Joz Norris on people who have escaped the maze of life

Joz Norris, EdFringe

One of our favourite comedians Joz Norris would love to escape the rat-race of modern living. He picks out three people he thinks have actually succeeded in leaving the maze.

Two years ago I decided I’d had enough of the urban sprawl of the city and I got a pop-up tent, a Leatherman and a little tin cup and got a train to Abergavenny and disappeared into the Brecon Beacons. I decided it would be easy to cross Offa’s Dyke before nightfall. This was not true, and I nearly fell off into a misty ravine. Later I had a hallucination that a wolf was chasing me all the way to Hay-on-Wye. It turned out it was a horse, and at that point I decided I was probably over-tired and went to bed.

I got up at 5am and thought “This was a stupid idea” and walked back to Abergavenny while listening to Boards of Canada, eating the packet of dried apricots I’d taken with me and a huge lump of cheddar and feeling sad.

A sad cheese

To this day, every night before I go to sleep I imagine being in an aeroplane that crash-lands (gently, nobody dies) somewhere in Mongolia, and then emerging from the wreckage and going “Well, I’ve got no plans” and walking home. I’ve since learned that this would take years, but that’s ok, it just adds to the romance of it all, I guess.

One day I stride back into my flat, with long hair and a beard and all my flatmates are like “That can’t be Joz, look at his beard,” and then I triumphantly tear my beard out of my face and they all utter a jubilant cry and leap up and dance around the living room the way we always used to, and then they go to my room and seize the guy who’s been living there the whole time I’ve been away and chuck him out of the window. “Where have you been?” they all cry. “I’ve been walking home from Mongolia,” I reply, and they all laugh and tell me it’s brilliant to have me back and make me an instant coffee.

I guess what I’m saying is that everybody would love to escape the maze, but it’s hard to think of a way of doing it that actually feels practical and realistic.

This year myself and anti-comedy icon Ed Aczel became so obsessed with the idea of people who escaped the matrix and subsumed themselves into obscure sub-cultures that we decided to make a documentary about it, using the template set by Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World and Into The Inferno and Grizzly Man as our model.

Joz Norris and Ed Aczel on the hunt for nothing. Or something.

Our twist on the genre was a simple one – what if two people set out to make a film about people who’ve escaped from the constant pressure and stress of the interconnected global society we’re all born into, but the two people making that film had such little ambition or talent or insight into what they’re investigating that they don’t actually learn or discover anything? It seemed a more honest way of making that film, because if we’re all completely honest with ourselves, we’d like to disappear into the woods but ultimately we’ve got rent to pay and jobs to do and people who’d be pissed off with us if we did that. So why not tell the same story but on a more realistic level where nothing really happens?

We made the short as a pilot for a documentary series, and have been told we need to go away and make it again but to try and make sure something actually happens in it this time, so we’re rewriting it as an action thriller. But it seems a shame to have made that pilot for no reason, so we’re now releasing it online for your viewing pleasure. I’ve decided to celebrate its release here on Laugh Out London by doing a quick run-down of my three favourite people who genuinely succeeded in escaping the maze…

16 months of drinking turtle blood

Jose Ivan

This guy is a Mexican fisherman whose ship got wrecked in a storm so he ended up just drifting across the Pacific Ocean for 16 months before finally washing up on the Marshal Islands, completely insane. He survived by learning to catch birds and turtles with his bare hands, and drinking turtle blood. A nice reminder that if any of our secretly harboured “Disappear into the wilderness” fantasies came true, it wouldn’t be romantic or impressive, it would be deeply troubling for our friends and many of them would probably feel uncomfortable trying to work out how they could continue to relate to us.

I reckon in my imagined scenario above, when my flatmates hand me my instant coffee, if I responded by sipping it and going “Oh, I’ve missed this, it sure beats turtle blood!” they would probably all just stare at the floor and feel incredibly sad and wonder why I had come back.

Saint Simeon, having a great time

Saint Simeon

This guy lived in Syria in the fifth century and got really into Christianity, a bit too much really. To show his dedication to God, he went into the desert and found a massive pillar and climbed up it and lived on top of it for 37 years. I think it shows real dedication to the “Escape The Maze” mantra that going into the desert alone wasn’t enough for him, he had to come up with a physical gimmick to make it more impressive. He was kept alive by local children from a nearby village who would climb up the pillar and give him packets of food, which again just shows the entitlement of the people who actually do this.

Imagine climbing up on your pillar and then after a few days getting really hungry and noticing nobody really seemed bothered that you were up there. So you shout out to some local kids and go “I’m going to stay up here forever, can you bring me some food?” and they just shrug and continue kicking a can around, so you sheepishly climb back down and go back to work and apologise for missing a few days. That’s how I always imagine it would go if I tried to pull this trick, so kudos to Saint Simeon for going the whole hog.

Timothy and a bear

Timothy Treadwell

You all know this guy, he’s the guy in Grizzly Man. He went to the wilderness in Alaska every summer for 13 years to hang out with grizzly bears, and everybody thought he was crazy – “He should show more respect to the bears!” said the park rangers gruffly. “He’s an inspiration! He shows that mankind can live in harmony with nature, and we should all learn from his selflessness and his ability to synchronise with the natural world!” said some other people, probably his mates or something.

Anyway, he gets ripped up by a bear in the end. So, again, there’s a lesson there – cut your losses early. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy, say, eight summers with grizzly bears, maybe get out of the game while you can. Then you and your friends can look back on those crazy days and go “Hey, remember when you got so fed up of modern society that you went and lived with bears for months every year? You were such a weirdo!” and you can laugh and go “Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking! What a weird thing to do!” and then go bowling, or something.

Anyway, here’s me and Ed Aczel exploring, in our own way, a few modern descendants of these brave three, people with the same iconoclastic, adventuring spirit who found a way out of the drudgery and the routine of urban life. Directed by Jonathan Brooks and co-starring Jacob Edwards, Alison Thea-Skot, John Kearns and Ben Target.

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