Ben Norris is a British stand-up comedian who has been performing on the comedy circuit since 1993. Ben Norris has appeared on a range of different television shows such as Mock the Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He was the warm-up man for the 7th series of Mock the Week on which he also appeared three times as a guest, on one occasion standing in for Frankie Boyle, who became ill moments before filming. A regular at The Comedy Store, in recent years Ben Norris has become a member of the Tuesday night ‘Cutting Edge’ team. Ben Norris has twice been Ed Byrne’s support act on national tours. He is recognised as one of the main players on the comedy circuit, having been described as a ‘circuit legend’, after headlining for more than two decades. Please enjoy my interview with Ben Norris…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I usually say ‘I’m a stand-up comedian’ and invariably they reply ‘what? really?…how funny’ which is appropriate I guess.
I have just finished reading A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman. I picked it up because of the title and sure enough, it is about a middle-aged stand-up comedian who is falling apart. What a busman’s holiday that was. Oh, apparently it won The Man Booker International prize this year. A bit of a tough read for me but I liked it
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I think it was those ‘Janet & John’ books we read at primary school. They made the world seem so safe and lovely and those illustrations were already part of a bygone era even in the very early 1970’s when I was reading them. I also have strong and fond memories of one of the first actual books I read as a young child that got me really hooked on reading and it was called Butch and Bax by Roger Collinson. It was about a young lad who wanted to buy a puppy he’s seen at the market and decides to get a paper round to save up the money to buy the puppy. I won’t spoil the ending but it’s utterly tragic; just kidding, I think it worked out ok.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
Anything by Noam Chomsky.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
Circa 1993, I had been a regular visitor to a comedy club in Clapham called ‘The Cartoon’ and I decided I’d start my own comedy club in Aldershot where I was living at the time. I would book my favourite acts from ‘The Cartoon’ and get them down to The West End Centre on the last Sunday of the month where I would introduce the acts on stage. Each month I got a bit braver and did a bit more of the terrible stuff I’d written, it soon became a total addiction and I began to branch out to open spot nights in London. The rest is history, as they say, whoever ‘they’ are.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Toilet roll salesman.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
1: Have a backup plan.
2: Avoid any subject you hear more than two other comedians have a bit on.
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences are?
Tony Hancock, early Ben Elton and my children who make me laugh every day.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
No, in fact, social media and my iPod often get in the way. I have taken so many books away with me and never opened them it’s a disgrace.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
I honestly doubt if there is a book that can really help you become a better stand-up. There are loads of books on the subject but the theory is largely irrelevant to the practice. Just get out there and perform as often as possible.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
The London A-Z, before we had Google maps I read that hundreds of times. It’s got a fantastic narrative arc.
I remember raving about The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks years ago. In fact, I got really into Banks and read most of his stuff around that time. Complicity was another one of his I loved and told other people to read. I also often tell people they have to read both of Julian Cope’s autobiographies Head On/Repossessed. I love Cope and these books are amazing.
If you weren’t in comedy, what do you think you’d be doing?
Running a high-end photocopier and drinking at lunchtime.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Dark and otherworldly; oh and books about music.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Like middle America.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Enid Blyton every time…can’t wait for the next one.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
No, I don’t, I think it’ll be like vinyl and people will come back to paper in a big way. You can’t fold the page corner over on a Kindle.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
Anarcho-Syndicalism Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker. I’ve not read it myself yet but it sounds good doesn’t it?
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?