What the world needs now, clearly, is mythical hippo-like things. Would modern geopolitics be so fraught if the folks from Moominvalley ran things? With George from Rainbow? Exactly.
Yes, Joz Norris and Circuit Training did wander round Camden's Moomin shop because a world war seemed to be starting and we needed cheering up, but it turned out to be oddly relevant.
Norris - exactly the joyous-but-thoughtful comic you need on a murky day - has been building a show called Blink (co-starring the wizardous Ben Target) which WIPs at London's Soho Theatre next week, and is magic-themed. And anyone who knows anything about Moomins knows that The Magic Hat is basically their Infinity Stones/One Ring, a mighty MacGuffin that causes a right old shitshow.
But then The Moomins was always a bit dark. As our friendly shopkeeper explains, the original books were written by Tove Jansson in daylight-sparse Finland from the late 1940s, deep into the Cold War, with the Soviet Union lurking ominously right next door. Sounds familiar.
Joz has several promising projects coming up, nukes permitting. There's a Radio 4 show, The Dream Factory, and a podcast with Alison Thea-Skot, Can't Keep a Secret, which we'll get to. Full disclosure: on a freezing Thursday we did most of the interview in a lovely warm café, Luminary, hence just a bit of Moominchat below. But a banging browse was had (and we only de-masked for the photos).
Speaking of secrets - what Moomin merch did he buy? All will be revealed, as if by magic.
In The Magic Hat, Moomintroll messes with it and all hell breaks loose. How evil would real magic powers make you, on a scale of one (Tommy Cooper) to ten (Lord Voldemort)?
I think the version of me that I play in this show would go full Dark Lord. He's me in unfettered ego mode. He believes he's the most powerful individual in the universe, and if he had access to real unlimited power he'd go insane.
I suppose the twist would be that he's actually quite incompetent, so he'd see himself as a Voldemort type, but the kind of evil he indulged in would be mostly limited to making apples fall onto people's heads, fairly pathetic stuff like that.
The real me I think wouldn't go too crazy. Maybe I'd have one stab at doing something impressive with my powers, then realise I didn't like the pressure and the stress of it and have a little cry and then promise to never do magic again.
You've got a magic-looking hat in Blink - or is it just a regular hat? Did you spend much time on the wardrobe?
It is a magic hat, in two distinct ways, but you'll have to see the show to find out what's special about it! Yeah, we had a bit of wardrobe budget for the show, so I've gone a bit nuts. I've got nice trousers. I've got a nice dressing gown. I've gone all out. Nobody can say I haven't gone all out. I don't know if all of it will have arrived or not in time for the Soho run, but come August, I should be looking pretty natty.
So why a show about magic?
I read a book by a film editor called Walter Murch, who said that when we blink, it means that we've just had a new thought - which is completely just a thing he's made up. But he said the perfect film would make an audience all blink at the same time, because they'd be thinking in the same rhythm as the film itself.
I thought that would be quite a funny idea. So I spent a while trying to work out how to make a show that controlled the audience's mind, so that they all blink together, and then realised, 'I can't do that, that's impossible.' But this was after I'd kind of committed.
At the same time I was reading a book about magic, and about how to create good magical effects, how you use the audience's attention and things. And I realised that comedy and magic sort of work in the same way.
I suppose they do, the build-up and reveal...
They're both about choosing when to reveal information. I like the idea of trying to do a show that doesn't have any real magic in it, but follows the same rules, and to try to find the parallels between those two things.
So the show is now about an impossible magic trick that can't be done, that I struggle to work out how to do; it's kind of playing with all that.
It sounds like an interesting process, lots of tech cues, collaborators, rehearsals...
It's been very complicated to build the show, because there's been lots of trying to work out what it's doing, what order it happens in, and why.
For a while I was thinking maybe this is a theatre show, or maybe this is like an experimental avant-garde piece about consciousness. And then I eventually realised, 'wait, no, it's just a stupid comedy show.' Because the thing I'm trying to do, I can't do; and as soon as you're a person struggling to do something you can't do, I think that starts to be funny again.
There's something to be said for being silly - your shows were almost medicinal if I was having a downer at the Edinburgh Fringe.
It's nice that. In comedy we can all get a bit stuck in our heads, 'there's no value to it, I'm wasting everybody's time, what's the point?' But I think that's true of so many jobs. If you can make a few people smile and laugh and brighten up their day a bit, then you're doing something valuable, even if it feels a bit indulgent or whatever.
Unless you're being horrible to whole swathes of people.
Unless you're like 'I want the right to say horrible things about whoever I want!' If you're one of those, it's a bit different.
I remember a few years ago, you had quite a difficult time then wanted to turn that into a show.
I went a bit serious with stuff. For a while I thought 'I don't like comedy. It's too stupid. I want to go off and be really thoughtful and interesting and do stuff that I find unusual', and then realised, actually, the thing I like most is just pratting about in front of people and embarrassing myself.
So now I'm trying to do both at the same time, where on the surface you are just dancing around in your pants being an idiot, but maybe it's also saying a bit more about what's going on in people's heads. I feel like if 10% of an audience can get something meaningful out of it, and 90% of them just have a nice time, that's great.
He does have a Snufkin vibe!
Yeah, I'd done Mr Fruit Salad, and then I was going to do another show for Edinburgh 2020 about moving house because I moved house and found it stressful. But I turned it into a film. It was a good thing to do at the time, but I look back at it, and I'm like, that wasn't a great show.
No? It seemed to go down well.
It was too much, like, 'moving house is weird!' The fact that I did that in the year COVID happened and everyone's lives fell apart, it now looks a bit like 'ah, whatever, get over it, you'll be fine.'
It was a really original way of making a show, though.
I think I was more interested in that, in trying to find a new format for making stuff, because suddenly everything had gone, and I didn't like live streaming because you have no idea how you were coming across.
So it was fun kind of playing with that. I think the actual content isn't the best thing I've done. But the act of transposing something from live and then figuring out how to put it into a film thing, filming in different rooms so that it never gets too samey, I really liked that challenge of it.
Your new podcast, Can't Keep a Secret - has that been in the works for a while?
It's been a funny one, we kind of started working on the podcast in October, November last year, and now this account exists on Twitter, which is a very similar idea...
Fesshole. Has that not been going for ages?
The first tweet I can find was from December just gone, so I think it's just started. It came along at an annoying time - or maybe it's a great time because it shows people like this idea. It's in a different form.
In a podcast you get to really expand on it?
Yeah, the idea is that people write in anonymously with their secrets, and then me and Alison talk about whether we've done similar things, whether they should feel embarrassed. It's basically trying to point out that everybody has these weird things that they feel guilty about for years. And if you talk about them and find the silliness in them, then you can let go of it.
Me and Alison, there's not a huge amount of absolutely outrageous stuff in our pasts. But I think that's quite nice. It makes the vibe of the podcast just quite playful. Podcasts usually start small and build up. So I think we'll find a little audience and see where it goes.
It's gonna be one of those things that potters along... is that the word?
Pootle along! Then one secret will go viral and it takes off...
Probably yeah. I was just super resistant to podcasts for ages because everybody's got one...
True. But I suppose that's like saying radio shows are pointless because there's loads already... speaking of which, what's The Dream Factory?
I'm allowed to talk about that now, I think. That's a radio sitcom, two episodes at the moment, we'll do two and then see if it works as an ongoing thing, and then maybe get to do a whole series if they like it.
Two seems quite cool. A mini-series.
It's quite nice. Because you can kind of come up with enough ways to show 'look, you can tell more than one story with these characters in this world.' But you don't have to come up with so much that you're spreading yourself too thin.
What's it about?
I did a special last year that was set inside my head, and it was all kind of weird sketches and weird characters. So we were trying to work out if we could try and do a series about that, that goes in and out of different people's heads.
I was trying to come up with a story that lets you do a similar thing, and then landed on dreams. So it's set in the dream factory, which is where everybody's dreams come from; somebody goes round and puts them in your ear while you sleep. And I get a job there delivering them, but I'm crap at it.
It's kind of like classic sitcom workplace stuff, one guy who's not good enough at the job causing chaos, and everybody bouncing off each other, but the materials they're working in, they have to keep going into each other's heads to get the dreams out. All sorts of mad shit happens in there.
It sounds like a nice big canvas to put your, er, comedy paint on.
It's a fun way to just take it wherever I want. Like, if I have any weird, stupid sketch ideas, then I'm allowed to go there because it's a dream. But it's anchored in something that's a lot more familiar, it's just a guy trying to do a job in the office.
How are you finding doing comedy during wartime, then?
Oh, yeah, great... I don't know what it's going to be like really. For the time being I'll try and carry on doing the job, and hoping that if people leave your show feeling a bit happier than when they went in, then that's still a good thing to have done. But yeah, it doesn't feel very nice.
Your shows are always slightly removed from reality, so it's escapism, at least? Like us needing the Moomin shop.
I guess it would be horrible to be doing anything that has to comment on the world, because what can you say about it that's remotely encouraging? You don't want to go to comedy and leave feeling despairing and miserable. There's not a very happy spin you can put on things.
It's exactly the same as two years ago, that thing of you immediately kind of questioning your own worth and, like, maybe we just shouldn't, maybe we should all quit. And then you think, what else can I do?
It is a bit mad. Just carry on doing your thing for a while, probably look into whether there's any good causes I could support. That's a nice way of offsetting any guilt about 'I feel not great about the fact that I'm just getting on with my life.'
Last question: you bought a Moomin coaster, but the shop wrapped it before I saw it. What was it?
Oh! It's Moominmamma, saying...
Joz Norris: Blink is at Soho Theatre from 10-12 March. Info & Tickets