In 1999, Josie Long won the BBC New Comedy Award at the age of just 17 - making her too young for the champagne that came as part of the prize. Despite the boost the award would have given to her comedy career, she took time off performing to complete her English degree at Oxford university, returning in 2003.
Following the break, she was named best newcomer in the Chortle awards in 2005, and best breakthrough act the following year. In 2006, she also scooped best newcomer in the if.comedy awards for her solo Edinburgh debut, Kindness and Exuberance.
She was subsequently nominated for the Edinburgh comedy award three years running: 2010, 2011 and 2012.
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Josie Long: Something Better
Today brings another barrage of worrying anti-foreigner rhetoric from the Conservative Party conference, another reminder of how the monster unleashed by the Brexit vote delivered a seismic blow to many people’s faith in humanity, Josie Long’s included. So the time couldn’t be more apposite for the message of optimism, conveyed not only in the title of her latest show, Something Better, but its upbeat promise. God knows, many of us need it.
But the result of the referendum and the events ever since have even battered Long’s hopefulness. For she now has a more resigned tone following the rude awakening that for all her conviction about the benefits of socialist co-operation, the majority is not with her. And worse, she doubts her ability to change minds.
And if she can’t, who can? For her enthusiasm for a better world has always been infectious. Her passion is her superpower, convincing audiences a nicer world is possible. But now the heart of the nation has been revealed as ‘rotten to the core’, the size of the task overwhelms her.
That vulnerability makes Something Better one of the more personal of her political shows, as Long comes to terms with the world not being what she thought from within her social bubble. Citing a survey that found only ten per cent of the UK would define themselves as left-wing she’s incredulous: ’I thought it was 85 per cent!’
Not that her life was entirely inhabited by fellow travellers, but at least she thought she knew the enemy. Filming Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, she says, opened her eyes to a lot more personality types than she ever new existed.
These awakenings about the beliefs of great swathes of the population are wrapped up with the ‘solidifying of the putty of her personality’ at 34. She’s chosen this course, but does it mean a lifetime of disappointment, frustration and misery? She can’t help but yearn for the days when she could just tell whimsical stories in her comedy, and when her political idealism was relatively untainted by reality.
She now comes to realise that the Establishment maybe treats her patronisingly, as a naive hippy who’s never going to be a real challenge. She feels impotent to change a cruel world, so you can tell why she empathises with Jeremy Corbyn. And she, too, has some wildly ambitious aims. After being battered by the London housing market, landlords of any sort are the devils incarnate, and she wants to ban private ownership of more than one home. Good luck with that one…
Adding to the uncertainty of her life is the background hum that she’s keen to have children, but conscious that she’s recently become single, (she introduces herself as ‘Mrs Laughs’, but we it’s probably safe to assume she hasn’t married Dapper). But she’ll thank you not to mention the clicking biological clock, like the tactless boor who ruined a barbecue with that persistent line of questioning.
The break-up is another heartbreak on top of the political one, which is never far from her agenda. Certain misguided reasons for voting Brexit are explored in an encounter with a West Country bloke on a train – one of the more conventional anecdotes Long blends into the political-personal mix. ‘Don’t judge me,’ Long implores after confessing she read an email over his shoulder. Though she spent the last five minutes doing just that to him, because he looked a bit ‘Ukippy’.
Despite her protestations, Long has always known she’s not mainstream, and here jokes about accepting that she will never be an arena comedian. But she could certainly write for one, should she ever want to sell out, as converts her new, thirty-something passion for Pinot Grigio into a chantable catchphrase about being ‘on the griiig!’ And there are a few strong ‘proper jokes’ in here too, despite her admission that this is not her forte.
But she won’t sell out, of course. The ‘griiig’ cry takes its place alongside more motivational slogans that frame the stage, each having been made into a banner in an old-school trade union style. And there are sincere messages here about the causes which she believes.
Ultimately, the message is that while her side is beaten and down, despair is a luxury that can’t be indulged. Optimism isn’t just a vacuous state of mind, it needs action to sustain it – and if you need motivation into taking that action, Long’s your woman.
After the show ended, I turned on my phone to read a BBC News alert that Ukip leader Diane James was to stand down. It seemed like a minor victory, for Long’s optimism. But then came the realisation it meant Nigel Farage was leader again. It’s going to be a long fight.
Josie Long shoots her first feature film23/05/2016
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Tedstock Josie Long: Something Better