trying to out-polite Joz Norris by turning up early. He’ll always be there ahead of you, renowned for his efficiency, organisation and promptness.
I walk over and explain I thought I’d finally be able to beat him to an interview. He laughs with a twinkle in his eye and we exchange a bit of banter – it’s always remarkable how informal, friendly and fun Joz is able to make these promotional interviews, and it’s quickly like I’m chatting to my oldest friend.
He’s dressed, as ever, in a louche, smart-casual style – open-collar satin shirt, freshly pressed chinos, and the whole look complemented by the bad-boy edge of a leather jacket. And is that a whiff of bryl-creem, I ask? “Guilty,” he responds cheekily, sipping at his Americano. “That’s not like you!” I exclaim. “What can I say?” he twinkles, “New year, new me, I suppose.”
We could chat like this for days, but before long it’s time to get down to the serious questions.
Laugh Out London – You’re giving the final performance of your 2016 Edinburgh show, Hello, Goodbye next week at the Bill Murray in Angel. How does it feel to be drawing a final line under a show that received such acclaim and really tapped into something on a national level?
Joz Norris – It was overwhelming, the response to that show. I know 2016 was a big, challenging year on a global scale. Us comedians had a hard time trying to codify our feelings about everything into a coherent artistic response. There were a lot of shows last year exploring the national feeling about Brexit and the rise of Trump and the alt-right and so on. So many amazing comedians made such great state-of-the-nation shows. I guess I was just very lucky that my show was the one that really seemed to, oh, I don’t know, take the pulse of where we were at as a…as a people, as a society, I suppose. People didn’t anticipate when all those global developments were occurring that what they really needed was me jumping out of a box and strutting about with a lamp strapped to my chest, but it seemed to strike a nerve with people. The response has been overwhelming.
It’s so typical of your modesty and charm that you talk down the success of your show as “luck,” Joz. It’s been widely acclaimed as a modern-day masterpiece!
Nibbling mischievously on an Amoretti biscuit) – Masterpiece, shmasterpiece! Comedy is all about expressing a feeling through nonsense. You’ve just got to channel what you feel in the centre of your head, and actualise that into a piece of nonsense onstage. If that strikes something in the heart of your audience, then that’s luck, pure and simple. The goal is always to make work that says something that makes your audience feel like they’ve said something. Whether you ever succeed in that goal is largely out of your hands.
You’re moving into some work as a filmmaker this year, and have a big screening coming up of your second short film. That’s about Robert Johnson, isn’t it?
Yes, or rather, of a modern-day analogue of the original Robert Johnson, who is referenced as an important historical and contextual figure within the film. I’ve been fascinated with the Robert Johnson myth for many years, it fuses so many of my own obsessions – music, creativity, ambition, the cost of making art, the Gothic, Faustian pacts. It was about time I made a low-budget ten-minute comedy short about it.
I’ve seen an early assembly cut of it and it looks fantastic. The directing (by collaborator Matthew Highton) is pretty good, as is David Mills’ performance as the Devil, but what really stands out is your wonderful, sensitive, hilarious performance, and the fantastic screenplay. May I ask who wrote that excellent script?
Well, um…that was me, as it happens.
(Laughing, spluttering coffee everywhere) Is there no end to your talents?
A strange, confused look suddenly crosses Joz’s face. Something seems to be up.
You…I’m sorry, I hate to be weird and draw attention to it, but…your moustache is hanging off your face…
I…I don’t know what you’re talking about…
It is. It’s hanging off your top lip. Why, it’s…it’s not a real moustache at all…it’s a disguise! Take off your disguise this minute!
No! No, I won’t! I mustn’t!
But once Joz Norris sets his mind to something, there’s no stopping him. Without warning, he reaches across the table and tears off my enormous false moustache, which I was hoping would conceal my identity. We sit in awkward silence for a few moments.
I can explain.
You…you’re me? How are you me? What the hell is going on?
Look, here’s the thing. The gig next week at the Bill Murray doesn’t go too great. You sell about five tickets. And that’s it.
I’m you from the future. I’ve come back in time to set up this interview with Laugh Out London to help promote the gig and make sure it’s not a total bust. Considering you’re filming it and all.
But…how could it possibly not sell out? It was a huge hit, like we were talking about, remember?
Joz, I’m you from the future. I was just playing along to make you feel good and proud of yourself. I wanted to give you a morale boost to help you put on a good show.
So…my show wasn’t a massive critical cult hit success?
You know perfectly well it wasn’t.
It did ok.
Yeah, it did great. It did modestly well.
It sold out for a week.
Yeah, people really liked it.
British Comedy Guide.
British Comedy Guide really liked it.
You don’t need to tell me all this, I was there. It was a lovely show and lots of people really enjoyed it, but don’t kid yourself. I was just trying to make you feel good. You know perfectly well it wasn’t received as a deeply relevant zeitgeist piece about Brexit. It’s got nothing to do with Brexit.
You’re well aware that the only joke about Brexit you’ve ever written is that one about how every single character in Postman Pat probably voted Leave. And that one didn’t even make it into the show.
Ha ha! That’s a great joke, I forgot about that one.
But you know your show wasn’t a state-of-the-nation thing. I’m surprised you went along with it as much as you did. Anyway, why are you dressed so incredibly out-of-character? What the hell is that satin shirt and leather jacket all about?
I just wanted to shake things up a bit. I’ll be thirty in a few years, I can’t carry on dressing like a children’s entertainer forever.
You are a children’s entertainer.
So are you.
No, I jacked that in in 2018. I’m a private detective now.
Right. So all that nice stuff you said about my filmmaking too…
Well, yeah, I was just trying to help you feel proud of your achievements.
I am proud of my achievements.
Neither of us can think of anything to say, so we stare into our coffees for a bit.
You’re paying for these coffees, by the way.