Having been performing stand-up since the age of just 14, Josie Long is one of the UK’s most talented – and all-round hilarious – comedians touring today. By 17 she had shot to fame after successfully winning the BBC New Comedy Awards and today, in between being a busy mum of two, you’ll find her regularly touring around the UK to sell-out audiences.
Ahead of the launch of her newest tour, Re-Enchantment, we sat down with the comedy icon to chat all things parenting, politics and neurodivergence.
You’re heading on your latest tour Re-Enchantment, what’s the story behind that title?
It’s about kind of trying to fall back in love with the world after difficult times, trying to rebuild. But also it’s about re-enchantment as a political term, and rewilding and reconnecting with nature and human beings – that’s the slightly pretentious way of explaining it!
But it’s also about me moving to Glasgow, and about politics, and about trying to build up a bit of joyful defiance because things are so tricky these days.
What sort of themes can we can fans expect from your tour?
It’s a bit about parenting, a bit about neurodivergence and a bit about trying to find your place in the world, and perhaps, a bit about culture wars.
Protest and the right to assembly have been so threatened so it’s about fighting back against that. There is quite a bit in the show about how it’s important to show support for people protesting, even if you don’t 100% agree with exactly how they’re doing it. There’s so much pointless chat, where people want to nitpick about people who are protesting for ‘just a cause’ and there’s a lot of hand-wringing about civility by people who are really happy to back up inhumane laws on migration. On the one hand, people want to pretend to be civil, and on the other, they don’t care about human beings. So it’s stuff like that but it’s also filled with silly jokes. There are a lot of references to new metal too which I didn’t expect!
Do you think the last few years have added to your comedy, and made you want to say more?
I haven’t found the last few years politically inspiring. I’ve tried to find during my career what my political worldview is: I do stuff that’s explicitly anti-Tory and I suppose anti-Capitalist chat about politics from a personal perspective. So I do feel that the last few years have been a wild ride, but ever since 2010 when the coalition got in, there’s been so much, oh god, things to reckon with you know?
I don’t know whether this country has been particularly worse- I think after 2019 I was very upset and depressed because I felt the political atmosphere had become so toxic, and it’s stayed there. But at the same time, I’m so incredibly inspired by all the different activist groups and all the different people who are protesting against inequality and leaking our conservative government and their policies and inequality together.
I think maybe there’s always a lot to be stressed out by, but also a lot to be inspired by and the key is trying to balance those two things on stage, so the show isn’t too depressing or too unrealistic.
So would you say you’ve become more optimistic or more pessimistic?
You are what you are, and I am always an optimist. I always end up being more optimistic in some shape or form. But at the same time, I think I’ve become more cynical about the United Kingdom, definitely. I think I was less aware of how much power the Conservatives have, how much money and power they have… like “don’t worry, we’ll just easily beat them”. Whereas now I’m a bit more like “Well, they’re a very powerful bloc the Conservatives.” But I think with the kind of change, it’s hard to be optimistic.
At the same time, I don’t think despair helps anyone. There’s a really great quote that I used in my stand-up that Greta Thunberg said. It was when she was asked “How do you stay hopeful?” and she replied, “I don’t care if what we do is hopeful, we need to do it anyway, even if there’s no hope left, we must do what we can.”
I always really liked that - your own personal feelings aren’t necessarily that helpful to what needs to be done I suppose.
View this post on Instagram
You made your break at just 17. How do you perceive that the comedy industry changed in that time for female comics?
When I was younger, in every interview, they’d ask a ridiculous undermining question. “There aren’t any women comedians, are there?” or “There aren’t many funny women are there?” or “Why do you think women aren’t funny?” You’d get these questions where, if you take a breath and analyse them, are so incredibly insulting and undermining, and I would just have to sit there and say “Umm… well I’m one!”
If the premise of a question enrages you or insults you and your ability to do your job, it’s somewhat undermining in the long term. I think it reflected the wider state of things in society, a kind of anti-feminist backlash or a cultural thing that was going on. But what I do think is, particularly from about 2015, which is reflective I think of when they decided to bring in quotas on panel shows and some form of affirmative action to diversify TV comedy. I think after that, I felt things changed.
When I was younger, I was told really awful reasons why I didn’t get booked for something or wasn’t getting something commissioned, like “Well, we don’t want to book a woman.” Now, I really feel like not only are women getting commissioned a lot more, women aren’t getting insulted as much. There isn’t the same spurious, fake debate going on anymore. And I think that’s a lot less exhausting! And I really love that there’s [now] lots of really brilliant, different from each other comedians out there.
So you feel perhaps that people have become a bit more aware of representation?
I think maybe people just don’t really hold those views anymore – or, maybe they do! I’m not saying it’s a paradise and there’s a lot of bad stuff happening still, but what I would say is, being a woman in comedy is more legitimate, and is treated as if it’s more legitimate now, and that’s something I’m glad of.
You mentioned that you moved to Glasgow from London a few years ago. Does the comedy scene up there feel different?
It’s definitely different up here! There are loads of comedians that I’m getting to know and that I’ve been meeting. The fact that I’m seeing lots of people that I haven’t seen before- the funny thing is, I’m getting so old now and I’ve been doing this a long time, and a lot of the people I’d be like “Ooh a new comedian!”, that had actually fucking done three- or four-hour long shows. They’re not new in the slightest! So, there are people who I really love that are new to me but they’re still really established. I think it’s nice, I’m enjoying it a lot.
As I’ve got young kids and I’m touring, I don’t gig up here as much as I’d like. I’d like to just start running gigs up here every now and again, and add a bit of weirdness to to it.
You talk about your ADHD and neurodivergence in your show. Have you been inspired by how the younger generation tends to be speaking more openly about neurodivergence?
Yes, definitely! It’s something that for people in my generation, it wasn’t diagnosed, it wasn’t picked up on, it wasn’t understood. And so a lot of people my age are getting these later diagnoses, and feeling “I wish people had known when I was younger. I wish that someone would’ve been able to give me the language to talk about it and understand it”. So I do feel really thrilled that young people have that access, and that they are able to not miss out on things, not have to look back over decades in a bittersweet way.
A lot of people on Instagram that I follow I find so helpful and so useful in terms of talking about things, understanding things, it’s brilliant. And hopefully, I mean I’ve got a five-year-old, hopefully she will be understood from day one, and she will be supported to thrive, in a way that she won’t have to fit into a square hole.
COVID has changed how a lot of us work. Has it changed your approach to stand-up at all and how you feel about it?
I think it made me realise how much I am still committed to doing it and wanting to do it. I really missed live gigs when I couldn’t do them. I did enjoy doing Zoom gigs, and I like the fact that now that option still exists to stream things.
When I was writing my stand-up show last summer, I had a six-month-old baby: I couldn’t get out to gig, it was really difficult for me, so I did a few previews on Zoom, and it was great! It was like, I have this option to gig in a way that fits around you and family. I know it doesn’t happen as much, but there are some clubs that stream as well as do live stuff, and I think it’s really cool.
What makes stand-up so rewarding for you?
I think anyone who loves stand-up, loves it forever. It’s a very, very satisfying thing if your personality suits it and it can be really addictive in terms of adrenaline.
I’ve been doing it since I was about 14 years old, it’s how I interpret the world and how I enjoy myself, and all kinds of stuff like that. So it’s just so embedded in my life and it is my favourite thing.
Do you have any pieces of advice for those trying to break into the comedy industry?
I think follow your own path. You might not want to do what other people are doing. I heard a quote, I think from Bobcat Goldthwait, who said “Watch out if your goal is to be rich and famous, because you might realise, too late, you don’t want to be rich or famous”. And I liked that because everybody isn’t the same in terms of what success means to them. It’s okay just to follow your own vibe.
View this post on Instagram
If you reach a point where you try to follow other people’s careers, then you realise that that’s their career and they’ve already done it. For me, stand-up is about finding your own voice and trying to follow what your heart wants to talk about. It’s about developing your own personal style, and finding out what it is you think you want to make.
Who has influenced you the most, and is there any up-and-coming talent on the circuit who’s caught your eye?
Well, all the people I think are up and coming, have done about five shows and they’re really famous. But I saw a comedian, who’s Edinburgh-based, called Crystal Evans, and she’s written a really good show called The Hottest Girl At Bandcamp. It’s the story of her life and her childhood, and I thought it was a brilliant show. She’s doing the Edinburgh Fringe, and people should go and see it – she’s really great.
In terms of who inspired me, I think most comedians tend to be comedy nerds, and I really was, so I really loved Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, who used to a show that was nearly 20 years ago, but I loved it. I loved Vic and Bob, I thought they were so silly and inventive.
When I got to be about 18-19, there was a musician called Jeffery Lewis, and he was an anti-folk musician from New York. He’s somebody who approaches creativity in a really inspiring way, he writes in so many different genres of songwriting, and he’s someone I’ve always been inspired by. He doesn’t shut himself down, and he’s always thinking about different ways to approach songwriting. And that to me, I really admire.
Josie Long is on tour across the UK with new show ‘Re-Enchantment’.
Tickets available at www.josielong.com