Talking about a revolution: an interview with Josie Long

By Eliza Power in Spoonfed, 31st July 2012

Comedian Josie Long chats to Eliza Power about her new show Romance and Adventure, which features her increasing involvement in politics, turning 30 and climbing Mount Kenya.

“I would never describe myself as whimsical! I feel like I have only written shows about what is important to me,” says Josie Long, as she prepares to preview her upcoming Edinburgh show Romance and Adventure in London.

In 2010, after being crowned ‘Queen of Whimsy’ by some publications due to her love of using props and puns in her performances, Long found herself embracing an interest in politics, which seeped through into her 2011 show The Future is Another Place. Though well-received, she faced some backlash for what critics described as a change of tack in her comedy performance. “The Guardian liked the last show but made a big thing of it saying: ‘Finally she’s not doing the thing she was doing before.’ For me it didn’t feel like a departure. I was just writing about what I care about and at the moment it feels like you can’t really ignore politics.”

It is clear from Long’s extensive list of political adventures that her enthusiasm runs deep. Yet at the mention of this, she laughs. “I’m so rubbish, I don’t know enough about it all! It’s always just my personal reaction to a thing that goes into the shows, like feeling that I don’t have a home ever since Boris got back in London. When I was growing up, London was a such a radical place and now it’s not.” She may joke about her ignorance, but it is obvious that Long is more than a little politically aware. Over the last two years, she has become increasingly involved in political movements, such as joining the UK Uncut tax avoidance protestors at grassroots level.

Even the mention of the group excites her. “Before the first ever action a friend of mine sent me a text and said ‘If you want to be involved in protesting against companies who avoid tax, text this number.’ I did and that was the first protest UK Uncut did in Vodafone. I felt like for the first time ever I was involved in something from the ground up.” Her association with political activism didn’t stop with UK Uncut. While penning The Future is Another Place, she formed a correspondence with a member of the Black Panther Party: a revolutionary organisation in the USA who were involved in the Black Power movement. The man in question is still on death row after 35 years. “I wrote to this guy who was one of four people framed for a murder they did not commit under any circumstances. He is such an incredible man.”

The friendship has not only galvanised her interest in radical action, but has motivated her recent work in Romance and Adventure. “He says you have to turn your anger into positive action. My show this year is about trying to do that. Its quite powerful to feel anger as it shows you are aware you’ve been wronged.” The inclusion of these influences in her comedy has also brought her to the attention of other like-minded activists, some of whom have turned from fans to friends. “I’ve got these three female friends who came to one of my first gigs where I started talking about politics. We started meeting up and they’d give me a lot of advice. It’s been brilliant”

But Long’s recent comedy work isn’t just inspired by politics. Having recently turned 30, she decided to channel this into the formation of her new show. “I found myself questioning everything that I’d chosen. I love my job but I feel like I don’t really have that much.” You might think with a successful comedy career, she wouldn’t feel the bite of ageing, or worry about the day to day trivialities of building a family life. “It’s quite frightening thinking I haven’t bought a house and I can’t drive, and I’m not married and I don’t have children. The job that I do is reliant on my own energy. There’s no back up plan if it doesn’t work.”

Besides the central theme of freaking out about growing up, what else has she got in store to tempt Edinburgh audiences? “There’s a lot of stupid voices. It’s like I can’t stop myself! There’s a bit about how much I love the French – because who doesn’t love the French. And it’s also about how much I love climbing mountains!” In September last year, she climbed Mount Kenya for the charity Trekstock and is rightly proud.”It was absolutely brilliant, I loved it. My show is partly about how much I love aristocratic pursuits and how embarrassed I feel about that!”

As we say goodbye, I ask her what she is most looking forward to about this year’s Fringe. In a flash, she praises another comedy talent. “I can’t wait to see Claudia O’Doherty. I am chomping at the bit to go and see her show!” She also intends to spend time with her friends and enjoy being immersed in the close-knit Edinburgh community for four weeks. “And I want to use the time to work on improving the show. There’s always room for it!”