Comedian and Oxford graduate Josie Long talks to Impact Features about stage experimentation, the struggles of student life and unfair discrimination regarding art degrees.
Are any topics taboo and unlikely to be discussed on stage?
There are limits on how far I would go in revealing things about my personal life, because it’s my life and I like to keep some things private. But I don’t really have things as taboo. For me, I wouldn’t go against what my beliefs were or my values. I wouldn’t be able to do something that I didn’t really believe in and I really hope I wouldn’t do things that are full of hate. But on the whole I’d like to give anything a go if it’s funny enough.
That is certainly the most important thing. You named your last show after your niece, what was the reason behind this?
Because I love her so much. Basically I was just so excited that she had arrived and I wanted to give her a present in a weird way. I wanted to do something to commemorate how much I loved her and I’m not necessarily a conventional adult role model for her; I’m not married, I don’t have a house, I don’t have a car and I don’t have a job that is an obvious ‘job’. But I felt I could do something that meant a lot to me to show her how much she meant to me.
You have many other projects going on such as making a feature film with Doug King – where did that arise from?
Well a few years ago we made a couple of short films off our back. I had just been wanting to make a short film and hadn’t met the right director or the time hadn’t been right. But when we met it just worked really well; we would workshop ideas together and then I’d go off and write the script and we would just make it. We toured around cinemas at the end of 2013 and we just thought we could bring it up to a feature and challenge ourselves with the writing. So I spent all of last year developing the script and it’s carrying on from my two short films.
What is the film about?
It’s about this girl who is very earnest and a little bit like me. She really wants to make a political difference in where she lives. She’s in love with activism yet at the same time she has quite a lot of problems with her family. She’s trying to work out where she belongs and how you can do good in the world.
So you have a lot happening with the film, the comedy and the radio. Is it difficult keeping on top of everything?
I think it’s hard to do a lot of different projects. But at the same time I think if you just do one creative thing it can put you in a rut sometimes because you only have one way to express yourself. I like having different mediums to use and experiment with because it feels like you have a channel for any different kind of idea that you can have. I really enjoy that, but sometimes you worry that you’re not pursuing one thing solidly enough. But I did nothing but stand-up for quite a few years so I’m more into branching out now.
Impact is a student run and student focused magazine, in 2011 you set up a charity The Arts Emergency connecting students with mentors. What was your motivation for setting this up?
Well initially I was just very very angry and frustrated with the Tuition fees and the loans, it felt like even if someone didn’t have to pay tuition fees that people with a difficult background still came out with the most debt which just felt like a joke. Then it just evolved into what it is now, we have a big core network of one and a half thousand people who the young people we work with can call and get support from. We do mentoring, campaigning and we do a podcast. So it arose from financial inequality which is bullshit. There are so many talented people from non-traditional backgrounds obviously going to university. What we can do is instead of just trying to raise a shit load of money which is reliant on so many different things, we can also donate our experience and our privilege and time and support. That to them is so massive and it’s powerful to see people get to study what they want and to live the life they want. At the same time we can try and change some attitudes about what is valuable and what is important. We can take away this idea that a degree is important only if it earns you lots of money or is vocational. We can celebrate the idea that intellect is more important and letting people develop intellectually is important, and that society benefits from well educated people at all levels of life.
Sounds great, was this mentoring system something you felt you lacked whilst at university?
Definitely, it’s something I think I could have benefited from; having that support. We didn’t have people in the careers we liked so we didn’t necessarily have the role models that we might have wanted. It is important to provide that to young people at school and to do that for them, it helps to bridge gaps.
There’s a lot of debate between students of science and students of the arts, as your charity is specifically for arts students do you think there is a lack of aid given to arts students?
We set up the charity in response to the government who cut some arts degrees by 100%. The Ba degrees are no longer government funded, they rely on the loan system which is rubbish as it doesn’t work. But science degrees still get funding, so what they’re doing is they’re pitching arts degrees and science degrees against each other. Constantly what this government is saying is that arts degrees won’t get you a job. It’s not good to put these things against each other as we should all be learning as much as possible. It’s stupid. We do feel that there’s an emergency in the arts sector with it being starved for funding. It’s being belittled and treated like it’s not worth anything.
You can next see Josie Long at The Black Heart, Camden for her Lost Treasures Of The Black Heart show on the 7th July.