I wrote this piece for Hwyl, the Cardiff Evening News’ Arts Supplement
Josie Long: Stand Up Space Cadet
It’s not often you meet a stand-up comedian who radiates warmth and optimism from every fibre of her being, in a business renowned callous cruelty or at least gloomy pessimism.
But Josie Long, whose show All the Planet’s Wonders (shown in detail) is at Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre on Saturday, sticks out like a sore thumb in this cutthroat world. And all the better for it. Josie’s not one for whining:
“I’m inspired by everything around me, by things I’m interested in and excited by. That’s what I write about but I don’t limit it, I write about anything, things that happen or things I’ve just made up that are stupid.”
She’s eager to return to the Sherman theatre, where she toured last year: “I just loved being in Cardiff, the Welsh crowd are so kind.
“The city’s so brilliant and I had a wonderful time. I’m really hoping they’ll all still be kind, forgiving people!”
Not all crowds have been as lovable as the Cardiff audience, and at only 26, and having been in this business for nearly 11 years, Josie’s seen it all:
“Bad gigs? I’ve had so many, so many. I’ve had people shouting “Fuck off! Fuck off! We hate you!”
“I had a gig when I was 17 in Peterborough and I just didn’t know how to handle the heckling. It was really hard and I left after about three minutes. So yeah, there’s been some tough ones, I’m not gonna lie to you.”
Comedians are renowned for being the bravest of all performers, making people laugh is a tough job, but one Josie manages with enviable ease : “You do it because you love it. So you’re cheating in a way, because it doesn’t feel brave or hard.
Her first stand-up gig was at the staggeringly young age of 14 and only a year later, she had her first gig on the London club circuit with Jo Brand and Harry Hill performing at the same gig.
She won the BBC New Stand-Up Award at age 17 and went to study English at Oxford University, where she found her inspiration for All the Planet’s Wonder and a fascination for the natural world: “It’s about starting to love science and nature for the first time but its also about how much I love this museum called the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, it’s absolutely insane, it’s like this ramshackle collection in this really crowded dark room.”
She added: “It was one of the first things that I discovered at Oxford and it was round the corner from my house so we used to go quite a lot.”
Since graduating she’s been a well-loved touring comedian and a main attraction at the Edinburgh Fringe, where she won the if.comeddie Best Newcomer award in 2006 and where she premiered her show she’s bringing to the Sherman: “ Edinburgh was really intense this year because it rained almost every day and so it was a proper test of strength to see if you could perform with wet feet over and over again.
“But it was fun, yeah. I did a few gigs that I really loved, I did one on a mountain, one in a person’s living room and one in a swimming pool so it was quite good for the variety.”
Since Edinburgh, Josie’s been taking a few tentative steps towards (gasp) television, though like Edinburgh comedy heavyweights like Daniel Kitson and Andy Zaltzman, she remains wary of making the leap to Friday night panel shows: “I’ve been really selective about what I’ve done, I haven’t done anything that would’ve made me feel uncomfortable and done a few really fun things so I think if you’re really careful then you’ve got less to regret.”
Josie is at the Sherman Theatre tomorrow
So does she fancy being the next Jonathan Ross or Simon Amstell?
“I don’t know how mainstream I could go. And I don’t think they’d have me to be honest, it’s all well and good for me to say I’d like to, but whether anyone else will actually like it is a totally different thing.”
She adds: “I’m in no rush to do something before I’ve got a really good idea because I really love doing live shows and I never want to stop doing them, that’s my main thing.”
Josie’s live shows are scattered and exuberant, with paper and fruit flying everywhere. She has a fondness for self-decoration, demonstrating her point with laboured diagrams drawn in black marker on her face and tummy.
But these tricks are as much a personal journey for Josie as they are delightful for her audience: “I’m always mean about my tummy and I don’t appreciate it, it’s really hard to accept it for who it is. So I make it pretty by drawing on it because it’s genuinely quite a funny joke and it’s also good for me, because I think of it as nice and not ugly.”
Josie’s act has a uniquely childlike quality of wonder and adventure, and her enthusiasm to share her thoughts with the audience is infectious.
But it’s taken a while for Josie to let the comedy truly come from being herself: “I’m definitely a lot less nervous than I was. It’s just part of my life now, before then I didn’t really have so much material, I just had jokes, and I’d be like “Ah, I’ll do my jokes now.” Whereas now, I write everything.
“My work is definitely more personal now. Before it did just use to be silly jokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with silly jokes.”
Ask any stand up comedian and they will always tell you that comedy is an addiction, and they would never be happy doing anything else.
Never a truer word was spoken for Josie: “It’s like a vocation. I think about it all the time and I’m always thinking about how I can do it and things I want to write about.
“If I didn’t have comedy, I’d just be weeping in a corner. I’d be so gutted, crying: “Oh no! I had it all, and no I’ve got nothing! Nothing!” But if it all went away, maybe I’d like to teach, be a primary school teacher. That way I’d get to play with glue. Glitter glue. And uncooked pasta. That’s my dream.”
Josie Long is at Sherman Cymru, Senghennydd Road, Cardiff on February 7. Tickets are £7.83-£9.79. Box Office 029 2064 6900. http://www.shermancymru.co.uk