How Geoff Norcott a working class Tory made it to the top of lefty comedy
Geoff Norcott was eight when he got his first laugh on stage.
“I was at a holiday camp on the Isle Of Wight,” the affable comedian recalls. “It was a best cowboy competition. The other kids were introducing themselves as ‘Clint from Texas’ or ‘Hank from Arizona’, but when they asked me, I said, ‘I’m Geoff from Essex’ and all the mums and dads laughed.
“I remember the noise of that laughter, and remember thinking it was great.” Norcott, 46, is generally referred to as “the Conservative-supporting funnyman” although his stand-up isn’t particularly political.
Being Tory was seen as such an aberration when he emerged on the comedy circuit that he had to be categorised. When he first appeared on Question Time in 2017, being a working-class Conservative-voting comedian was as rare as a Vestal Virgin on Love Island.
“I don’t get much stick off other comics – I’ve been on the circuit for years,” he says. “I’m not confrontational, I’m trying to keep everybody in the room, left or right.”
It’s an exciting challenge to tell jokes that work for most people in the audience.” Like many Conservative voters Geoff says he’s “a little disillusioned” with how recent years have played out.
“But do I want to rejoin that huge, opaque organisation that is the EU? The answer is no,” he adds. The former teacher is likeably blokeish.
Indeed, his new book, The British Bloke Decoded, sets out to explain and defend this unprotected sub-species, exploring the joys of beer, male friendship and, unexpectedly, Mary Poppins.
So what is a bloke? “He’s a dependable rank and file of the human male, the standard husband, father, uncle or brother who tries his best…”
Blokes are generally content. “Give a bloke a dressing gown, some Twiglets and an obscure Bundesliga football match and he can sit happily for hours,” says Geoff who’s celebrating these overlooked everyday heroes on his Basic Bloke tour.
He claims to be “at the median point of blokery”, being medium height (5ft 8in) and weight (13st 7lb) with “decidedly average” size 9 feet.
His favourite sport is football, his favourite comedy is Only Fools & Horses. Geoff is average in every way, except for his success as a stand-up.
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Norcott’s father was a BT draughtsman and an active trade unionist. His parents divorced when he was nine and his mother brought up the siblings on a council estate in Mitcham south London.
“I was talkative at school,” he says. “I thought I was funny but it wasn’t until university that I met another lad and we started taking the mick with alternative biographies.”
Their character-based double act was as Russian dissidents called The Boobka Brothers. “Nothing like I do now.” His pal Neil pulled out ahead of their headlining gig at Wimbledon Studio Theatre, however. “We’d done a few gigs but he didn’t want to perform.
I’d booked the theatre and decided to do it myself. I filled the place out, about 100 people, and just blagged it. It wasn’t a complete disaster.”
Graduating from Goldsmiths college with a degree in English, Geoff worked in advertising sales before training to be an English teacher.
For a while in the early Noughties, he juggled teaching and stand-up. “I was like the world’s crappiest superhero,” he laughs. “I had to stop in service stations and gents’ toilet and change from a tweed jacket to a t-shirt, like a rubbish Clark Kent.
“I’d drive to Plymouth for a gig and get home at 3am. I was doing two or three gigs a week and driving 50,000 miles a year. I did once fall asleep in front of a class.
When I asked them what they’d done while I was asleep they said ‘Nothing!’. “I found that disappointing because in my school days someone would have drawn genitals on a sleeping teacher’s face.”
His worst-ever gig was “the final of Comedian of the Year,” he recalls. “I got slow handclapped. On the way home my wife Emma was as white as a sheet because I’d just handed in my notice as a teacher. “
“She was very quiet on the drive back.” Norcott never had a breakout comedy moment. “For me, everything was a long graft. It was small things, an extra show here, bigger venues.”
His first paid gig was in Manchester – £40 for a ten-minute spot. 21 years on, he’s just played his third sold-out run at Edinburgh Fringe, packing out the Underbelly for a fortnight.
“It would’ve been inconceivable four years ago”.Geoff’s first break-through was getting booked for three months on the Jongleurs comedy club chain in 2007, but perhaps his smartest move came six years later when he decided to take a riskier approach to his comedy, and, at his wife’s suggestion, outed himself as a pro-Brexit Conservative voter at the Leicester Comedy festival.
He was booked on Question Time “for the novelty factor”, leading to lucrative appearances on Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo, four years as the voice of sanity on The Mash Report, and his 2019 authored documentary, How The Middle-Class Ruined Britain, which skewered fashionable hypocrisy.
In 2021, Geoff published his first book Where Did I Go Right, subtitled How the Left Lost Me. It was Baroness Thatcher’s message of self-reliance and aspiration that connected with him.
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“She gave working-class people the idea that you’ve got agency, you can make your life better.” Geoff, who was awarded an Operational Service Medal for five frontline tours supporting British troops in Afghanistan, believes our comedy scene is improving.
“It’s the healthiest it’s been for a long time,” he says. “I can do the News Quiz with Simon Evans” – a GB News regular – “and Andy Zaltzman, who is a brilliant host. There’s a vibrancy about both of them.”
Growing up, he admired the late Dave Allen – “one of the most under-rated comedians, he did sketches, jokes, characters, stories, topical material…that’s what I’m aiming for, that ambition.”
Now he rates hard-hitting Canadian stand-up Tom Stade – “you see the audience gasp”. Home for the Norcotts and their young son Sebastian is in a bucolic Cambridgeshire village.
Geoff may be a workaholic comedy obsessive, but, as Emma testifies, he’s quite good at getting up and making breakfast.
They met in 2002 at a hard house night at London’s Camden Palace – “A classic case of 150 beats-per-minute, boy meets girl…” – and celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next year.
“We’re going to renew our vows and have a big party,” he beams. “I might even get to DJ. I’ve got a set of decks and I play hard, banging music. My two dogs slope off downstairs when I start.”
As well as house, techno and trance, he enjoys “football and cricket, curry, lager and KFC…I love a good box set, I can watch forty hours of the same show if it’s as good as Better Call Saul. But I find with a lot of TV now the ‘message’ is front and centre’ ahead of character and story.”
Current irritations include news that Snow White is being “re-imagined” by Disney. “If you think Snow White is so terrible, don’t make a Snow White film!” he says, exasperated.
“These re-writes show contempt for the source material. Just make something different, something new!”
Geoff also finds time for his popular comedy podcast called What Most People Think, with guests ranging from Mark Steel to Dominic Frisby via David Baddiel.
“I’ve never had a bad experience with podcast fans,” he says. “They’re so enthusiastic. They quote parts of it back to me. I’ve even had a couple who were actually listening to the podcast when they saw me.”
The constant need for content is exhausting, he says, but he carries on regardless, like the reliable, regular bloke he is.
*Geoff Norcott’s latest national live tour, Basic Bloke, runs until April 27, 2024; The British Bloke Decoded is out now. geoffnorcott.co.uk
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