Geoff Norcott (00:00:00):
Well, it’s been funny, and as you all know, that’s the reason it’s hard to write jokes about it because politicians are providing the punchlines themselves. It doesn’t really give you much room to manoeuvre.
Paul Boross (00:00:17):
Welcome to the Humourology Podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business, sport, and entertainment, who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourlogy is the study of how humour can dramatically improve every aspect of your business and your life. Humourlogy puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
My guest on this edition of the Humourology Podcast is a comedian and political commentator who takes pride in breaking the norm. He is a self-proclaimed right-leaning comedian whose work is sidsplittingly funny and politically poignant. He has been featured on shows like Live at the Apollo, The MASH Report, Question Time, and The Daily Politics, just to name a few his show. What most People Think is a punchy and political podcast that gets to the bottom of what he feels the average person thinks about key political issues and includes interviews with comedians, politicians, and journalists. He’s one of the few British comedians, save for Boris Johnson, openly mixing conservatism with comedy. Jeff Norcott, welcome to the Humourlogy Podcast.
Geoff Norcott (00:01:49):
It’s great to be here. I mean, it’s certainly with politics over the last year. Well, yeah,
Paul Boross (00:01:55):
I was gonna say that must be quite tricky for you because I mean, it’s been a whirlwind and it’s, so what is your opinion of what’s happened in this recent whirlwind?
Geoff Norcott (00:02:08):
Well, I mean, I’ve always had, you know, digs at both sides of the political divide in line. Cause I think people wouldn’t say you seriously, or you’d have no credibility as a comic if you didn’t. And you know, the Tories over the last year in particular, have been providing all the best setups. Really <laugh> when you, when you talk about, when you have literally someone says that Boris Johnson was ambushed by cake <laugh>, you just think, well, there’s nothing. I mean, people often say, well, it must be a great time for satirists but actually, I think that this period now where we’re sort of entering into what people call the boring period, we’ve got two very technocratic figures like Starmer and Sunak sort of trying to out bland each other really. I mean, it’s like, it’s sort of like, as I said this on Twitter, but it’s sort of like a whole series of Masterchef where you can only use dry cereal and poultry <laugh>. You know, there’s no, it’s just like, well, I, yeah, I, see your flavourless result and I raise you, I raise you some porridge. It, I mean, it really is <laugh>. I mean, but that to me, that’s funny to me. I can get my teeth back into that. I think the fact that, that Starmer is sort of seems like a mortgage salesman that suddenly decided he wants to run one of the biggest countries in the world. All that is that, to me, that stuff’s funny.
Paul Boross (00:03:18):
Yeah. Do you think that we were in a sense spoiled with characters before and probably what we do need is a little bit of dullness? Or do you, do you think politics can ever be the same again? Do you think you have to be charismatic to do it now?
Geoff Norcott (00:03:38):
Yeah, I’m not so sure. I mean, you get this sort of view in particularly sort of online liberal circles where they’re like, you know, we need the grownups back in charge. And that in itself is a funny phrase to me because you, you don’t really get to decide yourself whether or not you are one of the grown-ups. That’s something that the electorate will sort of decide for you. But, but I, I don’t know. I think that, I don’t see why it’s beyond comprehension that you could have a bit of charisma and competence. What, what we seem to come down to is the idea that it’s either an obviously unreliable and dishonest person, like Boris Johnson, or he’s a deeply tedious but trustworthy person like Starmer. I think that politically he can be deceitful in his own way. I don’t think he’s a deceitful person. I’d still like to believe that you could combine both things. You know, it almost feels like overcorrecting if something like, you know, if a woman’s in a relationship with a guy that’s an absolute wrong-un, and then the next bloke she dates will be the most boring guy you’ve ever met in your life. You think, well, you knoyou could have sort of split the difference a little bit.
Paul Boross (00:04:43):
So who do you think in the past has managed to actually do that balance between being competent and charismatic?
Geoff Norcott (00:04:55):
I think Blair obviously I think Cameron did as well to a point, it’s sort of forgotten in the mix with Cameron that his unpopularity. Never, I mean, I know it’s a negative way of measuring it, but it never got that high, you know, even when he left office, people didn’t dislike Cameron because he was able to communicate. He’s quite convincing in a way, I think Thatcher to a different degree – Harold Wilson as well had his own form of charisma. So, yeah, I don’t, I don’t think it’s necessarily an either or, but, but that’s the way it’s currently being portrayed. Almost like, it’s almost like medicine. We have to have the boring guy now because of all the fun that we had with Boris. I’m not sure we did. I take issue with the idea of Boris was as fun as people said I don’t think he was particularly humorous or witty at the dispatch box, but that is the dichotomy as it’s being presented now,
Paul Boross (00:05:48):
Do you think that’s ultimately done damage to the Conservative brand? That, you had Boris Johnson who was writ large across it for a while; do you think that ultimately that that will backfire?
Geoff Norcott (00:06:05):
Uh, I think that, I mean, he had obvious appeal in some places, as evidenced by the fact that even though it seemed like him losing his job as the obvious thing there, polling slumped since then and has never recovered. I think probably you get your kind of centre right, Lib Dem types that once in the past might have voted for Cameron maybe but Boris was a step too far for them. And then you throw in the comp. I think the competent stuff is as important as anything. So, you know, for middle England, you can talk all you like about Boris’ dishonesty, Partygate, Pinchergate, all the gates. Um, but the truth was, was that for a while they had somebody in charge in Liz Truss who made their mortgage get more expensive or certainly contributed to the speed at which it got more expensive. And really, if we’re honest, that is, that’s, that’s the thing that really gets voters sort of changing allegiances.
Paul Boross (00:06:59):
Yeah. And, and do you think that those changing allegiances, the shift has already happened? Have people made their mind up or do you think that boring Rishi, as you paint him will, will be able to drag them back?
Geoff Norcott (00:07:15):
You know, once upon a time. I remember in 1992 when Black Wednesday and, and Britain came out of the European exchange rate mechanism, which eventually proved to be a good thing, I think. But at the time, it didn’t feel like that. The voters didn’t forget that for a long time. And I would normally say that what happened last year wouldn’t be easily forgot. But I do think we’re living in a sort of state of social media induced temporary amnesia whereby I think it could be once upon a time that would’ve meant there was absolutely zero chance you could win an election. I don’t know. Now 20 points Labour are generally ahead on average. If I had to bet on it now, I’d bet on a 50 to 80 seat Labour majority. I don’t think it’s gonna be as big as some people are saying, but I can’t see anything other than a Labour win.
Paul Boross (00:08:03):
Ah, well, I don’t know, I’m confused as anyone at the moment. Yeah. When politics seems to be able to swing violently from one, I think, cuz you know, nobody was expecting an 80 seat majority for Boris Johnson at the time, were they? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,
Geoff Norcott (00:08:18):
The Tories probably are wishing that they could do another Brexit at this point. They just, if they could Brexit again, you know, sort of a sort of sequel because that election, it was a very easy sort of sell, wasn’t it? You go, yeah, this thing that probably realistically, once the vote happened that you had to do in some form, right? You could argue about how, how hard or how, how mild the Brexit was. But the point where Labour are at, I mean, and this was interesting. I was on Mash Report at the time, and I was doing a bit about Labour’s Brexit position, and I was getting to the point of making a joke about it, which was, but first I had to say what Labour’s position was, which was that they would renegotiate the Brexit deal. Uh, they would put it to a referendum for the British people, which they would then campaign against <laugh>. And before I did the joke, everyone’s laughing because it was just so stupid and ridiculous. It was, you know, the product of a committee, but you sort of think, well, just, it’s not a position at all. So, yeah, I mean, sometimes when it comes to politics, humour is… you know, in cases like that sometimes it’s literally a case of restating what happened.
Paul Boross (00:09:21):
So in order to Brexit, again, Britain will have to leave Britain, won’t it?
Geoff Norcott (00:09:25):
I mean, that could happen too. I mean, there’s, you know, Wales could leave Britain, Scotland could leave Britain we might, you know, Brexit is now a brand. It’s like a franchise, like the Fast and the Furious
Paul Boross (00:09:35):
<laugh>, oh God, we’re gonna get 13 of them,
Geoff Norcott (00:09:40):
Paul Boross (00:09:41):
Oh, dear. You grew up in southwest London, actually, we, we both grew up in southwest London on an estate, where I believe, from your excellent book, they filmed the chase scenes from, for Bhe bill and your dad was a proud union man, and your mother, by all accounts, was a, a formidable matriarch. Was humour actually valued in your family?
Geoff Norcott (00:10:07):
Well, I think, and this is, I mean, middle-class people have a different version of humour, but I think that if humour – if you define it as a coping mechanism – a sort of a smile in the face of chaos, I think that the more difficult your life is, I think the more important humour becomes. I certainly think in South London, you’ll know this, there’s a way of talking that every region as their own kind of humour, sort of specialities. And there’s a sort of an exasperation. There is a, I mean, banter’s such a horribly overused word, but, but there’s a, there’s a particular way that, that people speak to each other in South London. And, and yeah, I mean, you mentioned my mom there. I mean, my dad used to do public speaking as a trade union man, but actually, and people always presume the humour would come from him, but my mom was inherently funny as a person, you know, she was very, she was a very charismatic woman, but she was also quite unreasonable in some ways.
And, you know, she was very sniffy, judgmental, you know, <laugh>. Um, and, and, and, and when we moved to the council estate, it was, it was after the divorce that my mom, uh, my mom and my dad had, but we were living quite a middle-class life at that point. And, and the standard thing that should have happened was been that my mom sort of took him for the house, but she wanted to, she didn’t really want him to give her anything. So she left him with the house and, and went to a council estate which is the absolute opposite of the divorce mantra of the eighties, which was take him for everything he’s got, and hers was, leave him with everything and live in a two-bedroom council flat <laugh>. I mean, but I have to admire for it because her thing was, you know, maybe this is why I believed in Brexit, was sometimes you’ve gotta exit a partnership and even if in the short medium term <laugh>, so I can hear the Remainers switching off now, <laugh>, but but independence has a value, you know, and, and certainly that was the way that she saw it, but it was undeniably – possibly like Brexit – an eccentric decision.
Paul Boross (00:12:10):
Well, an eccentric decision that has consequences – I heard Jacob smog say that in 40 years time, we’ll be laughing about it and saying what a wonderful thing it was. Do you believe that as well? Do you believe that we should put people through that much pain in order to come out the other send just for what you describe as independence?
Geoff Norcott (00:12:37):
Well, I feel like the Remainer you has come out a little bit here.
Paul Boross (00:12:41):
No, but I’m also here you know, this is gonna go a thing about humour. So I, I want to see the humour side of it.
Geoff Norcott (00:12:48):
No, I mean, like, so this is sometimes what I cover in the pod, the podcast is the, the perception was indeed that Jacob Rees Mogg said, we won’t, I mean, the way it was portrayed was that he said, we won’t see a single benefit for 50 years. What he actually said was, the benefit will become apparent as our new trading relationship evolves across 50 years. But one thing I’d give credit to is left wing online movement’s very good at pulling quotes out of context. And it’s not, it’s not, you know, for me to, but I mean, trust me, there isn’t much in me that really wants to launch an impassioned defence of Jacob Rees Mogg. But what I do, you know, I’ve sort of, you know, become particularly politics in a time of social media. And what I do object to is the way that sometimes things get pulled out of context.
You know, there’s a popular way of understanding stuff. I mean, personally, when it comes to Jacob Rees Mogg, I think that there was a time on the back benches when he was you thought, well, he represents a part of England. I mean, I don’t know if there’s many people like him, but I’ve met eccentrics like him at church, you know, there are people like him in Britain. The point where he was part of the cabinet, you sort of thought he’s lost. He’s gone mainstream, you know, eccentric contributions from the back bench are very different from a guy like that having control over how the country’s run on a day-to-day basis. And, and often with Rees Mogg, it just seemed to become like a kind of parlour game for him of, can I defend Boris Johnson again? You know? Oh, well, no, actually I think you’ll f no. Well, the thing is no, he never said, and he go, alright, mate, you know, he, I know that this would’ve been great fun at whatever weird boarding school you went to, but this is, this is real life now. So, um, so I mean, I come at things, it’s a strange thing is where, you know, on a subject like Brexit, like, look sort of superficially, he and I wanted the same outcome, but I find myself agreeing on one thing with somebody that I have literally nothing in common with in any other sense.
Paul Boross (00:14:43):
Well, it’s really interesting because you, we’re talking about Jacob Ress-Mogg, the next thing I was gonna talk about was schools and I suddenly went, well, you know, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, their schools, and we were talking about charisma and confidence. I’m pretty certain that nobody who went to your school or my school became Prime Minister, and yet 20 people who went to Eton became Prime Minister.
Geoff Norcott (00:15:16):
I’d stop – somebody who went to my school, did become Prime Minister.
Paul Boross (00:15:19):
Geoff Norcott (00:15:20):
Genuinely, genuinely, I mean, in many ways, John Major. So anyway, you know, it was, um, I went to a comprehensive school in South London. Now, this is where perhaps, you know, like why it’s unexpected that I ended up voting the way that I did, is that I went to a school where when I was, you14 around 1991 a guy who I knew, knew had gone to my school became leader of the country, and I knew that he was a working class lad who lived in Brixton. And, so when the Tories went to that 1992 campaign, you understand standard thing, which was that if you were working class, you voted Labour. And if you weren’t, you vote Tory was challenged immediately because they, they had a campaign that said, what did the Tories do with a working class boy from Brixton… ? …They made him Prime Minister. So, I know that that is the exception that proves the rule and what you say generally is correct, but maybe this is why I ended up in the weird place I did, because I just had an unusual path through my early life. Now, it was interesting with John Major was that he was not obviously charismatic. I mean but he came to my school to do a speech night because it had a grammar school past. So it had some weird vestiges of this kind of thing. And and by all accounts, he, he stood up and, and basically he slagged off his time at Rutlidge. He said he didn’t enjoy it. He got terrible grades. And the head teacher at the time, who must have thought he’d scored a real coup with the Prime Minister coming to do a speech night.
He must have been thinking, all right, John, get back on message mate. But one thing that did stand out from that night, and this is interesting, was a lot of the lefty teachers who had gone, right, I’m gonna, I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind. I’m gonna, they all met him when they charmed their pants off them. And, you know, particularly with John, with, what we found out, you know, in, in subsequent years was that he was he was a particular interest to the female teachers. They were all said that he was surprisingly charming and attractive. And he was over six foot and had quite a big, he’s quite a big built man, contrary to the image on Spiting image of a tiny grey man. And at the 92 election, John Major did really well with female voters.
Paul Boross (00:17:25):
Oh. And that’s fascinating actually. And, you know, Wandsworth comprehensive, nobody. So maybe, I’m a bit bitter now that Rutledge got the, got a Prime minister, and we didn’t, I loved your, your Radio four show. ‘Well Classy’, which I think everybody should look up and in it, you’re talking about your battles or resenting being called middle class, and, and you talk about the concept of class treachery. For many who grew up without money, I mean, I did love your line by the way, and it stuck with me, “people who have gone from salt of the earth to Himalayan Rock” salt. You know, it’s a brilliant line. But do you think that that’s part of the thing is that in British culture, people with the exception of John Major know their place too much and are kowtowing to the Jacob Rees-Moggs and people like that?
Geoff Norcott (00:18:27):
I see it slightly differently in that people like their place. I like, you know, it’s weird. I don’t, when I look at billionaires, wealthy people, people who went to boarding school, there’s never been any part of me that actively wants their life. I might, it might be nice to have a few more quid in the bank, but if, if you ask me which of my life experiences I’d trade, I really, I really have any that, that I would trade overall for, for that life. Um, and I think that it’s you know, there are compensations aren’t there at every stage. I’ve always felt a working-class culture is warmer. I think in family life, there’s a greater spirit towards disclosure in working-class families, we tell each other everything. You know, if you look at the standard dinner table, the things that get discussed from people’s sex life to everything, and, you know. I remember the first times when I was a kid going to my middle-class friend’s houses and how uptight they were and, and how silent everything was.
I mean, this is one thing I’ve noticed when, you know, for example, I do work at places like the BBC. You go into these big open plan offices and just everyone is just padding around and no one’s taken, no one’s taken a mickey out of each other. No one’s got funny nicknames for each other. And I just, you know, that these, I think the cultural class divides are as important as the economic ones to be honest. Right. And the cultural ones, I would always say I’d prefer, you know, the background that I had, you know, economically, I mean, would it have been nice? There’s no part of me the wants to go skiing. I’ve gotta be honest. And, and you know, I mean, even just earlier today, I went into town where I live and there’s a coffee shop there.
And I had some work to do. And the standard thing is you go in a coffee shop, you get a latte, and you do all that stuff. And then I just really didn’t feel like it. And then I saw a cafe next door and I went in the cafe. And, and you know, it is just, it’s where, where are you more comfortable? I feel comfortable in a cafe, but also, I guess there’s a nostalgia element that, that smell of, you know, oil and, and fried foods and stuff, it reminds me of being a kid. And I guess there must have been something about that life, which I like because I like being reminded of it.
Paul Boross (00:20:30):
It’s really interesting because opposites the Humourology podcast, it’s about humour and where humour comes from. And you are very much about the banter for want of a better word. And the humour comes more from working-class things. And I think that’s true because I think, you know, great comedy comes out of, you know, all the port cities which were, which were generally poor, had much more, you know, you didn’t get a lot of great comedians coming from, you know, middle Surrey you got Glasgow, you got Liverpool or the thing. Do you think that’s true?
Geoff Norcott (00:21:11):
Yeah, I mean, if you, if you, if I stop and think about like some of the who I think are the best practitioners of standup, just pure and applied standup, you go Billy Connolly, I think Kevin Bridges is just a world-class talent. You know, you think about the people that broke out the beginning of the 2010s, you know, Sarah Millican, John Bishop, Micky Flanagan, you know, Michael McIntyre is slightly, slightly different but the cartoonish element, I mean, I mean, that is who he is, but like, there’s a slightly cartoonish element to his middle classness that it needs to be to be funny. So I think when you’re sort of playing to a mass audience, there is something about people from a working-class background. I mean, if you look in the states, somebody like Bill Burr, you, you know, people like that have always been Eddie Murphy people.
I sort of respond more to that because I dunno, it’s a bit more earthy. It’s a bit more, it’s a bit more real. And, and like, you know, you say about the banter element, I mean, that is mainly I’m taking the piss, you know, in almost everything that I do is I don’t really have, I’m not trying to pedal a view that I think people should have. It’s just, there’ll be a subject. And I’ve noticed perhaps a little bit of chink in the armour of how people, of how people think, you know, and often for me, the sort of virtuous middle-class left wing types are tend to be my favourite hunting ground because it’s just, it’s just funny, you know, it’s just funny to me that often the same people that will talk about doing the right thing and having a moral conscience will be the exact same ones that will kind of, you, you know, rent a flat near a, near a school just to get their kid in there to avoid, you know, like there, there’s just so many, and I look everyone wants to do the best for their kids, but I’ve always found it funny, the sharp elbows of the middle classes.
And I have over the last 10 years probably gone at them a bit much sometimes, you know? And that’s what’s funny is like the self-loathing, to me, there’s no doubt my life’s become way more middle class. But to me, the comedy thing about that is the self-loathing element and the trying to hang on, you know? And, and I guess even today, defiantly putting my laptop down in a cafe and <laugh>, you know, next to the workman, and there’s me with my, my MacBook Pro thinking somehow I’m still a proper geezer, but I’m just writing jokes, you know,
Paul Boross (00:23:24):
<laugh>. Well, you talk about prop geezer, your new tour is called Basic Bloke. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, tell us a little bit more about that and is that the dichotomy of, are you still a basic bloke even though you now have middle class where you are able to have a MacBook Pro?
Geoff Norcott (00:23:47):
Yeah, I mean, I think with, you know, with the show – obviously blokes generally, you know, in the slipstream of something like Me Too, which was a legitimate movement against some really bad people. But what tended to happen then was that masculinity and maleness it all got pulled into the slip-stream of one thing, and, and then it eventually ”male sort of became a pejorative for naf, rubbish, useless, you know? And I sort of thought, you know, I think blokes are all right, generally, they’re all obviously the, the toxic men that need to be taken on. But what you had was a lot of other blokes that were just a bit lazy and a bit rubbish, you know at worst stand around just hearing our brand get absolutely bashed. And, and I think that, you know, we are often portrayed as being primitive and basic creatures, but I, I thought that, I started to think that even some very simple behaviours had more interest in underbellies.
Like for example you know what blokes generally don’t put on suntan lotion as much as women, you know, have to be bullied into it almost. Yeah. And I think it, well, you could just sound on a simple level that’s cuz they’re lazy. But then I started to think, well, why, why is that? And then I started, well one of the reasons I don’t like doing it in public is because I don’t moisturise very often. I don’t really check my body at all. You know, I’m not as in tune with my body as a woman would be. So at a point where I put on suntan lotion in public, I’ve got no real match fitness in terms of how you reach that bit on your lower back, you know, how you rub stuff in. And so I just look like an idiot while I’m doing it.
And I, so I thought that’s more interesting to me is that, that it’s not just about bravado, it is just that I just don’t know how to do that stuff. I, and it’s probably only twice a year that I’ll be called upon to do it. So I’ll sort of take my, take my chances with skin cancer rather than, you know, the problem is, is is if you try and do something like that, you look like a cat. You know, when a cat has to lick that bit just underneath its chin <laugh>, it’s the only moment that a cat loses its sense of grace.
Paul Boross (00:25:40):
<laugh>. There’s no dignity there, is there,
Geoff Norcott (00:25:42):
There’s no real dignity. And, and so I sort of thought that’s, that’s true of, you know, of, of men. We just, we just don’t really have any form when it comes to a self-care in a public setting.
Paul Boross (00:25:52):
Well we had Omid Djalili on the show and he said that comedians are people who need the laughter of strangers to validate us. We’re all mentally ill. You are about to go out on the, or you are going on tour. Is that something that you relate to? I mean, cuz it reminds me of the old Billy Crystal line he said about Robin Williams. He needs those extra little hugs that you can only get from strangers. Hmm. Do you recognise that?
Geoff Norcott (00:26:26):
Yes, and I mean, I’m not like I don’t have like the classic comedians, um, sort of sensibilities. I’m quite sociable. I like going out and doing things, you know what I mean? I like, I’ve always like, you know, since I’ve been a comic, I like getting up in the morning and, you know, a lot of comics, they’re quite, you know, they like gonna bed late, getting up late, just keeping themselves to themselves. So I’m not sure that I’m, you know, I mean maybe it’s to do with greatness as well, you know, to be a proper comic. Maybe you need that. But I did not weirdly during the first lockdown, I didn’t miss the live work and that sort of alarmed me and my wife. Uh, I think for her it’s a great way of just getting some time apart. But then in, in the, in the second one, I really like the main one at the beginning of 2001.
I did miss it… 21. I think the reason I didn’t miss it the first time around is cause I’ve been touring a lot in the buildup and I was just exhausted. So it kind of came, you know, a, a convenient time for me as much as a world pandemic can be convenient and then I did a run at the Edinburgh Festival last year of my, my last tour show, which it was the best show I’ve ever, I know comedians always said that, but coming out of Covid, we all had a lot of stuff to talk about, right? And that’s one thing that works for humour is just, just accessibility. Do people know the thing that of which you speak? That’s why stuff about school works well, stuff about parents. It’s simply because I know what he’s talking about. So we’d all gone through Covid, whether you’d had the vaccination or hadn’t.
I had, despite appearances, a lot of people seem to presume that I hadn’t <laugh>. Um, you know, you were talking about a known entity to a lot of people. And then by the time I did it at the Edinburgh Festival, I just loved doing the show. Like it was, it worked so well and I did it for 21 days or something. And then, and then after I finished, I just got a bit depressed and then I was started trying to think, what is this? And I was like, oh, it’s just, I really like doing that my life made sense. I got up, there was a bit, you know, from waking up to about 3:00 PM where the day was my own, I pottered about, did a few bits. And then, you know, I had an early evening show, which meant that, you know, I could do the show and then after I, I’d go and get a bit of dinner, basking in the afterglow, the show that I’d worked so hard on and I missed it.
I missed it a lot. And I think that it is weird. I mean, a lot of comics would talk about it is like an addiction in a ways that the, was it, the lows get, the highs get lower and the lows get higher. So what you get from doing your job well versus what you get from doing it badly is be, becomes disproportionate. Um, but the thrill of doing new stuff that works, that doesn’t change, I don’t think. I mean, it’s like you’ve invented a new sort of really cool weapon for yourself. You know, like a good weapon that doesn’t hurt people that fires fun bullets. And you did that, you know, and you know that the old one is running outta bullets. you always need. And, and I think that that that creative need in standup is what keeps me, you know, o on my toes is that you’ve always gotta be developing as, as an act. Cuz I, I just think, you know, any standup you’ve ever seen, it stood still, it, you know, that that is a sort of creative death in itself. Well, it would be for me anyway. It’s
Paul Boross (00:29:32):
Interesting you talk about the, the stood still because I mean, we both, I mean, I, I was obviously a lot earlier version of the Comedy Store and all that, than you were. But I, you know, occasionally I will see acts who are still doing pretty much the same act that they were doing and, and I always think, well that must just be, you know, like a factory job at that point when you are doing that, you sound like you really always need to be doing something new to feel vital.
Geoff Norcott (00:30:05):
Well, I mean that, it struck me even in the early days. So you remember the, the circuit in the naughties was, was you could still learn a very good living from it. And so there was venues like the Comedy Store still is the Comedy Store, a great venue, but Jongleur also, which provided a lot of work. And the culture generally mostly was that people did the same 20 for a very long time. But even then, I, I just found that there was a, there was a kind of a shelf life for everything I was saying. And, and as much as I, you know, it still worked, this started to come a point of diminishing returns. And so, you know, the acts of generation above me was he always turn this stuff over you, you know? And then I would say that the acts younger than my generation turn stuff over even, even quicker.
Uh, um, so, you know, there is a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath wateridefinitely, you know, cuz you never know for certain, what are you gonna ask yourself is, is is the new stuff. If, if you’re talking just about your 20 minute set, is it definitely better than the old stuff? And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you just want to have new stuff to say. Um, but that was what in a way led me to talk about politics, I suppose, was that, you know, I was doing a lot of club type work. I was gigging for the troops, you know, overseas in Afghanistan. And, and that demanded very like, you know, meat and two veg type comedy. And I thought I’d like to do something that challenges me. And my wife sort of said, well you, you know, you voted conservative, that’s weird for a comedian, why don’t you talk about that? And I thought, oh, I’ll give that a go. And, and it created like a, it created a difficulty element in the room because there were a lot of, not probably a lot of people in the room had voted conservative too, but the people that hadn’t immediately thought I was a bad person, right, <laugh>, like, as they often do. And you know, so I had to then I didn’t have to make them think I was a good person, but I had to have jokes that were funny enough to make them laugh despite that.
Paul Boross (00:31:53):
Now I love the fact that that challenge, uh, I also love your quote that voting conservative is a bit like buying a James Blunt album, loads of people who have done it, but weirdly you never meet them. Um, yeah. So you <laugh> but you were actually setting yourself up and great comedy comes from, and I remember Kim Kinnie who used to run the Comedy Store, I don’t know if you I’m aware of often. Yeah, yeah. And he, you know, a a a lot of people like Sean Lock and everything, he advised all of us. And one of the things he used to say is when people were starting out early in their career, he did it with Jack Dee and thing, I don’t know who you are. Mm-hmm. And it was a very thing to say, go away and work on who you are. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the thing. And do you think that that that through-line about your politics gave you a real, gave the audience and you a real signal of who you are and where you are coming from?
Geoff Norcott (00:32:57):
Uh, first, I believe, you know, when it came to Comedy Store, they said to me, they didn’t know who I was, but that was cuz they just literally didn’t know who I was. I was <laugh> I wasn’t doing enough work. See, always working Paul, always working
Paul Boross (00:33:07):
Geoff Norcott (00:33:08):
There is a tendency in comedy, and a lot of male comics do this is they’ll just tell you what they think about the world. Right? But you’re only giving away dribs and drabs really of who you are there, you know, they’ve all, they’ve got a kind of work it out. You, you get credit for being, oh, they got, that was a smart take or something, but they don’t necessarily know who you are. Whereas I guess if you are even the act of willing to be unpopular tells them something, uh, uh, about you, you know, the honesty of that, not in these days, but originally you are inviting them into a confidence and stuff. And then, you know, having taken that risk, I think then I probably got more confident in taking on difficult things. So, you know, I’m never gonna be one of these comedians that’s gonna sort of depress the shit out of everybody with like a, like a tragic five-minute story.
But I certainly wasn’t afraid to talk about the bad things that had happened to me, you know, however, briefly or if I, if I had something funny to say about them and, and just bit by bit, yeah, the, the sort of complicated balance of who you really are comes out. And for me that balance is, is on the one hand, you know, having sort of centre right politics, some small ‘c’ conservative impulses, um, also being what most, you know, what certainly an old-fashioned sense would’ve been seen as liberal and that no longer being seen as liberal, which I think a lot of people are in that boat. But also finding it funny that I’m this guy too. Like I can see that, that I have certain old-fashioned ways of thinking about things that I surprise myself sometimes. I, you know, like I used to do a bit on men, you know couples having double-barreled names. You know, I just, the moment whenever a guy tells me that they’ve gone double-barreled, I just, I just feel like it, what makes me laugh is when he says no, we just, when he tries to act like he’s okay with it, I’m go, come on mate. <laugh>, come on. There must be a part of the, I say, all right, you may have accepted the decision, but I’m going to bet that this wasn’t your idea.
Paul Boross (00:35:05):
No, no, no, no, I get that. And I was interested when you were talking about the finding yourself funny and being able to take the piss out of yourself, because I think that’s a, a very large part of your charm and charisma in comedy is the fact that there’s a knowingness about the fact that I know that what you are thinking about this and do you, how important do you think because obviously it’s not just comedians who listen to this podcast, it’s people in business and it’s, it’s about helping improve. Do you think it’s important to actually laugh at yourself, to find yourself funny?
Geoff Norcott (00:35:43):
In some cases what you’re saying, it’s not just laughing at yourself, it’s acknowledging the funny thought about you that they may have had, you know, so a lot of comics use that device and it is, it is a legitimate comedic device of, of walking out and addressing what people’s first thought about you might be. Yeah. Because what that does is, is it, it clears the elephant in the room and it also shows them that you’re good at it, you know, you know what you’re doing. I mean, the one I’ve used for a while, because I generally dress in jeans and a polo shirt for a while, I, I’ve sort of gather the line and say I reassure them I’m a comic. And then say, cuz I think some of you just thought an electrician had wandered on stage accidentally, because that’s what it looks like, really.
I mean, I just, I’d look like an electrician for some reason, <laugh> or, or the kind of bloke that, you know, you saw, you know, when it all kicked off at Wembley in the Euro final, I look like the kind of bloke, the kind of bloke there. So, what I’m sort of saying is, I know that some of you in the room will think I’m a bit of a gammon in inverted commerce, or you know, I look like a hooligan or, or you know, a lot of di different things that aren’t necessarily positive, but I’ve second guessed you, I’ve acknowledged them. And in the act of acknowledging them, I’m also confirming that I’m not, in a way, I’m not lumping the electrician in with, in with blokes are have barged their way into a final and are being hoologans, you know,
Paul Boross (00:36:57):
But, but it’s very interesting from a psychological perspective that we are all making decisions about everybody constantly. You know, they, there’s, they say that it takes between two and three seconds for somebody to make an impression. So actually that’s a very useful thing for anyone who has to get up, whether that’s a wedding speech or a business speech or everything to acknowledge something in the room about themselves or about the situation. And then that kind of takes control of it, doesn’t it?
Geoff Norcott (00:37:29):
Yeah, it can do. I mean, contextually though, those are, there’s slight, I mean, you could do with a best man’s speech. I mean, one of the things, if you’re a best man, I would always think that, that not everyone in the room knows who you are. There’s probably a, a likelihood that a solid chunk of people will know who you are. So you could deal with that then, you know, if you are in business again, you have to slightly temper the message cuz uh, if you sort of walk on and do a business speech and go, I know what you’re thinking, you know, the ba the bastard love-child of Stephen Hawking and you know, something like <laugh> like that, you know, you again, it’s um, it’s, it’s so, it’s so subtle. I mean, I, I’d imagine that the, the difference between doing a business talk or, you know, or addressing employees and stuff is similar to how I have to change it for when I’m going on a, a show like Question Time or something where I know that a naked attempt to get a big laugh will just, just annoy people frankly, because they go, well one, there’s a lot of people that not unreasonably going, why is there a comedian on Question Time?
Fair question. It’s not for me to answer and secondly, you, you know, it, they’re taking this, this is a serious thing and they want to take it seriously. So in those situations, I tend to sort of like offer humour a nod towards the idea of humour can be just as, um, as effective, you know, like something that doesn’t have an obvious, uh, rim shot punchline, but is is just dropped, dropped in. And then people can almost congratulate themselves for, for realising, you know, what, what you’ve, what you’ve said. But it also takes the pressure off the joke as well, like what you would, as you know, what you would normally have as a punchline is the funniest word will come at the end of the sentence, right? Because there’s the punctuation point of a joke. Whereas I sometimes think if, if it’s a more formal setting I’ll sandwich the joke within something else to give myself a bit of leeway whereby, you know, you can kind of, then, then if it doesn’t work, they’re sort of going, did he do a joke there or was that just a ….? And it doesn’t matter because if, as long as you keep your own internal settings okay, it’s amazing how, you know, it’s, it’s not when you do new material, if you don’t believe too much that it’s definitely gonna work. If something bombs, if you remain calm and just go and do the next thing and it doesn’t appear to have sort of bothered you, especially then, then the audience can feel calm too.
Paul Boross (00:39:44):
But that’s really interesting cuz I say to people on stage, if you want anyone to go into any state, you have to go into that state first.
Geoff Norcott (00:39:52):
Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah.
Paul Boross (00:39:53):
And I was thinking about when you were talking about that you were a teacher, uh, at a secondary school that was all about state management, wasn’t it? About you had to manage the state and, uh, in your book, How
Geoff Norcott (00:40:08):
Where did I go? Right, <laugh>,
Paul Boross (00:40:09):
Where did I go? Right. I was, uh, I was, I knew the word right was in there. I was just trying
Geoff Norcott (00:40:13):
To, you probably from your, from your point, you probably think, where did it go wrong? You know? I mean that’s, that, that’s the inference.
Paul Boross (00:40:22):
Not at all. Um, no, it’s a great book. Where did I go Right? But also that whole thing about being a teacher is about having the right attitude so people don’t mess with you. And is that not similar to the whole comedy thing of well, you’ve gotta walk on stage with an attitude and then people will behave
Geoff Norcott (00:40:44):
Firstly, as a teacher, I would always, I mean, I, I I don’t dress very well in life and it’s constant source of frustration for my wife. But as a teacher, I did make sure that I had a, had a suit and tie, you know, every time. Because teenagers, despite, I mean, again, this is one of these kind of liberal things now where, you know, teenagers are just as clearly, again, no, there, there’s great things about teenagers, but they are very superficial basic creatures. If you go in looking smart, they’ll respond very well to superficial signals. Right? So if you looked apart the, that’s one thing. And then I would just go in as though, you know, like I just expected to be listened to and, you know, if they were chatty or disruptive, I wouldn’t get annoyed. I would just, I, you know, I had a couple of facial expressions that would just be like, I cannot believe that you are delaying these amazing things that I have to say <laugh>.
Like, and, and then would happen is if you could nail that, the kids would often go sharp cuz they would see, you know, this person that, that, and, and if you could get away with that, don’t get me wrong, there were some classes where you, you really had, you know, it was just firefighting. But, um, yeah, I just used to sort of set up some very clear things at the beginning of the lesson. You know, one of them was that they had to call me either sir or Mr. Norcott, you know, so I gave ’em a choice, but the choice was still between two very formal things. But that wasn’t my, you know, maybe that was the first time I realised I was, was a bit old-fashioned or certainly conservative with a small ‘c’. But to me it was like classic conservatism, which is just pragmatism, is that that’s what will work, that’s what they need. That’s not necessarily how I want to act. I would rather just be relaxed than wearing jeans and a t-shirt. But that’s what I need to succeed in this environment.
Paul Boross (00:42:24):
That’s really interesting cuz you, but you said it in as teenagers, I do a lot of training in business and, and people, and I’m always saying the same thing to people in business. You know, you, you think you work for a trendy company and you, you, you, you can wear a torn t-shirt, but when you are going to pitch to somebody outside, you’ve gotta remember that they are judging you on some level. And whether that’s a level of respect like you are talking about, it doesn’t really make any difference. So it’s easier to actually hold them, first of all with the visual, but
Geoff Norcott (00:42:59):
Well just don’t scare the horses. I mean, that’s the point is if you, it’s like comedy. Any decision that you make with teaching or comedy to upset convention, if it’s done with an idea in mind, like a real clear plan of why you’re doing it, or like you might be, or you might have the most amazing pitch in the world. Like, you want to set, you want to wrong-foot them, perhaps by looking like you look or you’ve got jokes about how you look, that’s great. But it can’t just be like, oh, I can’t, you know, cause I can’t be asked to wear a suit. It’s gotta be like, there’s a specific, you know, there’s a specific reason. Yeah. You might be a music teacher and think if I wore a suit, you know, they might think I was a bit uptight and therefore not, you know, necessarily a great music teacher, you know, being a drama teacher, being a PE teacher, all these things are, they’re all different choices.
So you can, you know, do I remember there was a comedian, uh, very good comic called Danny Bhoy, and he came on and I did a gig with him in Singapore, and I was sort of the support act, but when he came on, he faced the other way for a good two minutes. And, but he knew what he wanted to get out of that. It was a power play and a very high-status move, but he had the jokes, he had the jokes about facing the wrong way, you know, but if you just face the wrong way cause you think it’d be a cool thing and what will, what, you know, to see what will happen, you know, it’s, it is 99% of the time it’s gonna come unstuck.
Paul Boross (00:44:15):
Well, I think you’re right. You’re, what you’re saying is you have to be very, very skilled to do it. I, uh, mm. When Alan Davies first started doing the Comedy Store, we used to work with him all the time. And he used to come on shambolic looking at, you know, the set and the thing and the thing and the, the audience used to visibly get nervous. Yeah. Cause it was like, oh, you know what it’s like at the Store. Oh God, he’s gonna be, and then he would do that for about 90 seconds and go up to the mic and go, oh, don’t go thinking I’m shit. This is my job I’m just doing. When you turn up for your job, you don’t sit straight down and, and, and start, uh, doing that. Yeah. Yeah. And so, you know, and then he’d have a gag for that and a gag for that, which
Geoff Norcott (00:45:00):
There’s tension. Yeah. There’s a deliberate thing there. You’re creating the tension of low expectations, uh, which you can only exceed, you know, and there’s something, you know, in talking about comedy from a more conservative angle, the, the thing that you can exceed is certainly when you’re in Edinburgh and there’s very like bourgeois type left-wing audiences, the low expectation is that they might think that you are a horrible or stupid person. And it’s quite handy on that because if you, if you demonstrate to them that you’re not thick or that you, that you’re not unkind. I’ve often thought, you know, left w you know, this argument about left wing and right wing comedy, I think it’s harder to be a left-wing comedy because you’re sort of adopting a high moral stance in the beginning. And that’s not necessarily a great place to do comedy from.
It’s to say, I’m, I’m a fantastic person who thinks all the right things. Whereas if you just think about, you know, if you’re thinking of a sitcom character, you know, I’m a flawed person who sometimes thinks the wrong things is a much funnier, you know, place to come from. And you know, admitting to thinking those things or, or to, to kind of like sort of barmy things that run through your mind is, again, like you say, it’s about, it’s about what’s your intention? And you know, if you, if you just, so, so for example, if you just went on to shock people, that won’t work in the long run because pe it’s annoying when someone says, well prepare for my truth, or Can you handle this? Or I bet you weren’t expecting that. People go, well, we’ll be the judge of that. But if you go on with, with the idea of you want to share some complicated ideas that are morally ambiguous with jokes, that that’s a different, that’s a different starting point.
Paul Boross (00:46:36):
I think it’s fascinating. Uh, I
Geoff Norcott (00:46:39):
Mean, I say all this, I’m making it sound very highfalutin. I mean, if you saw my club sets at the weekend, I was doing knob jokes, you’d think, well, where does all this theory feed into that, Geoff?
Paul Boross (00:46:49):
Where do you know what I, it’s so sometimes you have to have bit of both, don’t you? You
Geoff Norcott (00:46:56):
Really do. You’ve gotta,
Paul Boross (00:46:57):
You know. Yeah. And it’s horses for courses, isn’t it? Mm-hmm. Well, if you are, if you’re doing a set in a club, you, you know, you can’t do it about philosophical matters to do with conservatism. You’ve got to mm-hmm. Have a knob joke in there to get it there. Talk about clubs you talked about a couple of people, but what makes you laugh?
Geoff Norcott (00:47:18):
I think at the moment on things like TikTok, there’s so many funny people, it’s actually scary. Like how good the, just generally people outside of what’s perceived to be the industry are observing things and making funny sketches. I think that the skillset set to be a standup, as you all know, is quite, it’s quite rare. Doesn’t matter how many people started, it seems like there’s still only a certain amount that get good at it. But the thing of just noticing like little intricacies and inconsistencies in life and representing them in small sketch formats, I think there’s some insanely funny stuff on, on, on, on TikTok. You know, there was a guy the other day that I saw a, a sketch and he just said, he just said, when you’re lying in bed and you can’t tell whether or not the dressing gown hanging on the back of your door is your dressing gown or 15th century ghost.
Now, it was such a specific observation, and he means in the dark. But because I’d once been in a hotel and woke up and saw my suit hanging up on the thing and it was in that half-sleep state, I just thought, yeah, you know, like sometimes when you’re in a half-sleep state and it’s dark and you are maybe in a slightly negative frame of mine and you think the things that you are, and, and he just did a very good impression of a scared person trying to sort of hide in their bed and I thought God, that’s such a simple, but it, it wouldn’t work in standup, you know, but in, in the realms of a, of a short clip where you can demonstrate it, you know, it’s really funny. And there are, you know, there’s another guy on there that, you know, he, he uses higher production values, but he’s just done this brilliant satire of the Kardashians, which is a, which is an obvious, an obvious target, right.
But he sort of picked up on certain linguistic tropes, the fact that they’ve always got like a weird drink with them. So he’ll often have a glass that would just have like a, an exotic flour coming out. It’s not even really a drink, but he is just picked up on the fact that they always seem to be promoting an idea that there’s something new and fangled that you should be drinking. So it’s might be unfashionable with comics to say it, but yeah, social media, I think is, is where I get my laughs now.
Paul Boross (00:49:19):
That’s amazing. Do you think that, you know, we touched on it about a political leaders, but do you think you can be a great communicator generally without understanding humour?
Geoff Norcott (00:49:30):
It’s hard, really. I mean, unless the raw dry content you had was so earth shattering that it didn’t need humour, you know, I mean, I – even Stephen Hawking used to throw in the odd gag, didn’t he? You know, you’re talking about the inception of the universe and the big bang. He would, he would throw in the odd wry aside. Um, so no, I think that it, it, I never thought, I never thought like a speech suffered from being too funny. Uh, I definitely thought that loads of speeches suffered from being too serious, I guess is the best way of putting it. So if you were gonna fear on one time, I mean, obviously, you know, there’s attempt, we are talking about humour if it’s successful now, right? Yeah. Um, but, you know, being serious can be successful, but it can also bore the crap out of you, you know?
If you look at somebody like Theresa May, you know, she’s suffered by not being able to loosen at all. Rishi Sunak as well will suffer from that problem. Starmer will suffer. I mean, look how much cut-through Boris Johnson got just because he was sort of shambolic and a bit funny. You know, Blair could be not to the same degree as Johnson, but Blair could be humorous but if you look at the, all the, the recent prime ministers that have, um, struggled to sort of strike up a rapport with the British public, it’s been a lack of humour in a way.
Paul Boross (00:50:57):
You say that we, we had, um, William Hague on the podcast.
Geoff Norcott (00:51:00):
Well, he Was Great. Yeah.
Paul Boross (00:51:01):
He’s funny. He is, he is genuinely very funny. And, uh, you know, they used to say, Alastair Campbell used to say and said on here that they feared him mm-hmm. At, at, at, at Prime Minister’s Questions because he could do a zinger that would not only make the conservatives laughs, but the whole Labour benches laugh as well. And that’s a real talent. But, um, William Hague said, um, that Margaret Thatcher was deeply unfunny mm-hmm. <affirmative> and didn’t get it, you know, the, uh, story of, um, uh, her saying is Monty Python, one of us? Because they tried to get her to do a line that was Pythonesque and said, prime Minister, it will work. And when it worked, she said, is he one of us? You know? But she really didn’t actually understand the rhythm of humour, and yet she was adored, was she not?
Geoff Norcott (00:51:59):
I suppose that’s like, goes back to that point about you better have the most earth shattering. Everything else needs to be in place then, you know, in terms of your image, you know, the Iron Lady, the gravitas, the way that she spoke her, her uncompromising, you know, all the other stuff is in place. It’s a bit like, you know, when people talk about doing dark humour, I always think that dark humour just needs to be funnier. You know, that, that’s the point about it. So if you’re going to be as serious as fact was, you gotta go full Iron lady, right? <laugh>, you know, you can, there can be no, you know, and in a way that is the funny thing is that someone has such utter, I mean, she just had such utter conviction. It was, it’s, it’s almost striking in itself that you go, I don’t think you doubt any of this.
You know, some politicians where there’s nuance, you know, someone like Ken Clark couldn’t be more different from her. And people, public tend to, like Ken Clarke, he’s one of those few politicians which cuts across with both sides. And that’s almost exclusively to do with humour. You know, like Dennis Skinner real hard left type guy, Beast of Bolsover over, but funny. Right. You know, he’s got running jokes and all those sorts of things. So I guess, yeah, some people do, do break that mode. I mean, it, it, it, it’ll all depend on, I guess, and this might sound a bit trite to say it, but the subject matter and the context, and it’s a constant balance out isn’t, it’s a trade off between how serious or, or, you know, um, kind of porentious or, or ominous is what I, what I have to communicate here versus how much humour can I afford to have. You know, I mean, I’ve done an, you know, unfortunately I’ve done quite a few eulogies, um, cuz people, once you’re a comic they tend to ask you to do them. And I’ve, I’ve learned in a way that you do need to have a couple of nods towards humour. But they need to be tiny nods, tiny nods. And, and, and, you know, the most you’re gonna get is a kind of, you know, a wry noise of, uh, uh, acknowledgement, you know? Yeah. I’m
Paul Boross (00:53:51):
Interested in that because then mm-hmm. The only time I’ve seen it done, um, which I think was brilliantly, was when John Cleese did the eulogy for Graham Chapman. Mm-hmm. Where he took everybody down one road and then sprung it back.
Geoff Norcott (00:54:08):
Well, that was I mean, I guess that was a comedy industry funeral, and there were comedians there, so that was much closer to being, um, a, a performance than anything that we would understand.
As a funeral, I, I think the one that that really stands out most to me was, there’s a, there’s a moment in the fo you know, that, that incredible speech by John Hannah’s character in Four Weddings in a Funeral Yeah. When his partner has died. And, um…
Paul Boross (00:54:31):
Stop the clocks.
Geoff Norcott (00:54:32):
Yeah. Stop the, so he does it, he eventually does the poem, but before that he does a kind of eulogy and he talks about the, I can’t remember what it is. He says something about the awful experimental sandwiches he would make or something like that. And it cuts to this actress I, who she is, but she does this sort of nod and a wry smile and that, and that was enough. That was exactly the right amount of humour for that situation, which was not very much at all. But, you know, there, there are, you know, it, it’s so contextual with, um, eulogies. I mean, I, like I say, I’ve done them at all ages, sadly. But the, you know, older, the older people are, the more you can mention stuff, you know, the more tragic it is, the less you can mention stuff.
It’s almost like there’s a, there’s a slide in scale and you just gotta kind, you know, again, again, with, with, with weddings, you know, I did, um, I did, I was lucky enough to be the celebrant for my stepsister’s wedding and it was a great thing. I’ve never done that before. It was, it was really, uh, I’m surprised that more comedians don’t do it, by the way, as a corporate offshoot because celebrity comedian does your wedding is, you know, let’s talk business Paul, once we finish. But yeah, <laugh>. Um, but to try and be too funny in that situation, like, don’t get me wrong, I was able to do a couple of jokes, but to try and be too funny, there’s that moment we go, it’s not about you mate, <laugh>, you know? So that, that is another factor as well, is that humour. Sometimes you can put yourself at the centre of something, but you’ve gotta be careful about the degree to which you should be at that centre.
Paul Boross (00:55:58):
Yeah. Brilliant. We’ve reached the part of the show, Geoff, which we like to call quickfire questions, Quick-Fire questions. Who is the funniest business person that you’ve met? So, not necessarily a comedian.
Geoff Norcott (00:56:17):
Um, I dunno if he, this was deliberate, but there was a guy that I worked with and I worked in advertising. He was an Old East End bar boy that ended up working on the kind of small, small industry side of thing with ITV. So his deals were often, instead of money, it was like con contra deals. It was hilarious. He used to get like 30,000 pairs of jeans, you know, or six new photocopies and stuff. And he was just a funny, just a funny guy. Had a funny way of talk and, you know he’d pause it. He just, he just used to instinctively make me laugh and he just had a way of saying it where I was like, I never knew if he was being deliberately funny. And he’d be like, I’ve got six brand new photocopies out of them , you know, and he, and it was funny cause I was working for ITV advertising time. A lot of ’em were talking about these multimillion pound dollar deals. So yeah, maybe there’s a sitcom in him, but, um, yeah, in business that would definitely be the funniest guy.
Paul Boross (00:57:07):
Oh, brilliant. What book makes you laugh, Geoff?
Geoff Norcott (00:57:10):
Um, so I, I don’t know, as, as a guy used to be an English teacher, I don’t read enough, but when I was younger, I remember Martin Amis’s books there. It was, again, it wasn’t like the laughters the the humour that used to build throughout the books. And then he had this knack for naming characters. And, and so there’s, there’s the book Money, which is about a guy trying to get a film Commissioned in in the late seventies, I think. Yeah. He has these characters in it that are just so fun. Like, there’s a guy who’s kind of, I guess like a Chuck Norris type, I don’t know, Burt Reynolds type character who’s called Lawn Guyland. And I was just sort of so funny cuz immediately that’s, that’s not like a real name, but it feels like a real name.
And then he had this character, this kind of actress who’d become an earth mother called Kadsu Massie. And she basically just wanted to, you know, one of these highly intellectual women that wants to sort of breastfeed the entire world at the same time. And, and you know, at the time I was reading there, you know, it was the time that Madonna was adopting half of Africa and stuff. And so he, he seems so ahead of the game and, and, and in, in the book Money, there’s a description that of him losing a tennis match, which I think that there’s something about losing at tennis, which is so humiliating and protracted and exhausting. And I, I think that he just captures every single aspect of it.
Paul Boross (00:58:25):
Oh no, it is a tremendous book. And actually, you know, the first person has chosen that book, but it’s a brilliant choice. I absolutely love it. I also love Martin Amis came up with, uh, one of my favourite, sort of little quotes and he says, I keep on working cuz I have ‘tramp angst’. He goes, I see myself means that. Yeah, yeah. Under it. Do you have that same thing as well where you visualise that if this doesn’t go right and then the, the I’ll tumble into that and next thing you know, I’ll be under Waterloo Bridge begging for pennies.
Yeah. Yeah. I, well, I mean, it’s interesting cuz I always thought that that was more of a working-class impulse, you know, like if you’ve, you know, is that old phrase about once you leave the council estate you never stop running, right? Yeah. Um, you never stopped running from poverty. I also had, you know, another guy in business that was a very funny man, he’s, and you know, still works in comedy, Jeff Whitting, who you’ll probably be aware of as well. Yeah, yeah. Uh, promoter and MC, you know, and he a real place within the comedy industry, but he, he had this phrase, you know, he said, comedy’s like pushing a car up a hill, you know, he goes, you can get really far up that hill, but if you take your hand off that car for one second, like the velocity of the reverse. And it, it’s annoying because that is what comedy’s like. Um, so yeah, no, I absolutely tramp angst and, and stuff, but maybe with Martin Amis, the thing that substituted for poverty was the fact that his dad was Kingsly Amis
Geoff Norcott (00:59:47):
Paul Boross (00:59:48):
Yeah. But he still had that, that psyche that, that, that
Geoff Norcott (00:59:52):
Yeah. No, I have, I have tramp angst as well. Yeah.
Paul Boross (00:59:56):
What film makes you laugh?
Geoff Norcott (00:59:58):
Um, well, I guess like all people, it changes over time. Yeah. God, I mean, I suppose, you know, I don’t know. I can remember at the time, you know, I can say that when Dumb and Dumber first came out, I mean, I watched that, uh, I watched that on a loop a lot, you know, that formative, I, and, and, and obviously the spoof films of, of the kind of late seventies as well, because what I loved about those spoof films was when you, you saw grownup actors, and I just loved the fact that they were so deadpan and they were taking it so seriously, you know, and you get people like Leslie Nielsen and those guys that you just sent such a warmth, I guess. And then going on from that, people like, Will Farrell, I think really carried that forward where you just, you must be the best bloke in the world because you’re willing to be so silly for the sake of entertaining other people.
Like there’s things, there’s things in the film, the other guys with Will Farrell, Mark Wahlberg that’s so ridiculously funny. Like in one of the, the, the running jokes in it is that he’s got this stunning wife who’s literally a 10 out, I mean,10 outta 10. And, um, and he’s just a bit, he sort of apologises to Mark Wahlberg about his wife, her behaviour, how she looks, and, and Mark Wahlberg’s absolutely astonished by this. And then it also transpires that in a former life he was a pimp as well, uh, called Gator, which is short for alligator. It is just, it’s just so, it’s just so funny in the way that it’s executed and, and it’s the, you know, commit to the bit, that’s the thing. And you go, obviously you got paid loads of money for that and became famous, but whenever anybody does deadpan, I always think that they’re sort of making a sacrifice for everybody else’s benefit.
Paul Boross (01:01:37):
Yeah. And that, but isn’t that in comedy, you have to really go for it, especially on film. You have to sort of like believe that you are it for it to become funnier if you,
Geoff Norcott (01:01:50):
I mean, yeah, well they always say that about good comedies, you know, when, whenever they say about a comedy always we had great fun on set and there was loads of improv and the, those aren’t necessarily the best ones. The ones that you wanted are the ones that had a great script. And I know that we judge films often they’ll think of lines in the moment and stuff, so there’s a different kind of improv, but, um, but yeah, you don’t necessarily want ’em to have had a complete laugh, you know, you want ’em to execute, you know, execute the script and the story as presented and, and the humour tends to come afterwards.
Paul Boross (01:02:19):
Wanna take a very quick shift to the other side. I don’t know, you are gonna be one of the most interesting people I think I’ve asked this question of, because I wonder if you have limits, but what’s not funny,
Geoff Norcott (01:02:33):
As you’d probably expect, I don’t have limits in terms of subject matter. You know, I, I’m, and I agree. I, I see that not everybody has to think this way, but I, I think that comedy has, uh, it is a risk, isn’t it, to make a joke. It’s a social risk. So all comedy is predicated around risk at some degree, greater at a risk, greater a potential return. And I think that you can, you can get told off, you know, like if you made a joke and people didn’t like it and made them feel bad, it’s okay for people to be angry about that. And to share that with you, what I think’s changed recently is what people think that the consequences of that should be. You know? And in some case they think it should be, you know, being boycotted, losing commercial sponsors or just never being seen in public again.
So, I think I, I don’t think that there are, you know, I, I literally don’t think that there are any subjects that are beyond comedic treatment, you know, be because I think that it doesn’t sound like an art form really. If you start saying you can’t, like any sentence that starts with you can’t, you think, is this an art form? Even, even when people talk about punching up and punching down, you go, well, you can only punch in one direction. But actually, if you know why you are punching down and if you’ve got a way of pulling it back round to punching up, there’s all sorts of, or if you know that in the process of punching down, the real joke is that you seem like an awful human being. There’s always, you know, there’s always a way to do something. So, n the short answer is eventually, the short answer is no. I don’t think there are any limits.
Paul Boross (01:04:00):
I just, I thought that the whole thing about cancellations and, and people being cancelled is a really strange way cuz who’s deciding what, uh, yeah, this, and that’s always what makes me uncomfortable. Cuz we’re going back to 1950s, Britain.
Geoff Norcott (01:04:19):
Well, yeah, that’s been the irony recently is how many people don’t realise, for those of us that can remember how much like Mary Whitehouse, they sound, that’s the funny thing is they think they’re at the core, trendy, cutting edge of society we’re going, but yeah, but telling people what not to say and that it’s too rude or too <laugh>, too provocative. I mean, that was literally what Conservatives, that’s what the right-wing used to say. That used to be the preserve of the Conservatives. So that, that’s been an interesting thing culturally during the course of doing comedies to watch people essentially change places on that spectrum.
Paul Boross (01:04:49):
Yeah, it’s fascinating. What word makes you laugh
Geoff Norcott (01:04:54):
There’s a group of words that I don’t really think that there’s a word for, but that sound more impressive than they are. So words like espadrille when you think about how that sounds versus what it is, or gazebo, you know, mezzanine, <laugh>, all these words are like way grander than the thing that they describe. So I want to invent a word that describes words that are, um, you know, uh, uh, don’t, don’t really live up to their billing.
Paul Boross (01:05:21):
Geoff Norcott (01:05:24):
Paul Boross (01:05:25):
No, plazebo is the new word. Oh,
Geoff Norcott (01:05:28):
Plazebo. Yeah, that could work. Yeah. Yeah. They don’t really perform. Yeah. A function. But, but yeah, I’ve always thought that that was funny when you hear a, oh well what does that mean? And another one as well just doesn’t even sound like what it is, sound like bucolic. They go so close to bubonic and that was a plague. Whereas bucolic means beautiful countryside or something. I’m just, I don’t buy it.
Paul Boross (01:05:50):
<laugh>. I love that. I love that. Any sound that makes you laugh?
Geoff Norcott (01:05:54):
Oh, mean, well look I’m a boy at heart,
Paul Boross (01:05:58):
Geoff Norcott (01:05:58):
I can hear and actually do you know what, do you know what sound, you know, like the old 1970s type carry on laughing things like if a guy would see an attractive woman and you’d hear ing or like all those childish, ridiculous sort of postcard sexuality, humour sounds from, they used to get from Ealing comedies. Those those make me laugh.
Paul Boross (01:06:18):
Oh, brilliant penultimate question. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Geoff Norcott (01:06:26):
Uh, funny because whatever intelligence I did have, I know that it’d be easier to get it across from me with humour if I was clever without funny, you know, I just, I dunno how I’d you’d get an audience for… Getting an audience just for being clever is really bloody hard. <laugh>. Yeah, you’ve got to be so clever. Whereas getting an audience for being funny, you know, you could be pretty funny and you can get a bit of an audience, you know.
Paul Boross (01:06:51):
Brilliant. And finally, Geoff, Desert Island Gags. You can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Geoff Norcott (01:07:00):
Well, it would just be for sort of sentimental reasons. My mom, how this all started was my mom used to take me and my sister to Harrod’s once a year, you know, to show us how the other half lives and, and we could have get one toy, you know, within a certain price range. You know, just basically it was her way of saying, you’re, you are good enough, you know, your money’s as good as theirs. And I had a book called the Ha Ha Bonk joke book. And the joke was something like, What Goes haha, bonk a man laughing his head off. Now. Not the greatest joke in the world, but I did tell it, uh, on stage at a holiday camp and it got one of my first laughs so, so that one
Paul Boross (01:07:37):
Geoff Norcott (01:07:38):
Paul Boross (01:07:40):
Brilliant. Geoff, you’ve been a fantastic guest. You’ve made us laugh, you’ve made us think. thank you so much for being a brilliant guest on the Humology Podcast.
Geoff Norcott (01:07:50):
And listen, I hope that your listeners, uh, hope to see as many of them as possible on the Basic Bloke Tour, uh, which is all around the country from Feb, the on sale from the beginning of February, and then it starts in autumn. We are going to all sorts of places, so I’m, I’m looking forward to getting back out there.
Paul Boross (01:08:07):
Go and see Geoff, Basic Bloke, brilliant bloke. Thanks a lot mate. The Humology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross, produced by David Rose, music by Steve Haworth, Creative Direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.