Interview | Josie Long on sport, filmmaking and Russell Brand

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photo: Leo Garbutt

I meet Josie Long upstairs in the Hyde Park Picture House, crammed into a little office next to the projection room. She’s as exuberant as expected, even if it is the last leg on her film tour. I ask what she’s been up to in Leeds today.

We got here at 1 and we went climbing at the Leeds Wall. I am a big fan of climbing: it’s my new hobby. I’m awful at it though.

You’re really into sport, aren’t you?

It’s ridiculous isn’t it? It’s new to me. I never used to be into it. I think when you’re younger, when you’re nerdy and awkward and bookish you really feel like sporty people are the enemy. You feel like doing sport is somehow at a detriment to your brain. Whereas now I’m like: “I feel so strong.”

From Be Honourable (Long’s Edinburgh award nominated 2010 standup tour) to now, what’s changed? Why the hiatus in standup and the move towards filmmaking?

I’ve done three shows from 2010 to now and they were all about politics. But 2011 was kind of the year where I just sort of had a crisis. I lost faith in my life and I was miserable for a long time. Then I met Doug [the films’ director] at the end of 2011 and instantly knew we could work and write together. I wanted to write a film about my personal life, about really not knowing where I was going and how bad I felt compared to other people my age. We wrote the first film together and as soon as we were making it we thought: we have to do a second. We used the same cast, crew, catering, locations and clothes. We’re making a feature next April and all of it feels like we’re building momentum. We don’t have the funding yet but I can feel it building. This year I haven’t done much standup because I was knackered out and felt like I had nothing new to say about politics and I’ve also been setting up a charity with my friends.

Do you want to tell people a little about Arts Emergency?

Three years ago, Neil [Griffiths] and I talked loads about what we cared about, what university meant to us and what studying arts means. We came up with Arts Emergency. It exists to defend studying arts and humanities as a valuable choice for everyone from all backgrounds. We’re campaigning for more funding for the arts and we’re working with kids in Hackney to inspire them to go to uni. We’re also setting up a lottery to pay people’s student debts. But in a personal capacity and not as my professional role for the charity, fuck the privatisation and marketisation of student fees.

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You’ve done enfranchisement campaigning in the past so I was wondering what you think about the whole Russell Brand scenario?

It’s tricky. I’ve not seen the Newsnight interview and I do highly rate him as a standup. But I just can’t get over his behaviour towards women. Getting super wealthy in the first place is crazy. He lives in Los Angeles. I’m not sure you can just poke your head round the door and go “Don’t vote. Bye.” I think his life doesn’t really bear out a meaningful commitment to politics: there’s nothing at stake for him. He could highlight specific things or talk about one single issue. He could say any day to his millions of Twitter followers: “today’s project is we all give a pound to this children’s hospice.” I think he is powerful enough to really change things like that, particularly if he picked an issue and targeted it properly. He could do something really meaningful and cool, like exposing the austerity narrative for what it is. Even saying vote Green or helping with the AV referendum would have been better.

How do you feel about being called London’s Lena Dunham?

I feel massively inadequate because she’s done so much incredible stuff. But it’s flattering. I love Girls.

You have such a high work rate though, writing and touring year in year out and finding time for side projects too. You also recently went to America.

I did a gig on a Caribbean cruise. Like the Weezer cruise but with Dan Deacon and a lot of indie American comics. I felt really privileged to be doing it and I’d like to do more work there.

Are you happy with where you’re at right now?

You can’t ever look at other people and worry. Sometimes when I do find myself saying “Oh I’m a failure”, I have to realise that my life and someone else’s life will never be the same. My definitions of success on the whole are: do I have creative control, do I love what I’m doing, and am I able to get it out there quickly? Most of the time the answer is yes. And that’s the case with these films. I think as you get older you learn whether or not you’re a money motivated person. I am much more of a free delicious buffets and meeting people that I think are cool kind of person. If a gig has a delicious buffet and, say, Carrie Brownstein was there, I’d take that gig. But if it was £100,000 and it was for Adidas then I wouldn’t. If it was a buffet, Carrie Brownstein, £100,000 and also for Adidas, then I’d be like: this is difficult.

Dominic O’Key

Photos: Leo Garbutt

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