Comedian talks to us about brexit, Corbyn and positivity

Photography: Giles Smith

In these dark times, its timely that JOSIE LONG is hitting the road on a sprawling national tour to bring a bit of light into our lives and happily she’s paying a visit to Merseyside en route. The comedian, writer, podcaster and activist is spreading her message the way she does it best, with optimism and hope in a type when such resources are short in supply. Something Better, the show she is bringing to the Epstein on 13th March deals with 2016’s political omnishambles in a way that is personal, progressive and upbeat. It follows the success of previous show Cara Josephine and the Stewart Lee-endorsed stand-up hopes it will offer consolation and also galvanise fans who feel similarly aggrieved at the current political landscape.

How’s the tour going?

It’s good, It’s been really interesting because the show is about emotional reaction to the past 6 month of politics and stuff, it’s quite personal but it’s also quite political and it has a political stance to it. So in different places, obviously politics is different around the country especially when it comes to Brexit, it feels like I’m going ‘guys, let’s look after each cos this is really hard!’ and in other places I’m going to the crowd ‘Look what you’ve done to me!’ but its still funny and interesting as its not that controversial.

So does it mean you have to adapt the show depending on the area of the country you’re playing to?

I don’t change the show, but how I perform the show at people. I did a show in Richmond which was to mainly posh mums and dads so that was kind of me saying to them ‘guys, you need to get more active’. It’s still the same show but its how I pitch it. I did it in Kettering and it was more ‘guys, I wish you hadn’t Brexited – why??’ So the content doesn’t change but the angle can slightly.

I think you’ll have people very much on side from the off in Liverpool…

Of course! Liverpool is the best for politics, it’s the coolest.

Do you think there’s a responsibility to speak to the people who aren’t on the same wavelength? With all the talk of social media echo chambers and bubbles, is it important to break out of that and into other people’s bubbles?

There’ll always be people who have come to that gig on a punt, or people who have come with friends or partners who don’t share my politics at all. With anything political you do always feel while on stage that there are some people who disagree with you. I definitely want to explore that more in the next two years. Me and a couple of other performers have got a show that we’re trying to workshop called We Need To Talk which is aimed specifically at people who politically disagree with me but its going to be a laugh. The point of it is to try and find common ground and have a bit of laugh.

Its’ hard to find that crowd because you’re talking to people who want to come because they like the idea of what you’re gonna do and it’s hard to convince someone who’s like ‘wow, that sounds awful!’. Also, in the past me and my friends have done this thing [The Alternative Reality Tour] where we perform in town centre aprospos of nothing. We perform to kids, to street drinkers and anyone we can drag in and just sort of put on these shows for free. The point of it is to do something that is creative and audacious and unusual which is completely ad hoc and we do it to make a political point – a bit about public space and about creativity and challenging stuff but we also do it to find a different audience itself.

I think in some ways to find a different audience you do always have to go out of venue. A lot of people feel discouraged to go to art centres and theatres cos they think its not for them or they think its just too expensive or just cos there’s age restrictions you know? I would say I do find for this tour in particular there’s a slightly more conventional feel.

"You can’t seemingly fight the right with articulation and facts at the moment and that is scary" Josie Long

It’s interesting what you say about addressing people who aren’t politically on the same side as you by having a laugh with them. Did you see Slavoj Žižek’s comments in the week about rather than helping their cause, left wing comedians embitter the right’s supporters and galvanise them? What do you make of that?

I’ve gone off him since he said ‘ooh I think the alt-right are really interesting’. Well, I wonder who specifically he was talking about… John Oliver and Jon Stewart? OK, so that is really interesting because when I think about it in this country it’s slightly different to in America. In this country, comedians on the left are not the ones with big TV platforms and I think what I’m doing, performing to 200 people in an arts centre, is kinda giving people a bit of consolation and helping galvanise people. Whether or not I am pissing off UKIP is another thing.

I am trying really hard to write a show that is not confrontational and partizan but not trying to create more aggression. But at the same time, I find it really, really hard not to just hate on UKIP because I think they’re liars and fascists and I think what they’ve done to the country is fucking ruin it so it’s really difficult.

But in America I think it is a really interesting thing. I love John Oliver’s work, I think it’s amazing, so smart, but I think he must feel very conflicted at the moment because you hope that your comedy might be able to help aid political change. At the same time I sort of think [Žižek’s comments is] victim-blaming a little bit because we lost. It reminds me of people going ‘yeah one of the reasons fascists are annoyed is because of identity politics’ and it’s like no, fuck you because identity politics is their term for slagging off people who are fighting for equal rights. It’s like saying well you’re shouting too loud so we got annoyed and I think it’s more complicated than that.

I get what he’s saying and in some cases you can’t seemingly fight the right with articulation and facts at the moment and that is scary. But if it boils down to ‘you’re taking the piss out of them and it’s pissed them off and that means that they won’, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think they won partly because the electoral college system outvoted and partly because Fox News plays on TVs in every public space in half the cities in the United States. HBO doesn’t have that reach you know? I’m not entirely on board with him because what else are people supposed to do? Is it that humour is completely pointless like are we not allowed to use humour to ridicule people?

Your shows all about positivity and optimism. Johnny Lydon said ‘anger is an energy’, do you think optimism is an effective agent of change?

Yes, I definitely do. I run a charity with my friend called Arts Emergency and one of our manifesto points is ‘Optimism is a weapon’ and I think it really, really is. Just acknowledging and allowing yourself to believe things can be different, should be different, should be better, could be better, that you have agency in that, that it’s worth doing anything no matter how small, it’s worth it and it’s powerful. That whole mantra of the coalition government that ‘there is no alternative, we have to cut the deficit, it’s the only thing we can do’ – well, actually of course there’s an alternative. I’ve been reading this book called Hope In The Dark, which I talk about in my show, by Rebecca Solnit and she talks about hope is this thing that lets you keep going. She says hope is an act which smashes down the door in an emergency and that hope helps you to act and action gives you hope and that faith gets you through the worst times. But I’d also like to say that John Lydon is a prick and a brexiteer. Fucking hell man, 1976 was a great year, I don’t know what he’s doing now.

"I’d also like to say that John Lydon is a prick and a brexiteer" Josie Long

There’s an independent magazine which is published called Positive News, which makes a point of carrying positive stories without being naive and I think that’s important because the two can get lumped together – especially as a criticism towards the left.

Yes! Absolutely. People really see it that ‘oh if you’re trying to be hopeful, you must not be paying attention’ and stuff like that. No, I know things are difficult, I know the lay of the land is tough but the only way we are going to get anywhere is by being positive, by being hopeful and not cynical about this. Because if you are bitter and cynical you’ve definitely lost.

And that’s a strength of the left over the right?

Yes, definitely, because they are not cynical about what people are and about human nature. They’re actually like ‘no, we can do better than this’.

And what do you think of Tony Blairs recent reemergence and saying remainers should get behind overturning Brexit?

Well, here’s the thing, I agree with the sentiment but thanks for fucking the Stoke by election, mate. He just seems to wait until its really really crucial and will undermine whatever is going on with Labour. I feel like this is calculated on his part, he wants to undermine Jeremy Corbyn because he’s not on the left, he’s… It’s tricky because, yeah, I really, really don’t think Brexit should happen because I think it’s going to be completely ruinous and I think if they have another referendum tomorrow it would not get the majority support because most people who voted for Brexit were lied to and were conned and now probably knowing what they know would not vote for it.

I think Labour’s in an impossible position at the moment. They’re damned if they do, they’re damned if they don’t. People in Manchester are angry at them because they see them as blocking Brexit, people in London are angry at them because they see them as not blocking Brexit. There’s nothing they can do to satisfy the discourse at the moment. I find that really hard.

And where do you stand on Jeremy Corbyn?

It’s tricky because he’s in an overwhelmingly difficult position he gets constantly plotted against, he gets constantly smeared and treated badly in the press but I think he’s someone who’s trusted to do a job that he wasn’t necessarily expecting, let alone ready for. My main thing is I just think it’s a sad shame that most people don’t share my politics at the moment because I really think that it would be really good! I’m a socialist so I support a socialist candidate. What I would really like to see is a young woman from the north of England, who isn’t from money, campaigning for Labour and doing it with a lot of Hutzpah. I’d really like to see someone like Angela Rayner who is a really brilliant constituency MP. In the future, I’d like to see that. Someone who is different and someone who is able to be really really outspoken.

Josie Long appears in Lefty Scum at the Everyman Theatre on 9th November.

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