Josie Long: Something Better

Josie Long is a comedian who just doesn’t know how to take things easy. Radio documentaries, podcasts, sitcoms, a feature film and even a reality TV show where she killed and ate a crocodile – she’s done them all. But even with all these weighty distractions keeping the London comic busy, her biggest love is still stand-up. And with her new live show, ‘Something Better’, coming to Sheffield next month, uber-fan Mark Perkins got in touch with Josie to hear what it was all about.

Having seen you before in stand-up, I’m thinking that the recent political events could well feature quite a bit in your new show.
I was talking to my dad, hoping for some re-assurance about the way things have changed this year. I asked him if he’d ever known a weirder time politically, hoping he would say yes, but he said ‘No, nothing like this’. After Brexit, it became apparent that I didn’t live in the place I thought I lived in. The show is about wanting something better from life and from politics and from the world, but it’s also about trying to cope with a relentless barrage of bad news, and feelings of political loss and disaffection. I was thinking about what it would be like playing Sheffield, and wondering how the audiences would react. It’s the only city that I really love, that voted for Brexit, even though it was by a very narrow margin. I’d like my shows to be a chance to confront these issues, but I know I’m more than likely ‘preaching to the choir’, in that my shows seem to attract people who were shocked that the Brexit argument won, just as I was.

But you have also done the Alternate Realities Tour on a few occasions, where you play to an entirely different crowd.
Yes, it’s a project where a friend and I get in a van, pull up somewhere, and just perform off the back of it. I’ve done three of these tours now, and they’ve been some of the best times of my life. I feel that comedy shows can give a lot of solace to people, but there’s a large group who we never reach, because they don’t ever come to my shows. It’s not often that anyone under 18 ever sees me. I want to find my crowd and somehow be useful. I’m always looking for that little bit of magic, which you don’t often get.

We’re big documentary fans here in Sheffield, and I’ve loved listening to your Radio 4 documentary series ‘Short Cuts’. How did that develop?
I was here for DocFest last year, so I’m a big fan too! And this is a project I really love. Being on the radio, these shows are really intimate. They’re essentially conversations which just tell stories, and the producer, Eleanor McDowell, is a true genius of sound creation. When I was brought in, I was keen to be a genuine part of the show – not just be there to introduce the clips. What I get to do is listen, plan and write scripts for each show, tie it together and add in my personal experiences. We’ve done eight series now and I’m really proud of them.

There’s also a popular Radio 4 sitcom, ‘Romance and Adventure’, that you’ve written.
Yes. I’d made two short films with characters played by my friends. I developed this for the BBC and it became a radio sitcom with all the same characters. It’s gone down really well – so well in fact, that a few weeks ago we finished making a feature film based on the same characters, although we haven’t settled on a title yet. It’s partly about the complacency of myself and my friends, and how we take for granted that we live in such a secure, safe place. The UK media is so flippant and cruel about the refugee crisis. Our secure way of life isn’t really anything other than the luck of where we were born.

And of course lots of people will have seen you on The Island on Channel 4, where you had to survive on a desert island for two weeks with no food or water.
We had to fend for ourselves totally, and you probably saw the part where we ended up catching and killing a crocodile for food. It actually turned me vegetarian doing that. Well, on week days anyway – I still eat meat at weekends! Even though it did taste amazing after almost starving for two weeks, I couldn’t cope with it. It felt so awful watching it die. Going on the show was a mad opportunity, and my friends asked what on earth I was doing! But I thought I’d never get another chance like it. Afterwards my mind felt so fresh and alert. After so much sunshine, I felt like my brain had been washed clean. Sleeping under the stars and not being able to go on my phone, doing stupid stuff – I really appreciate now how little you need to live. It made me less timid I suppose, and helped me to be bit more fearless in my personal life.

Last time we spoke you’d just started the charity Arts Emergency, helping young people with getting started in the arts. How’s that going?
Really well. There’s a genuine need to mentor young people to encourage them to choose arts-based subjects when they leave school, but it’s becoming more and more difficult. In three generations we’ve gone from free further education for everyone, to it costing upwards of £30,000. Our alternative to the ‘old boy network’ comprises hundreds of volunteers working in TV and film, music and art, design and theatre, and lots more. They provide information and contacts along the way, and it’s something that has proven very popular. It’s building and building and I’m pleased that I’m less involved on a day-to-day basis now, but only because they don’t need me.

Josie Long: Something Better comes to Sheffield City Hall on Feb 16. Tickets and more info from www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk

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