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‘All my life I’ve been told I don’t fit into the right box’: comedian Josie Long on politics, near-death experiences, impending film stardom … and the trouble with contraceptive apps

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RIGHT now, comedian Josie Long has at least three reasons to be cheerful. There’s the fact of her imminent motherhood for one. That’s probably the best of them. But then there’s her imminent movie stardom. And beyond that, she hopes, the imminent possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister in the very near future. No wonder she’s smiling.

OK, maybe we’re stretching it a little with the movie stardom. But she does have a film coming out. That’s why Long is in Glasgow this afternoon, though right now she’s taking a break from the frantic tweaking and grading going on in the editing suite this Monday afternoon.

The film, entitled Super November, will be getting its world premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival. Directed by Douglas King, Long has written it and takes a leading role. It’s a Scottish take on mumblecore – that peculiarly American brand of no-budget indy movies – attached to a vision of a dystopian future. “It’s basically about people trying to live their little lives and still trying to do that when the film they were in is dropped into Children Of Men,” Long suggests between mouthfuls of baked potato in the STV canteen at Pacific Quay.

The film is another new page in Long’s career. There have been a few of them. Long has been doing stand-up since she was 14. She’s 35 now so that’s more than two decades of experience of the Edinburgh Fringe and gigging and Radio 4 shows. She has also written scripts for Channel 4’s teen soap Skins and even made an appearance on Bear Grylls’s Channel Four survivalist reality show The Island. In short, she’s been busy.

Set in Glasgow, Super November is a film about a break-up set against a backdrop of a right-wing military coup. As it was made on a scarcely believable budget of £4,000, you probably shouldn’t be expecting extensive CGI. I’m guessing the four grand all went on Long’s very own Winnebago, I tell her. “That was all my fee,” she jokes.

“Basically, most of the people involved have one of three surnames because they’re the director’s family and friends, the production designer’s family and friends and his cousins.

“We were very lucky. Lots of people were really generous, lending us equipment for free, lending us time in post-production studios for free. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Long grew up in London but she’s had a long love affair with Glasgow. We can almost claim you as Scottish, I say. “In my dreams. I was going to move to Glasgow. I was totally set on it. And then I met my boyfriend and he said: ‘Oh, I need to be in London.’”

Hard luck, Josie. “I feel very connected with Glasgow,” she continues. “But then I worry that if I move here I would start not looking at it with a beautiful filter all the time. I don’t want to be: ‘Uh, the f***ing Subway.’ I just want to be: ‘Oh, the delightful Subway.’

“And it’s nice to be a far-off admirer and to see the beauty in it. It means a lot to me.”

Today, Long is wearing yellow dungarees that conceal her baby bump (six months and counting) and on the back of her hand you can still see the biro-scribbled prompts she wrote before last night’s stand-up gig. Ever the trouper.

Once the world has seen Super November maybe she can branch out into acting too. If Call The Midwife see the movie and give her a call, would she be up for a bit of Sunday night telly acting?

“Yeah, man, of course, I’d love to do stuff like that.”

“It’s fun and, also, stand-up can be lonely. It’s so exciting to be part of a group of people where everyone’s input makes it better.”

What’s weird about the film, she says, is that while they were working on it everyone almost felt like they were somehow making terrible things happen in the real world. She had the original idea with King back in 2016 and when they finished the first half of the film – “Literally the day we were finishing” – Brexit happened.

That was a kick in the head. And then when they came back to make the film’s second half a year later the last day of shooting just happened to be on the day of the American presidential election.

“I didn’t expect to be living in this time that was really tumultuous and frightening and horrible,” Long admits.

That said, she is quite optimistic about all things political at the moment. “It was really bleak for a while,” she admits. “Corbyn got voted in and then it was a relentless barrage of smears and abuse and beleaguered infighting, so by March 2017 we were all like: ‘F*** me. I mean, we’ll keep going, but this is hard. We’re 20 per cent behind in the polls.’

“And then the election was so energising. I could go around and say I had a party to get behind and then to see the polls jump and the result be so unexpected. I’m still riding that wave, even though every day now in the papers it’s like Corbyn is a traitor. I do personally feel there’s been some sort of shift, especially generationally. And it’s exciting.

“We have a real chance of having a socialist government in the United Kingdom and that is wonderful. It’s a thrill. Things could change in a really positive way and that keeps me going.”

Well, given her current situation – “My ‘delicate condition,’” she jokes – change is now inevitable. For her at least. Is she ready for motherhood?

“No. Not at all. I live in a rented basement that’s a one-bedroom flat. I’m not ready.”

She shares that flat with her comedian boyfriend Johnny. They hadn’t written parenthood into the diary just yet.

“We were going to start trying this summer. We had loads of plans. ‘I’m going to get pregnant in summer 2018. I’m going to write a new stand-up show and do it everywhere I can and, also, I’m going to go to India and Travel loads.’

“And then to get pregnant when I thought I was going to be writing it was like: ‘Oh, s***.’”

She blames her app. Come again? “I got this app, but I only got the free version. What I’ve learnt is you should pay for the premium version of the app if you’re going to use it as contraception because in retrospect £1.50 is not that much.”

I must look totally confused. A contraceptive app? That’s a thing? How does that work? Do I even want to know? “There are apps that chart your cycle,” she explains. Ah, right, got you.

The personal is the political, as someone once said. Since Long discovered she was pregnant she’s been thinking a lot about enforced gender roles, she tells me.

“All my life I’ve been told I don’t fit into the right box, even though I’m like a very conventional straight woman. The box of what is acceptable to do with your life and how to live it is so small.

“When I started in stand up – it is significantly better than it was but it’s still nowhere near equal – all the questions would be: ‘Why are you doing this? There aren’t any women comedians. Women can’t do this.’ To be told that over and over again …

“I don’t want my child to have to participate in that bulls***.”

Both Long and her boyfriend are now worrying they’ll turn into their parents. I hate to tell you Josie, I say, that’s almost inevitable.

She looks horrified, but then sees an upside. “There are loads of things that my parents did that I’d be thrilled to pass on. My mum was really creative.”

Plus, she says, she’s always liked the idea of gigging with a baby, “because they’re such a good stooge”.

Pollyanna optimism does seem to be her natural default position. I’m not sure it’s totally typical of comedians to be honest.

Why comedy anyway, I want to ask. She’s done cartoons and comic strips for the Guardian in the past. She could have been an artist or something? “You haven’t seen my art,” she laughs.

No, Long says, what she loves about stand-up is its immediacy. “I think it really suits a certain personality type. For me, personally, I just feel so able to communicate my ideas in a way that feels natural and easy and fulfilling and fast and that’s so lucky for a creative outlet.

“I love the performance element of it. I love shaping it. I love the fact that you get instant responses and that’s part of the craft of it. I think I’m very lucky to have found it.

“It never gets boring. It never gets easy, because you’re never in a position where you can just swan onstage, f*** about, storm it and leave. There’s always going to be the chance you can go on stage and everybody will be like: ‘What the f*** is this?’ Even people who love you. ‘I used to love her. She’s terrible now.’”

Who makes her laugh, I wonder? She mentions the comedian Tim Vine and double-act Flight Of The Conchords (“I’ve never laughed so much as I laughed at them”).

Can you laugh at someone who has a different political outlook to you? “If they’re good I’d laugh, definitely. I don’t really enjoy people who might come across as ranting or bitter. I like people who surprise and delight.”

What about someone like American comedian Louis CK, I ask? Hugely admired by many he has now been accused of sexual misconduct. But that’s not something she wants to talk about. “That is a bigger thing to open. If someone has done something like that … I have such a limited time in my life that I’m happy to focus on comedy made by brilliant women and focus on people of colour who are doing interesting things, rather than older, rich, white men.”

Talking about limited time, she has a film to finish. Time for a couple of final questions. Josie, when have you been closest to death?

“I was in a car accident with some friends of mine. I was 28. There was a lorry full of logs and when we tried to overtake it, it rolled over us, all the logs came off, pushed us off the road, came through the windscreen.

“And the scariest thing afterwards was that everyone kept saying: ‘You should be dead I don’t know how you got out of that.’ We were like: ‘Could you not? Could you just dial that down a bit?’ For ages that same day I thought: ‘Oh, I must be dead and I’m just a ghost.’

“I think it did make me freak out a bit. I was like: ‘This will change my life forever.’ I’m not sure it has. I try to be kinder to my body I think because I used to suffer a bit from disordered eating and really punishing myself. But now I’m a lot more like: ‘No, I am fine.’”

OK then, enough about near-death experiences. When did she feel most alive? “Oh my God. So, I did this ridiculous TV show called The Island With Bear Grylls, which I loved. I didn’t have any caffeine or sugar and I was outdoors for two weeks looking at the stars, hearing the sea, looking at the tropical fish. And I’ve never felt more alert or in command of everything.

“And then when we were getting off – you’ve not really eaten for two weeks and it was pretty intense – they gave us a piece of pineapple and a piece of watermelon and that’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s divine.”

Josie Love has reasons to be cheerful. Sometimes pineapple and watermelon are all that’s required.

Super November will be shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of the Glasgow Film Festival next Saturday at 8.45pm and on Sunday, March 4, at 1pm


Source : HeraldScotland

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