Intermittently beloved alternative comedian, comic actor, screenwriter and “spam-faced chump” (a Judge Rinder fan on Twitter) Joz Norris has been entertaining audiences at the Fringe since 2012, and we here at Laugh Out London are big fans of his, always ready to attend his shows with a smile and a giggle, then, when he has a bit of a duff one, politely agreeing to attend again the next day and see him on better form and go “Phew, I really thought he was shit yesterday, but he’s obviously doing fine.”
And you can’t say fairer than that. As such, we’ll be first in line for his new show, The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!! and are looking forward to it with open minds and hopeful hearts, along with literally tens of other fans.
But, of course, fans should never get too excited about an upcoming show, and there’s every reason why his much-hyped (by himself, writing this article in the third person) new show might disappoint. Just as 2016’s Batman v Superman, intended as the launching point of an ambitious cinematic universe, failed to impress fans and critics, there’s every reason to be cautious approaching 2017’s Fringe and reserving judgement on the much-mooted Joz Norris Expanded Universe before really investing. Here are 8 reasons why Norris’s 2017 outing could crash and burn.
1. Creative burnout
This is Norris’s fifth solo hour show, and his sixth Edinburgh show overall including that off-the-grid 45-minute show he did for a week in 2012 where he portrayed the character of a deluded aspiring comedian in a pub basement at midnight, a show which informed all his subsequent work albeit with the removal of the word “character.” Some would say that the longer Norris has been at this game, the clearer it is that he’s running on fumes creatively and is running out of ways to make himself interesting onstage. Gone are the halcyon days of him doing an impression of a roast chicken trying to shove its feet up its bum on its deathbed while a priest administers its final rites. Last year he just put a glove on and waved his hand around for five minutes pretending that his hand was a little man. Has Norris reached the bottom of the barrel?
2. Has he sold out?
Norris likes to present himself as some sort of creative Don Quixote, an outsider whose sole pursuit is creative self-expression at any cost, someone unwilling to compromise on their ideas. But this year he and Bob Slayer made guest appearances on ITV’s kangaroo court reality TV show Judge Rinder, something which both of them have defended as a post-modern anarchist performance art stunt trying to explore the transitory nature of truth, but mostly it looked a lot like the two of them were just having a jolly at ITV’s expense. Rumours also abound that this year, offered the opportunity to play clarinet alongside the band Laminate Everything in a support slot for Wheatus at the Isle of Wight Festival, Norris turned it down as he had to perform magic at a baby’s birthday party that day, and sent in a recording of the clarinet tracks instead. Is Norris starting to put profit ahead of creative integrity? Signs are certainly pointing that way.
3. Is he stretching himself too thin?
Just like last year, Norris can again be seen in multiple shows at this year’s Fringe. Most notably, Norris makes a cameo appearance in Adam Larter’s L’Art Nouveau at the Hive. Early reports from previews of Larter’s show suggest that Norris’s role involves a lot of streneous physical activity, from helping Adam put on a morphsuit, briefly pretending to be a mystical soothsayer, playing a game of tennis and limbo, then helping to put several hundred props in a suitcase. It looks to be tiring stuff – will Norris’s commitments to this show means he ends up too exhausted to fully commit to his own? Only time will tell.
4. Is the show too ambitious?
Norris’s shows have always rested on a glorious “What if?” that’s usually utterly stunning in its simplicity – “Why didn’t I think of that?” his audiences usually shout, in unison, as he finishes his bucket speech. “What if I pretended to be a spider and ran around to bluegrass music with a bag of milk in my pants?” Simple, but clever. “What if I told some stories about how I’m not very good with girls, then dressed an audience member up as a shark and pretended to die of old age?” Brilliantly inventive! “What if I talked about my grandad for a bit, then strapped a lamp to my chest and used it to annoy the audience, then talked about my grandad again to create the illusion of structure?” Genius-level storytelling. This year’s “What if” – “What if I performed an entire show while trapped inside a giant web?” – sounds a little too ambitious, complicated and far-fetched and lacks some of the brilliant everyday simplicity of his old shows. Fingers crossed he can pull it off.
5. He’s trying to hard to set up sequels and spin-offs
As we mentioned, the Joz Norris Expanded Universe is heavily rumoured at the moment, with sequels to Norris’s solo show pencilled in all the way up to 2025, and rumours of spin-offs for Mr Gumbo, the Little Man, Barry Biscuits and other characters nobody remembers. This year’s show is rumoured to also need to introduce Norris’s takes on Batman, Wonder Woman, Venom, Lex Luthor and the Flash, and the burning question is – will the show remember to tell a strong, coherent, stand-alone story while also going out of its way to set up all these different arms of a fledgling cinematic universe?
6. Is he going to get distracted?
Unusually for Norris, 2017 has seen him handed a little bit of actual responsibility in his real life, taking on the role of Best Man for the wedding of his brother, Barney Norris (very much the thinking man’s Joz Norris). Norris has been working hard on his Best Man speech, which allegedly currently includes a moment where he reveals he has sewn eagle feathers into the arms of his suit and loudly shouts “Oh, I thought you said remember to bring the WINGS!” and another bit where he says “I will now propose a toast” then holds up a piece of toast and says “Marry me, toast!” then laughs loudly for just under a minute. Norris has obviously been putting a lot of effort into this speech for such A-grade extracts to have leaked out to the press, so is there a chance he’s taken his eye off the ball and will forget to include such brilliant moments in his actual show?
7. It’s already been done
Turns out Marcel Duchamp already built a giant web out of string in his installation “Sixteen Miles Of String” in 1942. Norris didn’t know this when he started previewing the show and has had to be informed of the coincidence by audience members, but it doesn’t change the fact that Norris’s basic visual catalyst for the show is one that will be familiar to fans of Duchamp’s work. Mind you, it’s 2017, and everything has been done, all you can do is do it better or do it differently. We reckon he’ll probably do it differently.
8. Audience fatigue
Finally, are audiences getting sick of comedy? Sure, it’s been going pretty strong since Aeschylus and probably earlier, but reports from very reliable sources quote a number of audience members on the final day of the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 saying “Right, that’s it, I think I’ve seen enough comedy now and I don’t want to see any more for the rest of my life.” It’s a bit of an extrapolation, but this could very well mean that every single comedy show at the Fringe this year finds itself facing empty rooms day after day having not got the memo that the bubble has burst and nobody cares about comedy any more. They’re all off watching Guardians of the Galaxy 8 or something instead.
There’s only one way to find out if all these warning lights will end up negatively affecting Norris’s show or not, and that’s to book a ticket and see it at Heroes @ The Hive during August, 3rd-15th and 17th-27th, 19:30. Pay What You Want.
The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All the Odds!!
Heroes @ The Hive
3-27 Aug, 7.30pm