Interview with comedienne Josie Long

By in, 4th August 2010

At the moment you are on tour in Australia. Have you had much time for cultural activities: reading, music, visiting museums or galleries? Or is it a very rock’n’roll sort of tour?

Hey I did do a lot of reading (but I’m ashamed to say I read a really trashy book about a woman who was kidnapped by a conman who said she was on an IRA hitlist. Brilliant.) And I did a few gigs with a band called The Lucksmiths, who are fantastic and beautiful songwriters, but I am ashamed to say I didn’t go to many galleries or museums in the month, which is quite out of character for me. I saw quite a few comedy shows though but a lot of time during the day I would be doing writing and boring stuff! I did just get back from doing a gig in Paris where I went to the Museum of the Middle Ages. It was so good! It’s in the ruins of a Roman bath house, and it’s full of tapestries in old French. So cool! There were so many objects from daily life in 15th century Paris and it was so interesting!

Did you enjoy going to museums as a child? And what about as a grown-up, do they offer inspiration now?
Yes i did! Especially anything about children, which I think came out of being spoilt and self-interested! I remember going to a National Trust house with an old nursery full of toys and being fascinated about how mysterious and sad it seemed. Yeah as a grown up they really do inspire me. I like reading the little plaques next to things and making up silly stories behind them. I like how suggestive old things are, and just the amount of things there are to learn about.
I’m interested in history and being a stand up you’re always trying to write about people and so it’s nice to try and make connections with people from the past. I wrote a show that focussed a bit on the Pitt Rivers Museum, and how full of curiosities it is. And i’m really interested in the period between about 1700 and 1900 when people were really into categorising and understanding the world and also to making that knowledge public and accessible.

What are your top five museums to visit now?
Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford; Natural History Museum in New York; the V&A in London; any small provincial museum about a niche subject! e.g. Elgar’s Birthplace Museum; the Enlightenment exhibition at the British Museum – it’s SO inspiring. I wish with all my heart that I was an 18th century gentleman!

On your recent Radio 4 show All of the Planet’s Wonders, you used reference books to ‘better yourself’. Do you think visiting museums and galleries improves people and if so, why?

Yes of course! Just exposing yourself to more things makes your brain better! And gives you more of a frame of reference. And I think it’s important to try and learn as much about world history as is possible, just to get some perspective on what’s going on. I think it stops you from getting bored or jaded too. Plus it’s wonderful to look at beautiful things and things that were made with great effort and difficulty!

What would the Josie Long Museum have in it? And who would visit it?
I’m a hoarder! It would have so much useless tat. I guess a lot of diaries and notebooks, as I’ve kept them for my whole life. When I was a kid I remember reading about how Tracy Emin set up her own museum and that inspiring me a bit. I really like archiving my life, but I think nobody else would find it of the slightest interest. I think it comes from being a writer, you sort of want to feel like you’re the hero in an interesting story.