Writer, award-winning comedian, and Oxford alumni Josie Long is touring around the world and feeling like a comedian again after years of mostly feeling “like a mum who does some comedy.”
We spoke to Josie just as she came off stage in Brisbane Australia performing Re-enchantment, a show which she’ll be bringing to Oxford’s Old Fire Station in June. We started by asking what we could expect from the show.
“It’s about trying to come back to come back to a position of joy after the pandemic and a series of political defeats and also coming back to comedy after having little kids, so it’s about re-finding a bit of love and magic in the world after a difficult time. It’s very silly as well though – it’s a fun and silly show and that’s what I love doing.”
I understand it features a few political topics – is that hard to keep fun and silly?
That’s something that I’ve been trying to develop my whole career really, and that I’ve put a lot of energy into doing. I will often balance pieces of materials so that if I’m talking about something quite heavy, I can always bring it back to something quite different and muck around. It’s also about knowing that you only have a certain amount of time and space to say things in earnest and quite often when you do so, you have to immediately think about how you’re going to undermine yourself or undermine what you’re saying a little bit. I think something that I’ve really loved doing as a comedian is this balancing – being able to say what I really mean but also being able to have loads of fun.
Is it quite difficult to keep your views out of comedy?
For me, yeah. You have to write about what’s going on for you and what you feel and what you think about the world. Sometimes people disagree with that. They can feel like [shows] aren’t full of jokes but they really f*cking are – [in Re-enchantment] there’s a lot of silly jokes about dogs and my children and me and f*cking about so I think that for me, I enjoy the fun challenge of trying to talk about serious things on stage.
We’re very excited to have you in Oxford. How does it feel to come back and perform in a city you've lived in, because you went to uni here didn’t you?
I did yeah – I love it, especially Oxford. It’s so funny because like in loads of ways it just does not change, I walk around and see see people half my age and a little part of me is like ‘Oh, I know you’ but no, this is just the new crop of 20-year-olds.
I get that, or you spot someone and you’re like, ‘who's that? I don’t recognise them’.
Yes, and usually I don’t recognise them because they were born after 9/11. I love it and I think Oxford is such an amazing city to play in because the crowds are like smart and engaged and excited and I just love being back. I do, it’s got a beautiful atmosphere.
Do you have a favourite spot?
I used to really like the Cellar and I’m gutted that that’s not doing comedy anymore because it has a really great vibe. Also loads of my friends did theatre shows there we were like 19, so it’s always fun to be there as a professional and be like, ‘I saw my friend literally be fully naked for no reason here’.
I wanted to chat about your new book; Because I Don't Know what You Mean and What You Don't. It’s a collection of short stories – what motivated you to get into this type of writing?
I actually always thought that this would be something I did alongside comedy, and I did write a few things when I was a student. I always wanted to but when I’m touring a stand-up show, it’s quite all-encompassing for me and I get quite distracted by it and find it hard to work on other things. I now discover that I have ADHD so it’s sort of hard to work on things unless there’s a very clear end goal. During the pandemic I suddenly was not able to gig and I thought this could be my chance to finally get this done.
In an unrelated note I just saw a possum and it was very exciting for me.
They’re such exciting animals. It sounds like when you go to America, and you see a raccoon and you’re like ‘oh, they’re real’.
Yeah, and the locals just see them as like a squirrel or whatever – it’s not a f*cking squirrel, it’s massive. Anyway sorry, so basically, I had this chance during the pandemic to finally get it going and it took a long time and I found it quite agonising, but I’ve loved it and I’m so proud of them in this way that feels quite electric to me. As a stand-up you’re quite confined by the fact that you need to have laughs very regularly and it needs to be a certain type of thing or else it doesn’t work. What’s been wonderful about writing these stories is that I’ve been able to really explore a particular feeling or really think about a memory that happened to me and fictionalise it or just kind of try to write beautifully as the primary goal.
Do you mind if we touch on your ADHD diagnosis?
No, I’m thrilled to, it’s been really life changing for me so I’m happy to talk about it. Although I wish I’d know when I was at Oxford. Man, I was screaming to be diagnosed at Oxford and there was nobody. I remember sort of going and being like I can’t get this done its giving me agony – it was unbearable.
Some people say their diagnosis came as a relief as it explains and validates a lot of those feelings.
Yes it did, but it was complicated. So, on one hand it’s this wonderful feeling of everything making sense. In some ways too I saw it as this wonderful thing that I have that I’m really excited for my brain’s ability to be able to work fast and excel in certain ways. On the other hand though it was f*cking devastating because I found my degree really unbearable a lot of the time in terms of wanting desperately to do it but feeling this kind of terror. It also impacted a lot of the decisions I made in my adult life and career. I wish that I could go back and see things in this new way.
Like you wish you’d known sooner, so you could have dealt with loads of those things better?
It would have been amazing to have known sooner but also at the same time if I’d have known sooner, I probably would have seen myself in a different way or made work in a different way or maybe not have made the work I made or not have done the things I did. You can’t change the trajectory of your life.
Re-Enchantment is at The Old Fire Station on 23 June.
Image: © Matt Crockett