In conversation with Josie Long

I had the chance to talk to the awesome comedian Josie Long, and she said so many inspiring things on the election chat, getting involved in activism and hope for the future.

What do you think inspired so many young people to get behind Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in the general election?

I think it’s a few things really. What he was really great for though is that you can look back at his background of activity and his background of anti-racist activism, his background of taking a very concerned interest in foreign policy causes. You can look back through his career and see he has really passionately spent his career fighting on that stuff so I feel like people, especially young people, they’re not stupid so they are looking at that like “oh I see, this person doesn’t actually have history of things like David Cameron did … He’s not out to see what he can make”. I just think what happened for me when they called the election to begin with the first couple of days I was devastated, they are kicking us when we are down, they are going to spend the rest of our lives saying we fucked it up, we know nothing about nothing. Then after about 2 days I was like “well let’s see what we can do”. There was just this attitude among everyone of “fuck you! We can try and fight” and they did the manifesto that was such a brilliant achievement.

Now election is over what can people do to do get involved in socialism and help the left?

I really believe in trying to set up things about the values that you think are politically important. I was really proud of people trying to set up breakfast clubs, I think is such a great idea that probably isn’t too expensive to do and if you have a few of you then you can really make a difference in your community. I’ve always thought things like art classes, which sounds a bit airy fairy but they are cutting it from all the schools, and of course if you don’t have any money you don’t have money for art classes but if you can set something up for free in your community then why not. I always think about an artist called Jean that lives in Bradford and she runs this thing called WR Bradford. It’s in the covered market and it’s a space where people can come and make art together. It’s so incredible and successful in what it does, it just brings people together. You have this space to do something for the sake of it that is for something other than money, something that’s empowering and beautiful and fun and brings you together with strangers which is kind of like our low-key ethos.

What advice would you give someone who is trying to choose a cause to get involved with, especially when there are so many?

It’s tricky. There is no right or wrong way to do it. I think caring is definitely a good sign. Some people will dedicate their whole lives to one thing. Me and my friend set up this thing called Arts Emergency that we love and now it’s his full time job. We have 5 full time members of staff and we are so proud of it. That really did take up all of our time for about 3 or 4 years to try and set up and that’s about art and trying to get people to study the arts and humanities. The reason we ended up choosing that for us is because it meant loads to us in terms of what we studied and what we wanted to pursue. It felt like it was a way that we could pass stuff on and then we both sort of fell in love with the idea.

I also think that you can’t beat yourself up for the fact that you can’t do everything, just so you know you are trying to do things in the right direction. And also, you can’t do everything all the time. I basically gave up work between May and June just to do canvassing, writing, making stuff for the election and focusing on that. Then after that I took a couple of months where I really didn’t do much because I was like, “I’m really tired and I’m really focussed on that so I’m having a little break”. It’s a balance, you can’t take on everything but that doesn’t mean don’t take on anything. Sometimes you might get a really good idea for an action or a campaign then you might feel guilty because it’s fun or silly and you can’t, it’s actually about seeing how we can reimagine the world. It matters more that you are on the team than what position you play.

Why do you think so many people don’t challenge inequality and what can we do to make it easier?

Often it’s really uncomfortable. As a woman quite often you are made to feel threatened by these things, like being catcalled in the street. It’s not an even playing field where you are able to be like, “excuse me, please don’t do that!” So I can totally understand why people feel frightened and held back. And I would also say again, similarly with activism. You don’t need to score every goal. It’s tricky because you know everyone is going to fuck up. So, there will be loads of times when I’m going to say things that are going to be inappropriate without meaning to or things that can be clueless or thoughtless without meaning to. I mean nobody is a perfect example or anything so it’s quite helpful to think of life as a process with many opportunities. So yeah, say something happens around you and you feel uncomfortable and you go home and you think “I’m such a prick, I didn’t do anything and I should have”. What you can do is think about it a little bit and think “what should I have said?” and then next time you have got it in your back pocket. We are all learning and we are all trying. Also, what I would say is like it’s the same with activism is to remember it’s always fun to have a bit of fun with things and sometimes that’s a good way to neutralise things. So, if somebody is being a real prick and you find a way to have a bit of fun about it, not for them but for you, it’s harder for them to continue on their arseholerly. There is so much power in it. I think it’s good for all of us to remind ourselves how powerful we are and build up our own self esteem in the background. Anything that is a nice, mindful exercise to help increase your confidence and help you feel love for yourself, good about yourself and strength and entitlement to your opinion and your place in the earth, anything that does that means the rest of the time you are like “fuck you!”

How do you stay so hopeful for the future when things look so dire?

What’s been wonderful is this election is so buoyant and it’s made me feel so much more confident because I know now we can build on that and it is thrilling. I just think you get more with sugar than with spice, I read a really great book that I spoke about in my last show and it’s called Hope in the Dark. It’s about how, on balance, it’s always better not to be bitter and let yourself be hopeful. Even as an intellectual choice, even if it’s artificial, it’s always so much better to try and be hopeful and optimistic because even if none of it happens, you will still have a better experience of being alive and if anything happens you helped to bring that about.

The problem with Britain a lot of the time is our pervasive and inbuilt cynicism. Beyond anything else it’s dull, it’s really boring and leads to a shit life. So, on top of wanting a better world I also want a full and exciting life for everyone so I feel like you only get that sort of thing with a hopeful attitude and I don’t think I’m perfect. I go through phases often where I feel failure very hard or I can’t do things or whatever but on the whole, especially when it comes to big things, I would rather fight then not. And to me fighting is about positivity and that’s why with things like activism, it’s lovely to think about it in a creative way: what can we set up that showcases what we love? What can we give that will make people happy? And that’s what I love about politics because so much of what my politics is humane values and stuff like that.

Megan Jones

Image: DAA Management

Find Josie on her website and check out Arts Emergency here.


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