Let’s Go Swimming: Josie Long talks stand up, politics, and her new short film

by Louise Logan 

When I arrive at Where the Monkey Sleeps in Finnieston to interview the comedian Josie Long, I’m having a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. I’ve realised that there’s a theme emerging whereby every time I turn up for an interview, I always look slightly mental. This time round, I’m quite literally unravelling; my flatmate lent me one of those wrap tops, which all sensible people know are designed to unwrap at the most inconvenient of times. Luckily, Josie’s still getting ready when I arrive, so I’ve got time to go and sort myself out. Just as I’m about to leave, the person in the next cubicle emerges: ‘Be honest with me: does this look okay? I feel like this looks completely ridiculous!’ This is how Josie Long and I meet.

Born and raised in Kent, Josie first got into stand up at the age of 14 when she started going to comedy workshops at a local art centre: “I was always the youngest there; there’d be guys in their 30s who were a bit odd, and women in their 50s who were just giving it a go. It was really fun and quite nurturing. I always thought the guy that ran it was really wise, because he talked so slowly – now I realise he was just stoned the entire time. Just…caned.”

From questionable beginnings, she gradually began gigging here and there between doing her GSCEs and A-Levels, and then went on to win the BBC New Comedy Award at the age of 17. She took a break from stand up whilst studying for an English degree at Oxford (“but I got in cos I was clever, not cos I was posh!”), and since then has performed six critically acclaimed shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, two of which were nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award. In between, she’s appeared regularly on panel shows‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ and ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’ and brushed up her acting skills with roles in programmes such  E4’s ‘Skins’. That’s quite a list of achievements for someone who’s just turned 30, and now I’m here for a screening of Josie’s first short film, which she directed, produced, wrote, starred in, and funded, Let’s Go Swimming.

“I’ve been doing stand up for a good few years and I’ve had a few flirtations with TV, but I got really bored of the fact that when you’re writing for TV there’s such a long commissioning process and and editing process that you forget about your ideas.”

The tedious television process led Josie to look at other options, and she says that a break up in early 2011 led to the idea of a short film: “I felt really confused about my life and I sort of wanted to write about it- I felt like I had something to say for the first time in ages, and I thought ‘I really want to write a film,’ and then I was up last November in Newcastle doing an art festival and Doug [King, the film’s co-director] was filming it and we got on really well and I remember thinking, ‘we should work together.’ We started chatting and we both really liked the idea.”

The film follows Josie’s character as she explores the ‘indie theme park’ that is Glasgow and
tries to figure out what she’s doing with her life. Josie is the first to admit that her character in the film is ‘a bit of a knob.’ She describes her as being a bit immature and unable to cope with being grown up, something one imagines Josie is also trying to come to terms with.

“It’s basically a woman who’s a shit version of me who abandons her life in London and moves to Glasgow, but she has really unrealistic ideas about what Glasgow will be like. She thinks, ‘I’ll go up there, I’ll be in a band, I’ll have a really great life’ but she’s a bit too shy and she doesn’t really improve her life at all, and she’s always saying that she’s going to go swimming but she never does. She has a very luxurious set of problems that she’s basically created.”

The 20 minute film is peppered with internal dialogue which is both melancholy and funny, and is reminiscent of Josie’s stand up, but Josie insists that it’s not completely autobiographical: ‘I like to think I was a little bit better than that!’

Far from it, if Josie’s stand up success is anything to go by. Josie’s comedy has taken a more political turn in recent years, and she attributes a greater political awareness to a ‘crisis of confidence’. Living in a trendy area of London, she hated the ‘yuppie’ locals: “I had these neighbours that lived above me that I hated. I was like, ‘They’re yuppies! He wore a Playboy t-shirt, and they read The Sun, and The Times, and they’re Tories and they OWN a house, and I hate them!’

“…I think, to be honest, I was an idiot. One day I realised that, from the outside, I was exactly the same as the yuppies next door, apart from the fact that I don’t read The Sun. I was quite embarrassed and annoyed at myself for not doing anything.”

Josie seems to parody this lack of self-awareness in the film, and it was this realisation that lead her to become more politically active:

“I felt really strongly about things but I felt like I was never backing any of it up [with actions]. And then when the Conservatives got in that really focused me because suddenly every day I was like, ‘THEY’RE DOING WHAT?! I HATE THEM!’”

Josie then became involved with the anti-cuts and anti-tax avoidance movement UK Uncut:

“I was introduced to some of the people [of UK Uncut] and I went with them and just felt like something was happening and felt really empowered. It feels like so much has happened in the last two years…I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed to articulate what I felt about the world, because I’m an idealist and a Socialist, and now I feel completely unashamed and have a lot of confidence in it.”

This confidence has spilled over into her stand up, where she takes the often tedious subject of politics and injects her some of her trademark joyful humour. She remembers one of her earlier Edinburgh shows, which commented on the older generation’s perception of the younger generation being apathetic:

“I honestly don’t think they can say that now. Actually, people who are around 20 are really impassioned and switched on and earnest in a way that I wasn’t 5 years ago, because I was very complacent thinking that the Labour government were on my team. As much as I didn’t think they were, you could con yourself, whereas with these guys, you really can’t.

“I’d love to see a generation of younger politicians who were more stridently on the left. I’d like to see someone who wasn’t very well spoken. That’s of course the other problem: most MPs don’t represent the nation, most of them are millionaires. I’d love to see a leader who sounded like they were from a place, and sounded a bit rough, and was furious, and sounded like a steam train.”

Leaving revolution aside, for now, Josie is currently working on her next film: Romance and Adventure. Like Let’s Go Swimming, the film will be an independent venture:

“We’re funding it via crowd funding. We made Let’s Go Swimming this April all for free, and we got this amazing crew and thought it would be great if this time round we could pay them.”

On the film’s Sponsume page, they offer everything from t-shirts and postcards, to having a character in the film named after you, to having Josie and other comedian play a gig in your living room, for sponsorship. As the Strathclyde Telegraph went to print, the Sponsume page had collected £5,456.09 of the £9,500 they need. Josie says no contribution is too small: ‘if 100 people give us 25p, I’m happy!’

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