Interviews

Published on June 18th, 2015 | by Padraic Coffey

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My Favourite Things – Joz Norris

Comedian and actor Joz Norris discusses a favourite film, book and album.


Up
(2009, Pete Docter)

I chose Up largely because I like any film that manages to amuse and be stupid at the same time as being subtly very profound. Everybody who talks about Up talks about the first ten minutes being really devastating, because there’s the bit with the miscarriage, and then the wife dies, and all that. And I get it. I get people going, “oh, wow, this is going to be harrowing”. But it’s the bit just before the last act where he goes back and finds the book and there’s that inscription, “Thanks for the adventure. Go and have one of your own.” And then he goes off and fights the guy on a Zeppelin.

The first time I watched that I had to stop the film, and go away for about an hour, because I was just in bits and I couldn’t handle it. I’d missed it in the cinema, so I watched it at home on my own for the first time and then had to stop and go to the pub for about an hour and a half, and just sit and be with someone and say, “I’m devastated by this”. And they had already seen it and said, “Yeah, it’s a good film. It’s alright.” Then I went back and watched the finale bit with the dogs.

So anything that is able to cause that big an emotional response to it goes in, for my money. But also, the fact that along the way it’s able to be quite as stupid as it is. Like the bird. Everything that happens with the bird is really good physical comedy. The whole bit halfway through where they first meet it, and it ends up hanging from a tree, I laugh every time I see it. There are so many great comic ideas in it. You have these weird little moments that Pixar are really good at, like the bit where the kid is walking along, reminiscing about his dad, and you never quite know what’s going on with his dad and his stepmum. And he says, “it might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most”. Pixar are good at sneaking things like that in, that, as an adult, you watch and go, “aw, that’s really profound!” But you watch it with a kid, and they’re just laughing at the dog or the animal or whatever. I love it for that.

Any Pixar in general could fill this role. I was a really big fan of Monsters University, which I think got mostly treated as though it were an “alright prequel”. I thought it was one of their best ones. There’s a bit at the end where somebody says, “keep surprising people” to Mike, the main guy. I like it because it trashes that idea you get in a lot of kids films that you can do and achieve anything you want. Pixar have a better, pragmatic message of actually working out who you are first and then going with that, rather than trying to do things which just aren’t right for you. I like any Pixar comedy because they manage to blend stupid comedy with something that, as an adult, you get really upset about, and Up is the main one for that for me. It gets me a lot.

Their latest film, Inside Out, looks great. I got really excited by the premise, because it sounded like the first film they had done for a while with a really unique idea. Then they released the first trailer for it, which was inside the Mum’s head and the Dad’s head, and it was basically saying, ‘the Dad just wants to watch football and the Mum is nagging’, and I thought it was a bit reductive for Pixar. But then they released another trailer since and it looks fun. I’ve heard a lot of reviews that say it’s their best for a long time. Also, it’s done by the guy who made Up, Peter Docter.

The one complaint I’ve heard made about Up is that the first 20 minutes or so, where it’s all set in the real world, and it’s trying to make something out of this guy’s existential bleakness, is great, and then as soon as he goes off to the jungle, people say they don’t like it. I disagree. I like the jungle bit, because it’s him still existing as this very staid suburban figure within the surroundings. I think all of it is great. I won’t have a word said against it!


Breakfast of Champions
(1973, Kurt Vonnegut)

Kurt Vonnegut has gone and taken over my whole life within the last year or so. He was someone I’d heard of and didn’t know anything about. Then, last year I was on holiday in Cambodia, and my friend who I’d gone out there to visit was reading Breakfast of Champions at the time. Then I had this weird existential breakdown on a beach. I don’t know why. I think you have to some kind of mini-breakdown on a holiday, just to make it memorable. So, towards the end, I was on a beach, and said something. Basically, I said I wished I were a little ball of light rather than a person, ’cause you’d be able to get everything done and you’d never get sad. I think I was drunk, but that was it. And then the next day she read a bit in Breakfast of Champions where he says more or less the same thing.

There’s a bit where one character has made a painting basically of nothing. And all the people he tries to show it to criticise it, and say that five-year-old could do it, and he gets angry and says, “I would love for your children to find pleasantly and playfully what it took me many angry years to find.”. It’s the idea that within every person there is this band of light that means nothing, or something, or everything. I don’t really understand what point it’s trying to make or what point I was trying to make, but it was that first instance of realising that there was some idea within Vonnegut’s writing that was the same as some idea some idea that I was trying to express at some point. It made me think, “I’ll get on with this guy”.

So I read Breakfast of Champions in a day, while flying home. It’s the first time I’ve read anything where I’ve 100 per cent gone “I understand what’s going on in this guy’s head while he’s writing this”. I don’t know whether that’s because he and I have a similar way of looking at things, or whether he’s just such a persuasive writer that he convinces you he does know the way you think, but that’s the way I’ve felt every time I read this stuff, in that he’s got this very kind of grand philosophy about the world and about people’s place within it, but he puts it incredibly simply in a really basic style, so that none of the characters feel like characters and the plots are paper-thin.

Nothing really happens in Breakfast of Champions other than two characters meet, and one of them goes mad, and that’s it. That’s the novel. It’s all reduced to nothing, and it’s very aware of its status as a novel. It starts with him saying he’s trying to clear out all the nonsense from his head, which means that there are bits where he draws pictures for no reason. Pictures of nothing that he kind of inserts into the narrative, and then goes off telling us things we don’t need to know about characters, and is aware of the fact that we don’t need to know them. It’s this really self-aware thing, just talking about people and trying to make some sort of bigger point about their place within things, and never really making it, but I think that’s another thing he says.

There’s another book of his called The Sirens of Titan that I’ve just finished where a character who’s become a millionaire and is this self-made mogul, dies having never really known his son, and leaves this letter to his son saying the more money he made the less he understood about things and the more he felt like there was more to understand. He says, “nobody thinks or notices anything as long as his luck is good.” So again, it’s little things like that, where, while writing about Martians or time travel or whatever nonsense he’s writing about, there’s this sense that actually he’s identified something very profound and difficult to actually express, that I love about Vonnegut.

And also, he’s very funny. He’s a really funny writer, partly in the act of how barely it is described, but just in general, he has funny ideas. There’s a great idea in Breakfast of Champions, where one of the characters who’s a writer, is invited to a prestigious awards ceremony, I think by accident, and decides to go and show them what a failure looks like, and wander in looking like a mess. So there are ideas like that that I just really like, in Vonnegut’s stuff.

I’ve read a few of his book’s now. The guy’s great. Slaughterhouse Five is great. I remember less of it now. I read it straight after Breakfast of Champions, and it made less of an impression on me, but it’s still great. That’s the one about the Dresden Fire-bombing. Vonnegut saw the bombing of Dresden, so it’s about a guy who’s a prisoner of war in Dresden, and witnesses the fire-bombing, but at the same time he’s able to travel in time in his head to any time and place, so he’s also being held captive on Mars. Again, what that means, I have no idea, but the idea of trying to take this single, awful event in human history, and make it part of something bigger, and try and look at the pointlessness of it is a really nice thing.


Crime of the Century
(1974, Supetramp)

My stepdad introduced me to Supertramp when I was about 14, and he said I’d like them because they were ‘the thinking man’s ELO’. I had been into ELO for a long time at that stage. I don’t know if that’s true, but I see his point. I got Breakfast in America when I was about 15, and liked it but was annoyed it didn’t have Dreamer on it, because that was the only song I knew. So then, for my next birthday, I said I had to have whatever album had Dreamer on it, and then I got Crime of the Century. It’s the only album really I’ve been familiar with for that long – about ten years – that I still listen to all the time ’cause I love it.

I listen to a lot of music and I get into a lot of mostly old stuff – ’70s, ’80s type things – and for me, it always tends to fall somewhere between stuff that’s very grand and over the top and takes itself too seriously. I love Prog Rock. I think it’s incredible. Or any kind of Art Rock like Bowie or that sort of thing, and then at the other extreme I love any sort of glossy ,superficial pop. Anything that falls into one of those two categories, I think is great. Crime of the Century is this one album that manages to do both of them perfectly.

You’ve got Dreamer, which is maybe the best pop song. I might regret saying that, but it is good. It’s got that whole doorbell sound at the beginning. And then you’ve got stuff like the title track, Crime of the Century, which has I think the best sound that’s ever been captured in music. There’s a bit about three minutes in with this water gong that does a sort of a droning sound, and I’d listen to that all day if I could. I love that bit. So, anything that manages to create a mood and sound intimidating and so impressive and yet earlier on in the same album, you’ve got a little doorbell and a jaunty little pop song, I think that captures the essence of both of them for me.

And it was the first time I’d ever listened to a song that was 7 minutes long that didn’t bore me. I remember being very impressed by that. And these days I can listen to a 20 minute Yes epic and love all of it, but to a 15 year old, I thought, “wow, you can make a song go on for 7 minutes and it not get boring. That’s impressive.”

Crime of the Century is my favourite song on the album, because of that sound. Also it manages to get away with the cheesiest premise of any song ever, in that the opening song lyrics have a bit where they describe two people who are doing terrible things to the universe, and then they take off their masks, and it’s us! Which is a horribly obvious statement to make about the world. But they just do away with it, and get that done in the first 90 seconds, and then there’s five minutes of really cool keyboard and saxophone solos. So they briefly make a trite point about environmentalism, which I agree with, but it is a cliche. And then they go “right, we’re done with that. Were done with the point weren’t trying to make. Now we’ll just rock out for five minutes.” I love that one. I’m going to see them in December as well. That’ll be fun! And they close with that song every single gig they do.

Joz Norris is an award-winning actor, comic and writer. His Edinburgh show was one of Time Out’s Top 10 Free Shows of the Fringe in 2013, and he is also a key member of the Chortle Award-nominated Weirdos Collective.

He won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy at LA WebFest 2015 and is a prolific actor in film and online for companies including Wild Seed Studios, Hoot Comedy, Yalli Productions, Turtle Canyon Comedy and Little Rock Pictures. With Little Rock, he co-wrote and starred in his own webseries with Ralf Little, which was an adaptation of his acclaimed 2014 Edinburgh show, Awkward Prophet. With Hoot he starred in and contributed additional material to a sketch pilot commissioned by Channel 4.

Details of Joz’s 2015 Edinburgh show, Hey Guys!, can be found here.

Follow Joz on Twitter: @JozNorris

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About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.



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