Multi-award winning writer, comedian and activist Josie Long is currently on tour with her eighth solo show, Something Better. Josie also co-founded the charity Arts Emergency to help low-income students get a head start in the arts world through a mentoring program. I caught her for a chat about being optimistic, making a difference, and jellyfish.
Eli Goldstone: Hi Josie! Thanks for talking to us while you’re on the road. Your show Something Better is touring all over the place at the moment. Is it difficult to turn political anxiety into comedy?
Josie Long: I try and write about whatever I feel most passionate or concerned about, and this last year it's just felt unavoidable - like it's impossible not to talk about how anxious and awful I've felt about politics. I wanted to write about joy and enthusiasm but it just felt like I had to reflect what I felt my friends and I were going through. So in a way it was easy because I felt like it was everywhere, but at the same time I really want to tread a balance where the show is still silly, fun and light despite being at least in part about anguish, fear and defeat. And that can be tricky, some days it's too howly!
Eli: In 2011 you set up Arts Emergency, to help mentor kids who are from a background where being successful in the arts isn’t encouraged, or seen as a viable option. Can you tell us how it’s growing and how we might be able to get involved?
Josie: Yes for sure - we have gone from working with 8 students to working with 200 and we are planning regional offices around the country. It's gone from just me and Neil (the other co-founder) volunteering to having three members of full time staff and I am so delighted that we are so proper. We have a network of several thousand people who are on-call to support the young people we work with. It's so exciting - the first students we mentored are graduating university now and it's amazing to see how they're thriving.
We are always looking for people to volunteer - as mentors, as part of our network, in our office, or simply by donating. Go to arts-emergency.org and have a look!
Eli: Were you encouraged to have a Plan B (just in case the comedy thing didn’t work out)?
Josie: Haha, yes! My school and even my mum (who was very supportive) would always say I had to have a plan b, but I always felt like any energy I devoted to "Plan B" was stolen straight from "Plan A". I'm only really good at focussing on what I want to pursue. The only way to do something creative is to really pursue it with a mad intensity and passion, with utter devotion!
Eli:What things make you feel optimistic?
Josie: Younger people who overwhelmingly seem to vote for progressive candidates and policies. Activists - the people I know who work in their communities to make good things and fun things and audacious things happen - they're always positive and hopeful people.
Also being in love makes me feel like everything is going to be ok somehow, if that isn't too wanky.
Eli: Where is the most memorable place you’ve ever been swimming?
Josie: I got stung by a jellyfish on Portobello beach in Edinburgh which was pretty memorable. I thought it was just seaweed and then my whole leg felt like it was being stabbed with little pins. The pain lasted for two days. Little bastard. I hope one day I encounter it again because I am going to punch it straight out of the sea. What I have also learned is you are NOT supposed to piss on it.
Eli: Finally, can you tell us about your current film project?
Josie: My friend, the director Douglas King and I have been making films together for 5 years now - we set up a company, Caledonian Mumblecore- and our goal is to make Glasgow the cool capital independent of cinema. We made our first no-budget feature last year, which we are currently editing. It was filmed in two weeks, one in June and one in late October- just before Brexit and trump. It is a romantic comedy set before and after a far-right coup in Britain. It was really hard to write the second half during the summer as we didn't mean for it to be a documentary! It's hopefully coming out this summer.
Josie Long's Something Better is currently touring (UK dates here).
Her final London show is at the Duchess Theatre on the 20th March. Tickets here