It’s hard not to take a liking to Josie Long. The comedian has carved herself a comfortable seat in the world of comedy through her whimsical take on political issues that float around the everyday. Her infectious personality and genuine desire to address societal injustice through standup is something to be admired, and is widely recognised, yet the Edinburgh Fringe regular is genuinely shocked when I compliment her humour.
London-born Long started performing standup when she was 16, and is now a regular face on the comedy circuit, as well as a BBC Radio Four regular, The Guardian cartoonist, DJ and filmmaker. Stints in Skins and on 8 Out of 10 Cats add TV appearances to her name. Having experimented with comedy shows while studying at the University of Oxford, she began her career after graduating and has continued along that path ever since.
I love it because it’s a clear way of having a voice on stage. You don’t need a filter, there aren’t other people editing you, there aren’t really any other concerns.
A recent succession of Edinburgh Fringe shows have been shaped by an overarching left-leaning political stance. However, Long’s latest, Cara Josephine, marks a move away from her romance with political comedy. The show, currently touring around the country, is built on personal experience, and is “a very silly but very heartfelt show about love and about trying to get over a broken heart.” Such a topic is a small step away from the politics fuelled standup that people have grown to love and expect from her, but she tells me that this doesn’t mean she has given up on it forever. Instead, this new direction is, in a sense, one of personal reflection: “I don’t think it’s like, oh, I’m never going to write about politics again or anything like that, but it feels like this is what I really want to write about at the moment, and what I feel is most kind of at the forefront of what I’ve been experiencing.”
From talking to Josie, her passion for what she believes in, both politically and creatively, is fervently strong. Standup provides her with a way to express these thoughts with a large platform to build on, and without others telling her what to do. Of comedy, she says: “I love it because it’s a clear way of having a voice on stage. You don’t need a filter, there aren’t other people editing you, there aren’t really any other concerns. You really can just say what you feel and present your own viewpoints, and I love that about it.”
Long appreciates comedy as an art form that allows her to be creative, injecting humour into more serious contexts and pushing boundaries while knowing that people recognise the serious element: “I like the fact that we stand up and we can be all kind of things. You can be really playful, and you can really take the piss out of yourself. And you can say things that are really serious, and undermine them with humour and it lets you get away with it. You can play things you really believe, and then you can undermine them and muck around with them, but people still know that you do really believe those things.”
Interestingly, Long is a big fan of Twitter, telling me about her secret celebration for her recent Twitter milestone – gaining 100,000 followers. The comedian reveals that on the odd occasion, Twitter can act as a source of inspiration for her show, but reveals that “on the whole it probably just distracts from my standup because it wastes my time.” Like many of us, she admits to sometimes finding it difficult to mark boundaries for what is and isn’t acceptable to say in the Twittersphere, especially, she tells me, when people forget that she is just a normal person. She explains: “Sometimes I find it really hard when people treat you as just this public figure and not a person because they are talking directly to you, so it’s like ‘oooh god, I’m a person not a thing’.”
Long admits to sometimes finding it difficult being openly exposed to criticism from such a wide audience, describing how she finds it “very interesting to suddenly be open to tens and tens and tens of critical responses to everything you say. I don’t mean critical just as in attacking, I mean like critical examinations of what you said and shit like that.”
Openly feminist, Long has before expressed views about the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign on Twitter. It’s something that she is passionate about, and isn’t afraid to hold back on: “I fucking hate Page 3 and I want it to end. I think it’s done with malice and in a way that mocks… the women that it presents; it’s mean spirited … it’s weird, and I hate it.”
I fucking hate Page 3 and I want it to end. I think it’s done with malice and in a way that mocks the women that it presents; it’s mean spirited, it’s weird, and I hate it.
One of Long’s many projects is charity Arts Emergency Fund: a network of mentors hailing from the creative arts that she co-founded with friend Neil Griffiths in 2011. Long recognises the significant edge held by those from “backgrounds of support and privilege” who are able to study what they want without restrictions.
She established the charity for this reason, aiming “to empower young people [from disadvantaged circumstances] to be able to study what they love and to have a life that they want, as opposed to the way that people often feel, which is that they have to compromise in advance.”
Personal experience is responsible for Long’s clear passion for the cause. At Oxford, she didn’t share the background of students there, and neither did Griffiths: “it was a bit of a struggle in a lot of ways to get to university and to stay at university and then after that I think we both felt like by that time, because we were in our late 20s, we’d managed to earn some sort of privilege for ourselves by getting to do jobs that we love.” Long and Griffiths wanted to give back and help students in their previous situation so that “people maybe didn’t come up against so many challenges.”
With many projects constantly on the go to “keep things interesting”, the next in line is a low budget short film about politics and activism set in Glasgow. Josie herself will star, and filming will begin in the summer. She will without a doubt be back at this year’s Fringe with her eighth performance, most likely to add yet another award-winning show to her already glittering collection of accolades.