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Josie Long: The Future Is Another Planet

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

‘Silly, friendly, ramshackle, impassioned’ goes the printed programme blurb for Josie Long’s show – written months before the festival starts. But since that early deadline, her hour has evolved from the sweet good-natured whimsy you might expect into a more heartfelt plea about the importance of protest against a government she vehemently opposes.

She says she doesn’t want to be a political politician, that she’d prefer to gush about the joys of long walks or swimming outdoors, or perform her one-woman play about the Brontes (well, she can still squeeze in an extract…) But the actions of the Coalition, slashing things she holds dear, have changed her outlook.

So, picking up an activist theme that she started in last year’s show, out pops the soapbox as she rails against the cuts and David Cameron’s duplicity, smugly saying one thing with a false smile while secretly doing the polar opposite, like some godawful grimacing ghoul.

Aware that she’s in danger of being preachy, she cuts this polemic with comedy of the type she used to do, reaching for pieces of paper scattered around the floor to share with us lists of her favourite things, from Paul Simon to the IMDB. She has the charm and enthusiasm to gloss over what might be awkward gear changes, simply by dint of her passion and optimism that cuts across both sides of the spilt-personality show.

On politics, of course her liberal arts festival audience share her views, but her aim is more to do with getting them to do something more about it than clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook campaign or clapping approval at a comedy show. There are, indeed, a couple of terrifying moments when this seems like a Question Time audience, politely but vigorously applauding good points rather than comic gold.

This call to arms is where she comes into her own. Long has always been an advocate of do-it-yourself art – as the charmingly homemade programmes she still hands out at her shows prove. And what is activism, if not do-it-yourself politics? No wonder she’s drawn to groups like UKUncut, the loose coalition of left-wing activists who seek to make their points through playful subversion.

She thinks her political awakening has made her a ‘much worse comedian’, but the reverse is actually true as there’s now a purpose to her work – even though she seems cautious, sometimes even apologetic, about totally embracing it. However she is more than able of mining humour out of what she finds bleak: portraying the government as evil Bond villains, or giving an entertaining first-hand account of appearing on a political TV show. And the story of how a near-fatal car crash caused her to re-evaluate her priorities is both funny and horrific.

By the end, Long does pretty much abandon the funnies as she urges the audience to take action – but the evaporation of comedy is of little concern. She spent the preceding 50 minutes getting us onside (though her innate openness means that it was probably actually achieved in seconds), so we are quite happy to listen to words that become genuinely inspirational.

This comes from her correspondence with Kenny Zulu Whitmore, a Black Panther who has spent 36 years in a Louisiana prison, more than 30 of them in solitary confinement, and largely seen as a purely political prisoner, held on flimsy evidence. His calm advice to Long, which calls to mind the quiet dignity of Nelson Mandela, is an uplifting message to take into the world.

Review date: 23 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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