Geoff Norcott interview: ‘My biggest fear in comedy is cliché’
One of the few openly Conservative-voting stand-ups on the circuit, Geoff Norcott’s comedy does tend to include a fair amount of politics, but not this time – well, maybe just a little.
I Blame the Parents is the fourth national tour for the comedian, podcast host, political commentator and author, following on from Conswervative, Traditionalism and Taking Liberties, and it’s coming to Hinchingbrooke Performing Arts Centre in Huntingdon on May 14.
For this tour, Geoff – whose numerous television appearances include Would I Lie to You?, Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week, Politics Live and Question Time – will mostly be exploring the subject of personal responsibility, parenting and who should take the blame when things go wrong. Hint: it’s you!
Whatever happened to the idea of personal responsibility? he will ask. In the age of victimhood, it seems like whatever is wrong with your life can be blamed on someone else: governments, employers, some bigot from 400 years ago... Where did it go wrong? It has to be the parents.
Raised on a South London council estate by two maverick parents, Geoff, 45, now lives in west Cambridgeshire. On the subject of his political beliefs, he suggests that there is more to the label of ‘openly conservative comedian’ than meets the eye, and that he is definitely not the only one.
“More than people being conservative, it’s more contrarian, or non-woke comics,” he says, “or I guess comedians that are willing to take a view that’s more in-line with the rest of the country, perhaps. Certainly topical comedy tends to kind of lean very heavily in one direction...
“So yeah, there’s a few of us now – people like Simon Evans, Leo Kearse and Andrew Doyle. It’s sort of like a mini-scene within a scene. Just the good thing about it is that people can have a different kind of comedy.
“It doesn’t mean that the people who come out and see us guys are all right-wingers. I mean certainly in the case of my tour, far from it – I get the most mixed audience – but I think it’s just a more natural thing in comedy to have all points of view recognised.”
Geoff, who also fronted his own documentary How the Middle Class Ruined Britain (BBC2), says that I Blame the Parents is the least political show that he’s done. “I think that a lot of people who listen to the podcast as well are just saying it’s common sense, really,” he suggests.
“That’s why the podcast is called What Most People Think. It’s not a left or right thing, it just those kind of reasonable opinions that you’re going to hear from most of the people that you know in real life but you might not see on the BBC.”
In terms of stand-up, Geoff believes that the “parameters for getting in trouble now are so tight” – “so even if you’re left wing, I think most left-wing people will have been in trouble for not being left wing enough...
“Even if comes down to buying a puppy, everyone’s got a judgement now. When we bought a puppy recently, everyone was asking us, suspiciously, ‘How much are you paying for it?’ and what they mean by that is... it’s almost like there was a benchmark, that you had to spend two and a half grand otherwise they’d worry that you got it from a puppy farm. There’s just this constant thing of having to justify yourself.
“Just to wind them up, what I say is, ‘No, I didn’t get it from a puppy farm, I bought it for 40 quid from a bloke under a bridge’. What they’re doing is putting themselves on a moral pedestal and you can only come in under that so you might as well play up to it, and sometimes that’s been an approach that I’ve taken in my comedy.
“If people think that I’m an awful person, then let’s explore... that’s a lot of what my comedy is; it’s not always saying that I think I’m right about something, but that I have human reactions to things that I think we all have, and to have a bit of fun with those. I think the one thing you can guarantee about comics is we’re all doing it for attention.”
Geoff adds: “The truth is I’m not mean in my comedy; I think about my targets and I think about how I come at them – I don’t go for cheap laughs. A lot of people have accused me of doing that quite familiar gag about saying ‘I identify as a penguin’.
“I’ve never done a joke like that but they presume that all comics on my side of this fence that’s how we do it. But if I’m going to talk about trans issues, I’m going to try and come up with a more unique and honest take on it. My biggest fear in comedy is always a cliché, saying something that somebody else could be saying.”
As well as his extensive TV work, Geoff has released three Radio 4 specials to date, one of which won Best Comedy at the BBC Radio & Music Awards. In 2021, he released his first book, the memoir Where Did I Go Right (How the Left Lost Me), garnering praise from fellow comedians such as Romesh Ranganathan, Katherine Ryan and David Baddiel and scoring five-star reviews on Amazon.