We interviewed popular comedian Josie Long to discuss her political activism and current ‘Josie Long: Something Better’ U.K. tour.
Interview by George Alexander Moss
Photography by Idil Sukan @ Draw HQ
So recently we had a very strong anti-Trump rally in the heart of York along with the rest of the country, I don’t know if you knew that?
It was really good! And Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s gig also had a strong anti-trump tone, so your timing in York seems perfect pretty much! And I was just wandering if Trump in your gig, is he the elephant in the room, is he the bullseye to your tour, is he something in between? How do you handle that?
To be honest, it’s interesting to me. Because it’s definitely part of the theme of despair and anger and frustration about it. But for me it’s not been like a political oinking about Trump, because what’s getting me recently is I really love that people are coming out about Trump, but I really wish that people would also come out against Theresa May and against the fact that she’s doing exactly the same things. There’s so many ways that people in this country have already suffered from exactly the same things that Donald Trump has been doing. But then I don’t wanna sound like some bitch old lady whose like ‘we should be worrying about this’, because people are being galvanised by how awful Donald Trump is. It’s like yesterday I got so sad because there was a real positive approval rating for Theresa May and I was like, ‘what does she have to do for you guys not going to like her!’ Sorry, I’ve not really answered that question. I guess it is that elephant in the room, that terrifying threat of nuclear apocalypse that overhangs us all at all times.
Yeah, so jumping off of that question… I read through your promo material which states you’ve been busy interviewing activists about what they do and why, which seems quite a specific thing to mention in promo material. So I was wandering if you would consider your show to be like a branch of activism, and how do these interviews with activists inform your gigs?
So basically, it’s tricky because the show that I wanted to write was nothing but a show about cool stories from activists that I’d met. And I wanted to do a show that’s really excited about politics from that point of view. There’s so much going on, so many new people to connect with, and they’re all just waiting for you and I do truly believe that so much. It’s been really exciting to meet people and just hear our audacious they are and how brave they are and how much they get done, and also just how funny people are, they have such a good sense of humour about it. But at the same time, the show got a little bit hijacked because when Brexit happened it just kind of derailed me. I just became really really consumed by the emotion of it, and really overwhelmed by how difficult I found it and how sad I was about it. A lot of it is a response to trying to cope what is going on now and trying to get back to that place where I was enthusiastic. I feel bad about that because I really honestly wanted the whole show – just exciting interviews. I read this book called Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit and so much of that is about what it means to be an activist. She talks about having these two prongs to it. There’s fighting what’s bad, and then there’s building what’s good and showcasing what’s good and showing what you would do, you know? I feel like the show is about the fact that fighting what’s bad can sometimes be totally overwhelming and totally get in the way of the other side, which is striving towards something better you know?
Yeah, I mean I personally appreciate how you sort of touch on having faith in younger people, especially given the statistics around the Brexit voting. I mean I know you saw it but it was overwhelming how many young people voted remain. As you’re someone who started doing stand-up comedy very young, do you find it to be a good method of finding your identity and communicating your beliefs? Is it sort of like a good coping mechanism?
Yeah! I really agree with that! I totally think so, because, you really find your voice and you find what you feel you have to say. And when you say what you really want to be saying you get this feeling of connection and it’s so overwhelming. You just know when you’re saying what you feel you need to say and it takes a while, but definitely I would agree with that one hundred percent. I think stand-up is how I understand the world and how I interpret it and how I deal with my experiences. It’s such a pure method of creative expression, you know? Because you are talking in your voice to people, it’s so individual as well – you’re trying to develop your own comic voice as well and that is so personal, so when you do find that you are expressing yourself in hopefully your own way.
I imagine the energy you get of the audience feels quite nice as well, when it’s a positive reception? Because it’s a common saying that smiling and laughing and having a good time is the best revenge, so would you say that principal drives your show to some degree?
It’s good revenge, it’s good. But yeah … I would prefer to beat them and be winning. I used to joke about it, like when my friend said to me about the Tories getting into number ten: ‘the thing is there’ll be loads of good bollocks’, and I was like yeah but I’d rather have schools and hospitals. And it’s tricky, because whilst that is true, I would rather not to have this fodder. Because yeah, I do think laughing together gives you power. It is exciting, you know? It is disruptive to that. And I also think that it’s a way to give people who are going on to do better things more energy. I’m just some wanker who talks and chats on stage, but the people that come and see me are activists, nurses, teachers and doctors – people who are genuinely doing things that benefit society – and I feel like if I can give them a bit of strength, let them know they’re not alone. I think that’s really important. And it’s that interesting thing, ‘oh you’re preaching to the choir’, but sometimes I think it’s useful to talk to people who do agree with you, especially when you’re in the minority and you’re being battered around. I think it’s quite useful to say ‘you’re not alone, keep going, you’re not bad this is just hard’, you know?
Yeah, like moral support! So final question – it seems sensible to end on what you think of York. Do you have any prior experiences here, and if so, are you are generally looking forward to your visit?
Yeah of course I am! It’s such a beautiful city! I have had loads of interesting gigs in York, because I have done City Screen, I really love it and it just flooded! It was so awful, it was really – it was such a big deal! Also I was there in the snow one year, and it was like ‘oh my god, it couldn’t be more like a Dickens novel’, or something! I really like gigging in York, I think people there are really switched on, interesting, and fun! So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to it, I think it will be fun!
Cool! Well thanks for your time, and good luck with the rest of the tour!
Oh thank you! I’m sorry I’m a little bit dopey, I’m like a little bit knackered, so I am trying to get my brain into gear and answer the questions properly. But then I end up just sort of, answering all around them for ages <laughs>. So I am so sorry!