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The evolution of Josie Long

The eternally optimistic stand-up’s new show is totally different from her previous offerings. We talk to the award-winning comic about her ever-evolving stand-up

By Ben Williams
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The DIY whimsy years

Long was only 14 when she started performing stand-up, and in 1999, aged 17, she won the BBC New Comedy Award. But it wasn’t until her first Edinburgh Fringe show – which bagged the Best Newcomer gong in 2006 – that she properly broke through. ‘By that point, I wanted to feel like I was trying to set out my stall; what I believed in the world and what I cared about,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to present my outlook, but I also wanted the show to be about being positive and optimistic.’

She started incorporating cartoons and homemade props into her act, and her mix of DIY and boundless optimism became her trademark. We press types started dubbing her the ‘queen of whimsy’. How did she feel about those titles? ‘I think I was just excited that anybody cared that I existed!’ she says. ‘I find it funny – for me, the word does rhyme with “flimsy”, so on some level it does make it seem like what you’re doing is insubstantial and silly. But, you know, it’s better than “shit”, innit?’

The political years

In 2010, just before the change of government, Long dipped her toe in the political comedy waters. But by the time the Tories came to power she felt an overwhelming sense that it was something she had to talk about. ‘Everything they did felt so galling and horrible that it felt really important to get involved,’ she says.

Her three political shows each earned Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award nominations and critics loved her refreshing take; unlike other political comics’ bleak outlooks, Long’s activism stand-up had an optimistic side and she wasn’t afraid to admit her own political flaws. ‘You’ve got to acknowledge that nobody’s ever going to be perfect,’ she explains. ‘What I like about doing political shows is you’re able to show how genuine your feelings are, but can also acknowledge how sometimes those feelings are illogical, and occasionally when you try to do the right thing politically you just end up eating your own tail. But it’s difficult – sometimes I just want to be like, “Conservatives are cunts!” or “Fuck Ukip! Fuck Ukip a thousand times!”’

The soul-searching years

Then, last year, Long changed tack again. After a year away from the Fringe, she returned to Edinburgh with ‘Cara Josephine’, a show about heartbreak, family and relationships – it’s her most personal offering yet. ‘Someone said to me recently, “I’m really glad you’re not talking about politics because I can bring my mum again!”’ she says. ‘I didn’t feel I had anything new to say about politics – the biggest thing in my life had been getting my heart broken and getting over that.’

Was it difficult to talk about something so personal on stage? ‘Definitely,’ she replies. ‘It was really frightening. With writing about politics it’s very clear to me what I feel about each issue, so if people disagree then they disagree – and they’re wrong! Whereas with this it felt like if people don’t like it they’re judging me and my heart and life. When I started doing work-in-progress gigs last January to see where I was at, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about politics. I just wanted to see what was in my heart and give it a go, you know? I thought: Fuck it, I’ll just go for it.’

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