Transcription: Milly Parmenter
The Bristol Cable caught up with comedian Josie Long to hear about why she’s blending investigative journalism with stand-up.
You know that sinking feeling in your gut when you catch yourself laughing at something that you shouldn’t find funny? Well comedian Josie Long and investigative journo Martin Williams took the audience on a rollercoaster journey of just that at their stand-up gig last night at the Cube. Who thought an American con-man masquerading as an EU official and exorcising creationists could be funny? Well, they’re not for their victims (that’s the sinking feeling), but Josie and Martin definitely proved that there’s nothing like the power of comedy to nail serious issues.
Bristol Cable: So what’s the point of the show?
Josie: It started off with Martin, he’s an investigative journalist, and a while ago he contacted me saying ‘I’ve got all these stories and investigations that I’ve done, but I think they wouldn’t work necessarily in print, and might work better on stage, and I don’t really have much experience of performing and I’m a bit shy, is there anyway you’d like to collaborate on?’
And I’m like; this guy doesn’t realise the incredible gold that he’s sitting on! It’s been brilliant for me because he does all these complicated, difficult, thorough investigations, and I get to be the person fucking about! As a stand up, even though I want to do political stuff, and I try my hardest to do things that are well researched or interesting, or like, little mysteries in themselves, when it comes down to it, it’s so great to be with a proper investigative journalist as well.
Bristol Cable: You don’t really hear about that, a fusion of investigative journalism and comedy, it’s not the first thing that springs to mind…
Josie: It’s exciting for me, and it’s exciting for (Martin) as well, because we can libel people a bit, because its humor, and I’m mucking about, and I’m a clown, so we can also say things that, if you put in a paper like the Guardian, the legal team might be like ‘you can’t say that, you can’t do this’ and quite often there are quite constricting elements that apply when you’re writing for a specific publication, whereas with this we can pursue all kinds of nooks and crannies and stuff. And it’s been a really exciting thing for me, we’re developing the format, so I think it’ll take us a few years before its really a great, great show, but its exciting for me because I always have all these ideas, or little things that are vaguely conspiratorial, so every 5 minutes I’m like ‘Martin, I think these are crooks, can you search them out for me?’ It’s how I found out that chain restaurants, so many chain restaurants are owned offshore, and it’s all legal, but its fucked. Umm, I’m not gonna name specifics…
Bristol Cable: Slug and Lettuce for one.
Josie: Oh I bet it is!
Bristol Cable: We’ve done quite a lot of stuff on offshore companies…
Josie: Have you? It’s so funny isn’t it? I fucking hate chains, I get very upset by chain restaurants and chain bars, I feel like it takes any spontaneity away from leisure, and sort of makes leisure this commodity. If a person owns this little bar and they put their heart and soul into it, it’s so different to that, and it’s kind of disempowering. But then finding out that like, some cunt is funnelling all the money offshore as well! It’s just too bitter, it’s grim.
Bristol Cable: So do you think that it’s powerful to inject comedy into these investigations? Often when you come across these sort of stories, they’re proper full-on and just in print.
Josie: And it’s quite an effort to read.
Bristol Cable: Are we taking ourselves too seriously?! I know you’re a comedian, but do you think there needs to be more humor?
Josie: Yeah, although I think it’s quite tricky, what we have to say at the start of the show is, that this is not strictly speaking a comedy show, and not everything is funny. For example, we’ve done two investigations about extremist churches in London and Bristol. One is about Creationist schools, where young people who are gay are given exorcisms… and that’s happening now! I mean, that’s so shocking to me to find that out. In the other, we went to a church that had this particular curriculum, and it’s appalling, it’s such bad teaching, people leave school with not even basic skills relevant to life!
We did another investigation about anti-abortion protesters in London, and we uncovered the fact that there are, something like, at least 8 full time employees of organisations that are linked to charities, and these employees, their job is to full-time harass women outside abortion clinics in London and film them. They’re full-time paid to do that. And that blew my mind, and so, those things are shocking and unfunny, and we want to keep that.
Bristol Cable: So how do you bring it to the stage?
Josie: What we can do is try and kind of cushion it within a structure, where you know that in a couple of minutes something really silly will happen that’s unrelated. So you can build all that tension, you can have something like that, because you know that in a couple of minutes you’ll be talking about something that’s so ridiculous that it balances it out.
Another thing I have to do is address the awkwardness in the room, you do have acknowledge that this is terrible and unfunny, and then you play around with it a bit.
It’s an interesting challenge for me, it’s something I’ve been trying to work with for a few years, when I was writing shows about politics and writing about how angry and upset and despairing I can feel by what the government is doing to people in this country. And you sort of have to learn to undermine yourself and to muck around with it and puncture it.
I think what’s good about the show is that it’s just an interesting experience a lot of the time. I love finding out mysteries and that sort of thing. I think it’s not necessarily a strict genre, it just doesn’t really fit in with anything!
Bristol Cable: So where’s it going next?
Josie: Well, we’ve just got contacted by these people who do Sundays’ papers live, and we might do a few more live shows around the country, but at the moment we’re pretty much doing every couple of months in London. And we’re just seeing where it goes. Sometimes I think to myself it’d be really good to podcast it, or video it and put it online, it would be really interesting to try and get a TV thing with it, but in some ways that would spoil it because as soon as you go on TV, all the lawyers get involved and you can’t say what you want, as soon as you put it online, you know, the people you’re talking about, for example if you’re talking about really intense extremist religious people, those guys really love to harass! In some ways it’s really great just to do it how we’re doing it. So who knows!