Battersea Arts N20 Season Interview

By Emma in Spoonfed, 11th February 2009

The Battersea Arts Centre really lives up to its name this month, as their annual N20 comedy season kicks off in style. There will be political debate courtesy of the legendary Andy Zaltzman and edgy comedy from ‘the Fringe’s most controversial act’ Micha Wertheim from the Amsterdam Underground Collective. Then there are shows which take the best of theatre, dance, art and poetry, cut out all the guff and inject them with humour; from the last showing of the Penny Dreadfuls’ masterpiece Aeneas Faversham Forever to Arthur Smith’s ‘comedy through art’ exhibition, there is a veritable smorgasboard of entertainment to be had. Top female comedian and champion of all things crafty, Josie Long is programming this week’s shows and not only that she’s taken over the entire building with fun stalls and installations to get involved in. There are plenty of things to do from decorating your own cupcake to dressing up like a robot, stitching a panel to a giant quilt, watching a short funny film or simply playing a game of Boggle in the bar. And that’s before you’ve even seen a show! We managed to catch up with Josie for a quick chat about what’s going on down there and also found out some of the strange things she’s been sent from fans…

EM: Thank you for talking to us Josie, I know you must be very busy. So you’re programming all the events at the BAC this week. Is it all very artsy and crafty over there?

JL: Yes it really is, we’ve got loads of stuff going on apart from just comedy and I think it’s going to be hard to get people in to the shows on time!

EM: You hosted a gig last night called Wonderful and New with some of the latest introductions to the circuit – can you tell us about some new comics we should look out for?

JL: There’s a girl who was doing the show with me last night called Hatty Ashdown and another girl called Sara Pascoe who I think are both brilliant. Also if you haven’t seen Brian Gittins yet you should definitely check him out too – he’s wicked.

EM: Yes I’ve seen him several times- he’s hilarious! Now obviously you’re a big endorser of female comedy and that particularly shows this week as you’ve got some excellent people like Isy Suttie, Joanna Neary and Bridget Christie appearing…

JL: Well Isy’s one of my best chums in the world and it’s just been who I wanted really. I like people for who they are not what they are.

EM: Do you think there needs to be more of a platform for female comedians or do you think the male/female ratio on comedy bills has evened up?

JL: I think it has evened out a bit yes but I think television has been more of a platform for female comics than anything else. I don’t know… people try… it’s getting better than it was.

EM: You might hate this word but you’re often labelled as an ‘alternative’ comic because you don’t do straight gag-based stand-up and you like to involve the audience. Do you think creative comedy is more popular now than when you started out?

JL: I don’t know… I think there’s always been an audience for it. I like to think we try to find our own audiences, that me and my friends have really worked hard at taking it to other places and bringing other things to it, but if you remember in the 80s and 90s you had people like Vic and Bob doing loads of mad shows and stuff so it’s always been there.

EM: Stewart Lee once took you on tour with him and Robin Ince is a big fan of yours. Was that amazing having support from such respected comedians early on?

JL: Yes, it was really crucial, I think it helped me to keep going when otherwise I would have felt very dispirited because when you’re doing something you really love not everyone is necessarily going to love it too and sometimes you think I don’t know what I’m going to do if I die one more time on stage! So, it was a really good time and they were really reassuring.

EM: Were they heroes of yours beforehand? JL: Definitely! I was made up when I first went on tour with Stewart and I just had to pretend to myself that that it wasn’t him! EM: Do you have a favourite London club to perform in?

JL: Do you know I do really do love the BAC I think it’s a brilliant place to perform.

EM: I get the feeling you might not be a big fan of performing in large venues. Is this true?

JL: It depends what you’re performing for, if you do a big benefit about whales or something in a huge venue then it’s brilliant or equally somewhere like Glastonbury or Latitude in front of thousands of people but I find gigs where big parties come in a lot harder because you have to use a different skill and it’s one that I don’t particularly want to perfect.

EM: You have some quite die-hard fans – do people ever send you random bits of appliqué or woolly scarves?

JL: Definitely! A lot of the shows I take on tour have that interactive element to them that I encourage so I’ve got a lot of cool things that people have sent me.

EM: Like what?

JL: A little miniature robot and the other day I got a knitted sandwich

EM: A knitted sandwich?! Did it have separate pieces like lettuce and tomato?

JL: It most certainly did! EM: If you couldn’t be in comedy, what do you think you’d be good at?

JL: A school teacher maybe because I’m really into my arts and crafts but they have to get up really early so perhaps some sort of after school play area, somewhere that involved a lot of playing anyway!

EM: Speaking of playing, you’ve run the World Boggle championships in Edinburgh over the last few years – would you say you’re the biggest gamer on the comedy circuit?

JL: I don’t know there’s a lot of hardcore Scrabble players out there. I’ve actually been really bad recently – last year in the Boggle championships I got put to participant status and I went from second to fifth!

EM: Now, what are your thoughts on Twitter. Pointless social networking or brilliant new way to communicate with fans?

JL: I’m really enjoying Twitter, I’m not sure I’d call it a way to communicate with fans, I see it as a way to set fun challenges with people and that’s been really great.

EM: I think some of us are still getting to grips with it in our office…

JL: If you set yourself little challenges on it you’ll love it.

EM: Well it’s been great to chat with you Josie and really good luck with the rest of the week.

JL: Thank you so much!

Editor’s Note: Josie’s takeover week only lasts till Thursday so if you like the sound of it get over there sharpish!