Josie Long: interview
Queen of whimsy, Josie Long, is crossing the floor to political comedy. Time Out finds out what inspired her new show
Even if you don't know Josie Long's stand-up you're likely to have seen her on TV. She's the fresh-faced, smiley one, usually in T-shirts and hoodies joking about fancy dress and stealing pens. So, it takes us aback somewhat when she greets us in Camden in a dress, ready to talk politics. 'I write about what I care about,' she explains, bringing up her new show, 'The Future is Another Place', which received an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination last August. 'When I think about my other shows - the first one I did was about DIY culture, the second was about not being ashamed of your eccentricities and the third was about life-long learning - to me they are quite political, with a small P. So, it sort of made sense to start talking about this stuff.'
The 'stuff' she's referring to is her desire to change the way we live and her involvement with anti-cuts activism, especially the group UK Uncut. 'I want to be writing about really light hearted, silly things,' she admits, 'but I genuinely feel so passionate about these things. I've got this chance to talk people into trying to counteract the way the government portrays things and I want to do it. I feel compelled to really mouth off, basically.'
Starting out in comedy as a teenager (she won the BBC New Comedy Award in 1999 when she was just 17) Long has progressed from running her own comedy clubs while at Oxford University to playing festivals in Edinburgh, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere as well as hosting 'Robin and Josie's Utter Shambles'; a regular podcast with erudite comedian Robin Ince. That's not to mention the mountain she has just come back from climbing in Kenya in order to do a charity comedy show. She no longer uses drawings and props to enhance her jokes, but that's not to say they've turned into a big old lecture. 'Firstly, I am a wanker to try and give advice. I can't give advice,' she deadpans. 'I wouldn't be a politician for all the money in the world because people hate you. What I've learnt through TV shows is the response you get. Before, some people hated me as a comedian for existing. They were like, “I hate her face. I hate her!” and that was hard. But with politics, people are even worse. They're like, “this person should be killed!”
'I tried really hard when I was writing this show to temper it. A lot of it is my personal experiences of protesting and showing that I'm a hypocrite and a failure a lot of the time. But I do really care about it. And people I really admire, like Mark Thomas and Billy Bragg, are very calm and warm as performers and that's what I want to do. When I was younger it was so easy to be exuberant and happy and relaxed because I felt that all was right with the world. Now, I feel that actually I'm not happy with the way the world is. But I have to try my hardest not to bash people over the head with it.'
Long's passion for politics first reared its head while she was studying for her English degree. But it was a combination of the coalition coming to power and a serious car accident that kicked off her activism. 'I got really upset and was very suspicious of everyone,' she says about the election. 'I realised that I actually had to start living these things I believe in. So that's what got me into volunteering and stuff - the Tory Government. Since they got in I have to fight a bunch of pricks 24 hours a day. Also, I talk about this in the show, but last November I was in a car crash that was quite serious and it was a miracle that nobody was injured. We had a big collision. It was like a shit “Final Destination”, where they run out of all the good ideas and just heap lots of crap on. There were about ten different events in the car crash - we even crashed through a greenhouse - it was well intense. After that I got really impatient and thought: I don't want to faff about, I want change now!'
So if you too feel like making a change, you can join Long on a demo, where 'unexpected shit always happens, even if that unexpected shit is being roughed up by the police'. Not that she's ever had a run-in with the law. 'I'm very good at avoiding trouble. Almost supernaturally good at avoiding it. I'm a swot and a coward.' If you don't fancy that, you can catch one of her shows which, she assures us, promises to be 'an impassioned show about silliness and socialism.'