BEN NORRIS Jongleurs, Edinburgh, Thu 5-Sat 7 Feb

Familiarity breeds contempt, according to the age old idiom. Perhaps that’s why some audiences take a dislike to Ben Norris. It’s not because they’ve seen him before - many unsubscribed to the satellite- only, comedian-populated, surreal- fest that was MTV Hot, or unaware of his highly-acclaimed first solo Fringe run in 1998 with Standing Room Only - but because he looks just too darned like Martin Freeman, or ’im off The Office’. They’re cousins, hence the similarities. ‘I don’t really look like him but there’s mannerisms that we share,’ says Norris. ‘It comes up more often than I would like it to. I’m starting to feel like Paul Ross. I’m sure he’s very proud of Jonathan but he must be slightly gutted that Jonathan was actually born.’

Before his cousin was rocketed into the comedy stratosphere by Ricky Gervais, Norris was best known for his dimples. It’s a lose- lose situation, you might say. And those dimples, as well as popping up weekly to provide light relief between music videos, have graced the panels of They Think it’s All Over, Never Mind the Buzzcocks (‘That’s getting on two years ago now. I really need to get onto my agent’) and more recently 100

Greatest Musicals. It’s a far cry from the 36-year-old’s dream TV vehicle, Have I Got News for You. ‘Any show where you can genuinely ad lib would suit me down to the ground. I think my scripted material is good, but it’s not a patch on the stuff I come up with when gigs go


One such example is last year’s Glastonbury. A three- year veteran of the festival’s comedy tent, his act could have gone awry after he was programmed to follow Bill Bailey’s four encores. Luckily some stage-invading crusty kids saved the gig. ‘They tried to get on the stage and I picked one of them up and said: “I bet you don’t live in a house.” I asked the parents to claim them

SKETCH SHOW IT’S A MAD, MAD WORLD The Stand, Glasgow, Wed 28 Jan



Ewan John is squlds in

During the festive season, an English friend and fellow comedy fan casually inquired after the great young hope of Scottish comedy. I uhmed and aahed for a while before snapping my fingers and

62 THE LIST 22 Jan—5 Feb 2004


‘l’m starting to feel like Paul Ross’

and nobody moved a muscle, so I think they were feral. But that’s Glastonbury. It must be a lovely place for kids to run about, as long as they know that eventually their parents will sober up and find them.’

Which brings us neatly to alcohol. The Aldershot-born

comedian has just filmed his second beer advert. It’s a

naming a well-established turn about to embark on his 403.

If only I'd recalled that balmy Fringe evening, when myself and a modest group of sceptics at Edinburgh College of Art were gradually thawed out by the innovative sketch comedy of Etchy Sketchy. While the production had the makeshift. chaotic feel of a Judy Garland ‘Iet's-put-the-show-on-right-here-in-the- barn' revue. these delightfully surreal vignettes were delivered with an assured energy by the four youthful performers.

Among this quartet, Perrier and Tapwater winners Garth Cruickshank and Will Andrews have so far shared the plaudits. Yet collaborator Ewan John makes a third one to watch, as the team sets out on a series of shows across the central belt.

Despite already boasting a wealth of writing experience. including penning sketches for BBC's Velvet Soup and imminent Gaelic-language programme Ran-Dan ('They were so nice to me I wanted to go and live with them'). John

Blair Witch-inspired ad for Carling which Norris scooped after ad-libbing on the audition. Or so he thought. ‘When I got the recall, the casting people said that the client liked that I had some of the same qualities as that Tim from The Office. I nearly fell off my chair. So maybe in that sense it can’t do me much harm. So long as he stops getting on the telly.’ (Maureen Ellis)

maintains that performing is what provides the biggest kick.

“Yeah, performing’s the most enjoyable part. no matter how sick I feel before I go on,‘ he says. 'I get the same kick out of someone getting a laugh from something I’ve written as I w0uld if I had said it. FOrtunater the writing process for It 's a Mad. Mad World has been great because we were writing and performing it in unison. Not the trade union. obviously, I mean simultaneously.‘

So. does this self-confessed exhibitionist secretly crave the solo freedom of stand-up? ‘Unbeknown to most. I do stand-up already. but I wear a giant squid costume to conceal my identity. However. I was recognised after a gig at Deep-Sea World in North Oueensferry and promptly caught in a huge net. It took hours of explaining and nearly $220 to persuade the keepers that I was who I said I was and not an aquatic freak of nature.’ Clearly. it is a mad. mad world. (Allan Radcliffe)


Where the laughter matters

IT'S ALL CHANGE OVER AT Southside laughter den the Vault Comedy Club. Scott Reader, former manager of the Stand in Glasgow. has taken over as manager of the venue and weeI-kent stand-up Raymond Mearns is helping out temporarin with the bookings. The programme has been reduced to feature comedy nights from Thursdays to Sundays only. but there's still plenty happening to keep south of the river Glasgow punters chOrtling.

FRANCESCA MARTINEZ lS SET to play two benefit gigs for children’s cerebral palsy charity Bobath Scotland in March. The former Grange Hill star (pictured), who herself suffers from the condition, was missing in action from the 2003 Fringe programme. Her return to Scotland will take in both Jongleurs venues - Glasgow on Wed 3 Mar and Edinburgh on Thu 4 Mar. Tickets can be booked from 1 Feb on 0870 7870707. PAUL WAGNER HAS REALLY PUT the cat among the pigeons in comedy land. The American stand-up. who is purporting to be organising a variety of Fringe shows under his remit of 'art director“ of the ‘ArtCommunity Cowgate Central Theatre'. is also planning to stage a year-round comedy club in Wilkie House beginning in May. Wagner's plans. which additionally include using the fire-razed site of the old Gilded Balloon as a festival venue. have upset Gilded Balloon director Karen Koren. who has said: ‘He's trying to trade on the name of the Gilded Balloon. It's also totally inappropriate to have tempOrary marquees on the fire site during the Fringe. I'd rather see work starting to rebuild there.‘ It remains to be seen just how many of Wagner's proposals come to fruition. but needless to stay we're erring on the side of caution, pessimistic old tools that we are.

POOR OLD BEN NORRIS. LOOKS like the Aldershot comic (see preview, left) will be starring in ads and hot 100 punditry slots for some time now that cousin Martin Freeman has landed another plum role. Freeman is set to play sole surviving human Arthur Dent in a film version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.