Young gifted and a woman – co­me­dian Josie Long talks la­bels with Sinéad Glee­son,

There’s pre­co­cious, and then there’s start­ing a com­edy ca­reer at 14. The early start has only helped Josie Long, who has carved out a dis­tinc­tive stage per­sona, writes Sinéad Glee­son

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

AF­TER SEV­ERAL at­tempts to get hold of Josie Long, we even­tu­ally get to speak. She is huff­ing and puff­ing, run­ning down stair­ways, try­ing to catch a tube and haul­ing a large suit­case to boot. The co­me­dian is on her way to Glas­ton­bury to play two gigs and, de­spite twist­ing her an­kle in the mid­dle of the in­ter­view, she is as breezy and funny as you’d ex­pect. Long’s pro­file has been steadily ris­ing and at 29, she’s one of best known fe­male comics in the UK. She has also – amaz­ingly – been do­ing com­edy for more than half her life, hav­ing started per­form­ing stand-up at 14.

“I just loved it and was re­ally im­pa­tient to get into it,” says Long. “There was a work­shop at this arts fes­ti­val that my mum signed me up for as a birth­day present. I fell in love with com­edy and just wanted to keep do­ing it. It’s all I ever wanted to do and the only thing I’ve ever re­ally pur­sued.”

At 17, she won the BBC New Com­edy Award, but de­cided to go ahead with a de­gree in English at Ox­ford. While at col­lege, she con­tin­ued to run com­edy clubs, and never lost in­ter­est.

“Grow­ing up, I loved telly com­edy, like Monty Python, The Smell of Reeves and Mor­timer and when I got a bit older, I got re­ally into Lee and Her­ring. I thought they were the coolest peo­ple on the planet and thought the fact that they got the au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate was amaz­ing.”

Af­ter col­lege, she sup­ported Ste­wart Lee on tour and like her hero (in his Lee & Her­ring days), Long loves in­ter­act­ing with an au­di­ence. At her 2005 show in Edinburgh, she chal­lenged pun­ters to play her at the word game Bog­gle – and usu­ally won. These days she still throws in com­pe­ti­tions and “cre­ative things”.

“If I’m run­ning a club night, I ask peo­ple ques­tions. In my first show, I asked peo­ple about their favourite small thing that makes them happy. An­other time, I in­vited peo­ple to send me post­cards with a draw­ing of an ec­cen­tric per­son that they know. I love that in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. I love that you don’t have to have this clear dis­tinc­tion be­tween you and the crowd. Run­ning my own club, I get to know all the reg­u­lars so you can muck around and be more in­for­mal, so there are­more chances for some­thing magic to hap­pen.”

A reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to ra­dio and TV com­edy pro­grammes and panel shows (Long also wrote for Chan­nel 4’s Skins), tour­ing takes up most of her time. While it’s fun, she says she misses her friends and makes ex­tra ef­fort to keep friend­ships go­ing. Some­thing of an old com­edy hand now, Long says she has long got­ten over her stage­fright, which was ex­tremely in­tense when she started out.

“I used to feel phys­i­cally sick for days be­fore­hand, but you get over it, be­cause you love it. But also be­cause it’s your job, and who wants to feel sick about go­ing to work? (laughs) It’s about what suits your per­son­al­ity. I love stand-up be­cause you can be your­self, but the idea of singing in front of peo­ple would bloody ter­rify me.” Like all co­me­di­ans there have been the tiny crowds, vir­u­lent heck­lers and no laughs. “Oh god yes, it’s hap­pened. If any comic tells you they haven’t had 10 shows where they’ve died, they’re ly­ing. It’s like bad re­views – it hurts and then you get over it. I try to take each heck­ler on their own merit. Some­times you think some­one is ini­tially be­ing ag­gres­sive, but they’re just be­ing en­thu­si­as­tic. Other times, peo­ple ac­tu­ally heckle with points of in­for­ma­tion like [laughs and adopts snooty tone] ‘Um, David Hume was not ac­tu­ally an athe­ist . . . even though tech­ni­cal- ly what he said was athe­ist,’ but I like that. My favourite kind of heckle is anal pedantry.”

One thing that re­ally irks her about com­edy is the dis­cus­sion about women within it. Old cliches about “women not be­ing funny” and “there are no fe­male co­me­di­ans” strike Long as at best lazy and at worst po­ten­tially harm­ful to up­com­ing new fe­male tal­ent.

“Peo­ple who think there aren’t many women in com­edy are idiots. It’s such a sex­ist dis­course and it ac­tu­ally crushes peo­ple who are do­ing com­edy. It makes them feel that they’re an anom­aly and that what they’re do­ing isn’t le­git­i­mate. It’s not help­ful. Un­til so­ci­ety is more equal, ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of women will feel like pi­o­neers. That’s not cool, but it’s all we can do. I feel that I’m con­stantly made to jus­tify my­self and it’s tiring when peo­ple as­sume that as a fe­male co­me­dian you’re go­ing to just talk about cer­tain things.”

Long men­tions the lengthy tra­di­tion (which is slowly chang­ing) of sex­ism by com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tors in tele­vi­sion, or club nights that would only al­low one woman on a com­edy bill. In 2006, she won the pres­ti­gious if.comed­dies (for­merly Perrier) best new­comer award at Edinburgh, some­thing that made her feel like a “real co­me­dian”. Long’s sub­ject mat­ter is broad and var­ied. She can do ram­bling anec­dotes about bread or con­jure up char­ac­ters such as a work­ing-class as­tro­naut who used to be a nail tech­ni­cian. At her up­com­ing Dublin show, she’ll be talk­ing pol­i­tics, when she’s not pre­tend­ing to be the Brontë or Mit­ford sis­ters.

While there is a lot of twee talk of com­edy as “the new rock and roll” (thanks to mul­ti­ple-date arena tours from Michael McIn­tyre or Peter Kay), Long is out­side of that, thanks to an oeu­vre that is per­sonal, charm­ing and funny. You won’t find her mak­ing jokes about mi­nori­ties or in­volved in the kind of con­tro­ver­sies that Frankie Boyle or Tommy Tier­nan have been in. She is wary of cen­sor­ship but be­lieves in com­edy as a plat­form for strong opin­ions.

“What I re­ally like about com­edy is that it’s so di­verse. I like that I can go on stage and be re­ally earnest about things that I like; or that some­one else will just do puns or an­other co­me­dian will be de­lib­er­ately, wil­fully of­fen­sive. It’s not in­ter­est­ing or im­por­tant to me to watch co­me­di­ans who try to shock. I don’t find racist or sex­ist jokes funny, even when peo­ple are telling them in an ap­par­ently ironic way. I’m pleased com­edy is that di­verse, and in nearly all in­stances, peo­ple are not try­ing to be harm­ful, but there are cer­tain bound­aries, and it’s up to co­me­di­ans to be hon­est about what their in­ten­tions are, but I wouldn’t seek to cen­sor peo­ple.”

Long has been to Ire­land sev­eral times and ad­mits to de­lib­er­ately or­gan­is­ing gigs so that she can catch up with co­me­dian friends Maeve Hig­gins (“I love her!”) and David O’Do­herty (who was nom­i­nated along­side her the year she won her if.comed­dies award). The rest of year will be a busy one. When not tour­ing, Long is fin­ish­ing a book (“about a trea­sure hunt”), has a new show at Edinburgh and plans to rent a mini-van and go on tour with some other co­me­di­ans. “We’re go­ing to play some ad-hoc gigs in re­ally bor­ing sub­ur­ban places where noth­ing hap­pens.”

O’Reilly Theatre, Satur­day July 16th, 8pm, €10/8

Josie Long:

The Work­man’s Club, Satur­day July 9th, €7/5 The New Theatre, Thurs­day July 14th - Satur­day July 16th, 6pm Axe at­tack: Sounds of Sys­tem Break­down

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