Josie Long interview
This week, the gloriously lovely stand-up Josie Long took part in Everything Everything’s Chaos to Order event at Manchester Central Library. She also later performed at the XS Malarkey comedy club at Pub/Zoo. In between she very kindly (and arguably ill-advisedly) let me conduct this shambolic interview with her.
Hi Josie. How was the [Chaos to Order] library gig, did you enjoy it?
I was nervous. Basically it was like a big experiment for me, because it was like doing a first ever preview of a show that I knew I was only going to do once, so I was a bit like [not sure how to describe this noise: a panicked noise]. But it was quite fun; I was worried it was too much like a serious lecture, but that’s totally fine!
I just think with your comedy – because on stage you kept saying and showing us you had this plan, but you’d be going along on tangents and you’re such a friendly and enthusiastic person on-stage that it doesn’t seem to really matter what you’re doing…
Oh thanks! Cheers, that’s good. Free pass!
Absolutely! So, I wanted to ask you how you would describe your comedy: because, you do a lot of political comedy, and a lot of people say that your comedy is whimsical, you’re in that kind of category… I don’t really know what that means… How would you describe it?
I hope it doesn’t sound too banal, but I would say that it’s quite friendly and it’s quite silly, and I would probably say that I try to make myself quite open and vulnerable. So I try and not have too much of a difference between what I’m like on-stage and off-stage. But I’d also say that I try and make it more playful than off-stage. Um, I’d also say… I don’t know, really. It’s like… I like to think that it will always just like, be me.
On stage at the library you did say that you didn’t know what your comedy style was.
Well yeah! I think that, the way your voice changes as you go through different things in your life, and stuff like that. So I suppose in a way it’s just like my special companion for my life. My best friend.
Well also, your show this year – Cara Josephine – is a lot more personal, and you talk about love and your relationships. Did you make a conscious decision to write a show like that?
Yeah, I did. And I think it was partly because I’d written three shows that were about politics in a row, and I just felt a bit like I didn’t have anything new, in like a broad sense, to say. I still believe what the Conservatives are doing is unforgivable, I still believe you’ve got to fight it and stay positive, but it was things I felt I’d already said.
And it’s still happening…
Yeah, and also it sounds silly because in a way, it matters to me what I’ve written, but it’s not going to matter to other people: they’re going to be like ‘I didn’t see this guy, I don’t give a shit’. But for me, I felt like it was treading old ground for me to talk about these things, because I didn’t have anything new to add. I really wanted to talk about love and my relationship. I think I just wanted to experiment with trying out new things about myself to try and push myself a bit.
When you’re writing and performing, then, who do you have in mind? Because a lot of comedians say that if they aren’t invested in what they’re saying then they can’t sell it to an audience. They have to find it funny, or they have to find it interesting. So when you’re writing, who are you writing for?
I think it’s just, you’re always writing for yourself. I mean, I desperately hope that what I write people will like, but I’ve never been very good at second-guessing what people are going to go for, so you develop this weird sort of megalomaniac internal voice that’s like ‘I know what will work! Trust me!’ and so you trust this little voice. It’s sort of – I mean, also I think with this last show I was writing a bit sort of for therapy, to get my feelings out a bit.
I suppose it’s a very useful tool to use to do that, if you’ve got that platform…
Yeah! And I think as well like, this is a bit perverse but I think I sort of thought some people, maybe only a few people at the Fringe would be expecting me to write another political show, so it was like ‘I’ll fuckin’ show them! I’m bloody ten steps ahead of those pricks!’ No… So it’s fun.
You started comedy very young.
I did. But I’m very old now so it balances out!
Oh what! With that in mind, though, how much, or in what sort of direction has your comedy changed?
Oh, for starters I’m a lot more comfortable on-stage, most of the time (hopefully, touch wood). When I first started I felt that I didn’t have that much to write about, so I wrote stuff that was just really silly inventions. And I think gradually over the last sort of… half of my life, over the last fifteen years, I feel like I’ve got a broader palette to use and work with. So I can do really silly stuff, really pointless stuff, really ernest stuff; stuff from my life, stuff I’ve made up. I think what it’s meant is I started out with a very small area that I felt I could write about, and hopefully it’s got a bit broader. And I like to think I‘ve got better, but… fuck it. I’m definitely a lot more confident than I was.
That certainly comes across, because you’re so enthusiastic on-stage. It always makes yours a nice show to watch. Particularly in Edinburgh, because your show is different this year, how did you find audiences received it?
Well, on the whole – I was very lucky because I was in a really nice venue, The Stand, and on the whole I found the crowds to be so lovely, and it was such a thrill that in a way it was a little bit less complicated than a political show, because with a political show there are always going to be people who are turned off by it.
They either agree or disagree with you.
Yeah, whereas with this it felt a lot more easy, everyone has these experiences, you know. But then! There were, I’d say maybe four or five nights over the run that definitely didn’t go as well, which is really normal. But I remember feeling very hurt. When it went badly it was even worse.
Because it felt personal?
Yeah! It was like oh! You hate me and my life! Argh! Yeah. But I mean, on the whole I found it really fun, and really exciting. And it was exciting to do something that was quite nerve-wracking, you know?
Yeah, something so different.
At the end of last year you toured your two short films [Let’s Go Swimming and Romance And Adventure] – you came to Shaw, which is where I live…
Yeah! We did! Did you go?
Yes! I You tweeted a picture of you at a tram stop and I remember thinking ‘oh my God, Josie Long is on the tram! This is so exciting!’
Aww! Yeah, oh we had a lovely time! I think it was our first night away from London, so I made Doug [King], the director a cap that said Martin Scorsese on it. We were so happy, we were so excited. I’m glad you came.
It was just so weird. On the tour poster it said ‘Oldham’ – no one ever comes to Oldham, no one ever comes to Shaw!
I think it was partly because nowhere else would put on our films. But I loved it! It was so nice, and the tech was like a little boy. He was like eleven years old.
I think his mum does it a lot of the time, and he sits in.
He was so nice. And he was good!
When you were touring, you said between films that you were planning another one. Are you doing that?
Yeah, we are! Yes. So we’d initially thought we were going to make it ourselves in April of this year, and our methods for making our short films were really like; book the time! Write the script! Just fucking do it! But with this, because it’s a feature, we’re actually working with producers.
Oh, so this is a feature film?
It is! But it’s funny because I don’t feel able to really count any chickens about it. We so desperately want it happen, we really trust the producers, they’re really good. And we think it will, but until it happens we’re all a bit like ‘oh God, I hope it happens!’ At the moment we’re redrafting the script, so; last December I wrote the script over a month and I was so excited, it was such a thrill. And then basically since September I’ve been sort of re-editing it. We’ve just had a meeting with the script editor and the producer, and it’s so exciting.
Oh wow, it’s so proper!
I know! It’s all very small scale: it’s micro-budget but for me, honestly, it’s been thrilling. Really thrilling. And hopefully it will happen. I’ve got a lot of faith in the producers, they’re very good.
You do a lot outside of your stand-up, then. So you have your Arts Emergency organisation, and you do lots of political activism. Then you also do Lost Treasures of the Black Heart, with Nathaniel Metcalfe; and you do lots of things with Robin Ince; you’re on the radio, you’re doing these films. If you weren’t doing stand-up comedy, what would you do?
I think if I didn’t do stand-up I’d probably really, really want to focus on writing scripts and making them. Maybe I’d make a lot more short films. But it’s weird because I can’t actually imaging my life without stand-up. Even recently, the last month I’ve been like ‘Oh I don’t really want to gig much, I’m not going to gig much’; and then today I did the new material, and since then and watching Tez [Ilyas] today, who was so good, I was just thinking ‘oh I really want to write more stand-up actually! Oh I love stand-up!’ And if you’ve ever done stand-up and loved it, you’re always going to want to do it. But, yeah, that’s what I’d do.
We talked about what kind of comedy you do – if it has a name –
Is there a style of comedy that you don’t do, or don’t think you could do, that you particularly enjoy?
Yeah. Yeah, Tim Vine. Tim Vine is incredible, and it’s all silly jokes. None of it is him saying ‘I am this, I believe this, this is my life’ – it’s all just him enjoying himself, and playing. And obviously that tells you a bit about him, but I couldn’t do that. He doesn’t give away so much personal stuff but what he makes is so amazing and I love it so much, and I think I just couldn’t do it. But I love it. And also good songs! People who write good musical songs, like my friend Isy Suttie is absolutely genius and I couldn’t do what she does.
Oh, you should look for Sara Weiler’s Elephant and Castle Roundabout Song. It’s very good.
Oh, I don’t know it. I’ll look it up! Cool, good tip!
If you could give one recommendation for a comedy show, or a stand-up or something, maybe that you think people might not know about: what would it be?
Oh wow! Oh, okay, oh God. Oh shit! I’m a bit out of touch, is the problem. That’s what I feel bad about, that I don’t know what I could recommend that other people wouldn’t already know. Like I saw Tez [Ilyaz] tonight, he was brilliant. He was really silly and great. Otherwise there are people who do my club who I think are brilliant: Nathaniel Metcalfe, absolutely… but you know, he’s doing alright.
He’s such a nice comedian!
Oh, he is! I love him, he’s such a nice man. He’s so funny. There’s a young woman called Eleanor Morton from Edinburgh who’s great. There’s… Oh I’m shit, I don’t know anyone. That’s bad!
This is how David Frost ended his interviews. Josie Long really is fabulous, so if you haven’t already please, please check out her stuff. More information is on her website. Molly Stewart blogs at komodie.wordpress.com.