Comedy Interview: Josie Long

By Londonist_ben in Londonist, 13th November 2006
Comedy Interview: Josie Long

Josie Long was the winner of the BBC New Comedy Award in 1999 at the tender age of 17. In that year she was also a runner up in the So You Think You're Funny? competition.

She won best newcomer in the Chortle Awards 2001-2003 after which she took time off performing to complete her English degree at Oxford university.  Since her return to stand up she has toured in support of Stewart Lee and this year won Best Newcomer in the if.comeddie awards (the replacement of the Perrier award) for her hour long show ‘Kindness and Exuberance’.
She also runs her own monthly comedy clubs, The Sunday Night Adventure Club, at the ABC Café in Crystal Palace and The OK Club at the Boogaloo pub in Highgate.

We met up with Josie in ‘Planet Organic’ off Tottenham Court Road to enjoy some manky organic fruit and a chat about sexism in comedy, Boggle and Orpington.

Introduce yourself!
My name’s Josie Long and I’m a loser and I’m a martial arts champion and also I’m a badass and I kick people. None of that is true, I’m not a martial artist. My name is Josie Long and I am trying my hardest to be a stand up. Sometimes I find it hard and sometimes I enjoy it a lot.

This year you won a certain award did you not?
Yes I did, I won the if.comeddie best newcomer award.

Not only did you win that, in 1999 you won the BBC new talent award, you’ve been a newcomer now for seven years?
Next year I’m eligible for longest ever newcomer. The first one was a new act thing, the recent award was for an hour long show, so it’s all kosher!

When did you start?
There was this workshop near where I grew up, I used to go to that when I was about 14 and write little things about school and things like that and when I was about 16 I started gigging on the circuit, about once a month.

Now what’s all this we hear about you and Boggle?
I love boggle. Last summer I got really into boggle, me and my friend Helen who is freelance writer used to sit in her sitting room playing boggle a lot and we got really into it because we loved words. We used to play it like fifteen or sixteen times a day. Then I took it to the Book Club (a comedy club run by comedian Robin Ince), and Robin let me play against the audience.

Would you win?
Now this is it, I would win the whole fucking time. I was like Tommy the Pinball Wizard of Boggle. Everyone was like “she looks like a tard, how can she win?” and I was like bang! I was so smug, it was in my show in Edinburgh 2005 and so I decided to organize a championship of boggle, but I didn’t win, I came second and I was so angry.
This summer, I ran the world Boggle championships again in Edinburgh and I came fifth, not even on the podium. So basically, I really am quite upset about Boggle at the moment.

What about Scrabble?
I like ‘Take’, it’s like cross between boggle and scrabble. Have you every seen the chess film ‘Innocent Moves’? In the film, this chess legend has two mentors, one is into real chess and one is Laurence Fishburne who plays street chess. ‘Take’ is like the street chess version of scrabble.

How does one play street chess?
It’s just fast. You play it for drugs. You hustle for crack.

Women are shit at comedy aren’t they?
Two statements I always get on a daily basis – “There aren’t any women comics are there?” and “I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t like women comics, I liked you, but I don’t think women are funny”. Point one, there are loads of women comics. The problem is that there is sexist booking policies in some clubs, they’ll only book one women comic per night so of course people are going to think that there is one woman for every five male comics. Secondly, on TV and in films, a lot of the time it is the still the case that you have a male stand up comedian and a presenter or actress woman. It gives people a false perception of what’s what. Also, people who don’t go to comedy say this because they have this weird image of what woman comedy is.
They have an idea of what Jo Brand is because she’s been slagged off so much, that isn’t even true to how good she is live. “Women comics just talk about periods” – no they don’t, you don’t even see any comedy! People just have a kneejerk sexism. There are many brilliant woman comics. Sarah Kendall and Natalie Haynes are proper brilliant accomplished woman comics who had show after show in Edinburgh that’s been brilliant, people are gonna have to wake up and give them their props. Jo Neary, Danielle Ward, Holly Walsh, Caroline Clifford…

People saying “I don’t like women comics” is just sexism, you wouldn’t say “women can’t be doctors, they’re not as good”, it’s bullshit! I hate it, it drives me mental. Nobody is doing stuff that they perceive they need to do as a woman, people just go “I want to be a comedian” y’know? Me and my sisters shall fight a blazing trail using the blood of sexists, we will trample them in the glorious revolution of spirit, and tits.

No, not tits.

Favourite place in London?
I love Peckham Rye where I live, there are all different types of people from all over the world. People who’ve just moved to England, people who’ve lived in England for their whole lives, a completely brilliant mix of people and it really feels like everyone who lives there choses to live there. It’s lovely and its so pretty and you’ve got the common and round the corner you’ve got East Dulwich which is all chichey.

Can you get organic food in East Dulwich?
Can you ever! You can get all manner of gluten free shit.

What’s your favourite thing about London?
The potential, it just feels like whatever you want is here. It feels like anything you want to do, you could find and do or there is probably someone here you could find who likes the same thing you like. Couple of years ago I used to run a satirical panel show and about a year ago that fizzled out.
Then about 6 months ago, someone else started one up, completely not connected to us. I also love how exotic it is, the fact that you can go to restaurants from any country in the world with really authentic stuff. I like the South Bank and walking along there and I like the parks and the markets. The Tate Modern is great.

Have you been on the slides?
The slides, oh my god, I was laughing the whole way down.

Do you have any secret London places where you like to go that others
might not know about?

Oh God I’m sure I do… I’m a cool girl. Gosh comics on Russell Street, it’s a comic book shop but downstairs they’ve got this rack full of independent comics, like photocopied comics that people self-publish. There is thing called postman’s park which I recently found out is in the film ‘Closer’ which upsets me a lot because I thought it’s like a secret thing that only I knew about. It’s a park and it’s got loads of plaques dedicated to people who died between 1850 and 1917 in acts of valour, it’s round the corner from St Paul’s Cathedral.
So that’s really cool but that’s not as cool as I thought it as because everyone knows about it. If you can be bothered, go down to zone 5, go to Petts wood.

There is two brilliant charity shops there, they are better than anywhere else. There are two bowling lanes under Bloomsbury. One’s really posh, a bit over priced but kinda cool and one’s a lot more just townies going bowling. One’s called Bloomsbury bowling lanes which is really cool in principle but a lot of the clientele are just people shouting and then there is All Star lanes which is a bit too expensive and also kinda cool as well. I love the George Stubbs room in the Tate, all there is is pictures of lions attacking horses, nothing else, literally, it’s amazing. Ooh, if you can be bothered to go to Zone 6, South London, Orpington. Come out of the station, get a bus down the high street, there is a second hand book shop called PTA books run by this guy called Paul who is a total legend and because no one in Orpington likes reading books you can get really highbrow important novels and he’d just go “ummm.. a pound” because no one there likes books, they all read Dick Francis.

Orpington is your hometown, isn’t it? What is it like?
It’s kinda shit. It’s not nice enough to be the home counties and it’s not exciting enough to be London, it’s sitting in the middle waiting to die.

What is the best place to watch comedy in London?
I really love the Book Club, I perform there a lot. Daniel Kitson’s comedy club is cool too. I love my clubs, the Sunday Night Adventure club – I just don’t know of anywhere I’d rather be. The Old Red Lion as a venue is brilliant, it’s really small and boxed in so when people laugh and they’re into it, they just love it.

You run your own comedy clubs?
I run a club in South London called the Sunday Night Adventure Club and one in North London but that club is taking a hiatus for a while, it’s really hard work because it is music and comedy and we haven’t yet cracked it but I’m really passionate about it.

Why did you decide to run your own clubs?
I really enjoy the freedom to make a show into a cavalcade with little games and prizes and stuff and when I started standup, there were so many clubs which didn’t really fit what I wanted to do, and are run to quite strict agendas, I really love the freedom of saying this is my night, my house, my rules. I really wanted to run a club where each month is themed. I’ve loved it. It’s weird, at my own club I get up there and everyone as they come in, I give them things and we have competitions and crafts and stuff. What can be hard in clubs is when its full of stag nights and you’re having to do what they want, whereas in my club it’s a case of “look, it’s going to be really nice all we want is for it to be friendly and come along with the ride”. We’re not scared of the audience, they don’t feel like there are going to get picked on, we don’t feel like they are just there to get pissed, it’s an experience, something people can join in on.

Do you write based on what you find funny or what you think audiences will like?
For 2 years, it was a case of “I have what I’ve got and if I go out there the chances are that I’ll die, but it’s all I’ve got and hopefully I’ll find an audience”. That was the proviso that I was working under. Whereas now I feel like, I suddenly am writing about getting an STD test, which is unheard of for me. I’m in a weird position where I want to be writing just for myself but I’m confused! I’m getting self conscious for the first time ever, which I don’t really want to be.

This could be the end of you Josie Long
I hope not. I think I’m going to go back to fucking about in my bedroom and making silly things.

You wrote your first one hour show, ‘Kindness and Exuberance’, for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, how did you go about writing it?
I just used to just try and make myself laugh but with my show in Edinburgh I really thought about what I wanted it to be about, I wanted it to be about my life and who I am. My friend Robin Ince gave me a book and said for each idea, write it on a page of the book and try and see how they link. I started trying to write as much as possible an any subject about anything and see what came of it. In about March, my friend Steve helped me come up with a name for the show. On the flyer for my club is “this is a show run on kindness and exuberance”, he said that for him it sums up what I want to do with comedy, and it really does. Once I had that I started thinking about those two topics and it all slotted together quite gradually. I also spent a week in a hotel in Scotland on my own, I was doing stand up at the Stand and it wasn’t going well, I’m not really good enough to do it yet. I was quite miserable in the day and got a lot of writing done. My goal for the show was to be wholly positive, to be about joy and things I liked rather than taking the piss out of people and being negative and making things the butt of the joke, it was supposedly to be about finding jokes in things I like, it sounds really pretentious talking about it now!

Do you think comedy is too negative?
I don’t know. I can be quite easy to build something up and then smash it down and take the piss out of things but I don’t enjoy that. Stand up is about who you are, I also want it to be about the best parts of me and not the worst parts.

What’s next for Josie Long?
Basically, after Edinburgh I got a bit freaked out because I was getting a lot more attention, and I felt under scrutiny in a way that I’d never felt before. Before Edinburgh I was quite happy being this absolutely obscure shit comedian doing her own little thing and enjoying herself then after it’s been amazing because a lot of people saw it and liked the show and I feel like I’ve found friends and found an audience but it did feel like a lot of people came to the show thinking “Who’s this then? Who does she think she is?” and I didn’t ever ask for that. I never said “I’m brilliant, everyone look at me”, all I’ve said is that I want to be better at this and I want to work hard. There were a lot of people hating me over the internet etc. and it rocked me a bit so what I’m trying to do just get my head down, and just try and be a better stand up and do a better show in Edinburgh next year, I’m doing a tour of ‘Kindness and Exuberance’ next year and I’m going to Melbourne and hopefully New York for a week.
It sounds really dorky but I just want to get better and write lots more and my main ambition is to be great at stand up.