Josie Long on her return to the Edinburgh Fringe
As Fringe darling Josie Long returns to the festival with her first full run in five years, we chat to her about being hopeful and how motherhood has unearthed boundless love
“I’m coming to it afresh, I’ve got no expectations. I really, really want my show to be good. That’s all I want. If my show’s good and I have a shit time, but I know it’s good then that’s enough.” Perhaps a claim you’d expect to be made by a Fringe debutante, it is in fact Josie Long’s eighth Edinburgh hour.
This year’s show sees Long reflect on life as a mother to a 15-month-old. “I just love being with my daughter. It’s the fact that you don’t know what they’ll be like, they’re showing you who they are – that’s the thrill.” She absolutely beams, “the first time she gave me a little cuddle and now she gives me little kisses. It’s just beautiful and I love it, and I just love getting to hang out with her and spending the day with her.”
Called Tender, Long’s Fringe offering examines the conflict of bringing someone precious and new into the world while everything else is on fire. It’s important to the comic that it’s a truthful and honest depiction of birth and motherhood. Why? Because each experience is unique and needs demystifying, “but at the same time the thing about childbirth is: no matter how it goes, every woman or man that comes out of it is a fucking hero.”
Defining tenderness as not just gentleness and kindness, but living life in a floaty in-between state, becoming a mum has let Long explore new dimensions. “What’s exciting about pregnancy and birth is that they are both really the same from any time and any place on Earth in so many ways and so there is this feeling that you get to be a little bit hippy and spiritual. [It’s] Earthy as fuck.”
Although many will be familiar with Long’s relentless positivity, this life shift has brought about an outpouring of relentless, unconditional love. “My heart is so open and I feel so much love towards everything in the world and you feel so vulnerable.” A few days ago, she admits to crying at the telly because an accountant was nice. Baby animals are definitely within the crying realm too: “I found this lamb which had got separated from the rest of the flock, and it was just too much for me and my heart. We had to spend an afternoon making sure it got back to its shepherd. Basically, I feel like if you’ve got a little baby, you feel, for a little while, intensely, all the time, ‘How can anyone be cruel?’”
With Ali Wong and Amy Schumer’s frank stand-up about pregnancy and birth, there’s potential for criticism about wholly positive experiences of birth. “The last thing I’d ever want is someone who themselves had a really difficult experience, to watch me and think that I was going ‘By the way guys, I did this because of me and I’m great.’ I have far more respect for women who have had more challenging births than me because they will have had to adapt to things they didn’t expect in the way that I never did,” she draws a breath, “and just birth is fucking BIG man, it’s elemental.”
Having performed since the age of 14, Long has touched on a plethora of topics. Is there anything, however, that she feels uncoverable? “I don’t think I would do a show, for example, about my parents. It doesn’t feel fair on them because they don’t have a show to talk about their view of it. But honestly, I would like to think that if I wanted to talk about it I would.” If anything, she suggests it’d be an aversion to different comedy styles. “I don’t think I’d be able to write a show that’s just one liners. Ever. And I don’t think I would write a show whose purpose would be to offend. I just would be bored by that. I just think it’s silly. I’m never gonna write a show that’s taking a wry swipe at the left cos eurgh, why would I do that? It’s not what I’m interested in and it’s not who I am.”
For the past few shows, including 2014’s excellent Cara Josephine, Long’s venue of choice has been Edinburgh institution The Stand: “Yeah, the best venue in the whole place!” As many performers will agree, “It’s just a really amazing group of people that run it and the way they run it, it feels like it’s got real heart.” It also shines in comparison to some of the venues south of the border: “You don’t realise how good the room is until you do your show back in London and you’re like ‘Oh! The show’s shit! I thought this was a good show!’ It’s just great. It’s laid back but also they know exactly what they’re doing and they don’t fuck about.”
That’s one saving grace for the current shitstorm that is the UK. Long maintains her hopefulness by remembering recent political wins, namely the surge in Labour Party popularity during 2017’s General Election: “We gained 20 points in the polls over six weeks and that was through young people, enthusiasm, optimism and a good offer.” If the same happens again, “there’s no limit to what might happen.” And even with all the doom and gloom, humanity copes. “People don’t just roll over and accept stuff, people fight it and they work together and FUCKING UNDYING HUMAN SPIRIT MATE,” she exclaims triumphantly.
Another slice of hope has been realised by her new motherhood. Not just at observing her daughter, but “understanding how much people soften and connect with their humanity around babies and young children. The one thing that separates us now from the horrifically prescient film Children of Men is that thank fuck people are still having babies. Honestly, I feel that if you have a child it invests you in the future of the planet and the future of humanity.”
Long is enabling hope too. With friend and campaigner Neil Griffiths, she co-founded the charity Arts Emergency, an organisation which provides opportunities and support to young people from marginalised backgrounds with an interest in further education and the creative industries. “We want[ed] to create something that we wish we had.” In 2018, Arts Emergency offered nearly 300 opportunities to its young members and 96% of them applied to University. Looking forwards, the charity wants to expand into new locations with both mentors and mentees positioned around the country. “It’s not about getting money off people. It’s about asking for their time and expertise”. “We’ve slowly built it up from one college in Hackney to more and more of a national network, but it is our big goal to be everywhere”.
Even though Long can prophesise what might be in store for her charity, she can’t foretell the Festival. “I can’t predict what this one will be like, but I’m offering myself up, humbly, to the Gods of the Fringe.”
Josie Long: Tender, The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 1), until 25 Aug (not 12, 19), 8.20pm, £10-12