Interview: Josie Long on Finding Optimism in Comedy Amidst Political Disaster
Comedian Josie Long’s show, “Something Better” is about a lot of things. It’s about Pint Grigio, Long’s acceptance of Adele’s genius, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but mostly, it’s about trying to find the optimism that a lot of people feel like they lost when their countries turned towards hate and anger. (There’s also a small bit about the ridiculousness of Rupert Holmes’s “Escape,” but she denies that’s part of the show.)
For Long, that was Brexit and when she took her tour to America, it was Trump getting elected. During “Something Better,” Long put into words so much of what I was feeling with hilarity and empathy. It’s tough to think about what role comedy is supposed to play when real life feels like a parody of itself–either it’s complete escapism, or it’s just a ridiculous true fact that’s more depressing than anything else–but Long captures, well, “Something Better.”
TMS (Charline): How did “Something Better” change over time as 2016 progressed with Brexit and Trump?
Long: I set out in May 2016 to write a show that was about politics but solely a positive one- about activists I admired, audacious and cool things that they had done and about people I saw as heroes from all over the world, but Brexit, and then Trump’s victory were so seismic that they felt inescapable. My show became about trying to get back to the hopeful place I had been in before writing it! They both were and remain such massive shifts in reality that I had to write about them.
TMS: What is Adele’s best track?
Long: Oh MATE it’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s obviously “Rolling in the Deep.” But I mean she has made so many bangers and so few clangers that it’s hard to choose just one. But it’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Let’s be real here. I’m now worried that song isn’t actually called “Rolling in the Deep.”
TMS: What do you think comedy specifically brings to social change and activism?
Long: I used to think and hope that comedy could help stop the right winning elections, but then recent elections have temporarily disabused me of that notion. I really do believe that comedy can help people to keep going, and to feel like they are not crazy and are not alone. I think a good comedy show can help empower better people than me to do more important things! I hope so anyway!
TMS: You have a segment about privilege in your show. How do you think awareness of that informs your comedy?
Long: I tend to write about whatever I feel most passionate about, and what I feel I’m trying to learn about and this has been something that I am trying to understand better and be more aware of. I really hope I can try and get better at talking about it onstage as I think it’s really important. Unexpectedly, I’ve found Twitter has been such a big thing for helping teach me about structures of power and privilege and how to try and be of use to activists and progressives who are challenging them. But I find it awkward and difficult to talk about because I become hyper British and awkward trying to confront uncomfortable topics.
TMS: Did you have any especially funny or memorable encounters bringing your British references to the US?
Long: Ha my main thing is that I simply COULD NOT BELIEVE that you guys don’t have the song “oh I do like to be beside the seaside” in the States. What do you sing if you like to be beside the seaside? It makes me so sad.
TMS: What should be the biggest takeaway from your show?
Long: I hope it’s silly and optimistic and makes people feel like they aren’t alone in feeling daunted by the new reality we find ourselves in, but also that things aren’t hopeless either. Or just that they like my bit of material about necklaces.
TMS: Can you tell me more about your awesome showgramme?
Long: Sure thing! I really like making little zines, and for this show I made one with a (terribly drawn) (I mean really bad) comic book about some cool activists I met. I like giving the crowd something extra for free that they don’t expect.
TMS: Is there anything we should know about “Something Better” or you that we haven’t covered?
Long: I have terrible posture but a kind heart. I love butter and I think it should be a crime to scrimp on it. I can’t drive, but I often have dreams where I drive so I reckon in a pinch I could give it a good go. My show is a lot sillier and more fun than some of my earnest replies suggest, I swear.
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