Josie Long, ‘Something Better’, The Dancehouse Theatre, February 24 2017.
Josie Long, in some ways, had a pretty good 2016. She wrote and starred in her own Radio 4 sitcom, for example (‘Romance and Adventure’); on the other hand, Brexit. It is the latter that fills the bulk of this tour show. Rather than simply detailing why Brexit is a stupid idea, or railing against the people who voted for it, Long approaches the topic from a more personal, but also more ultimately universal, viewpoint. The show is driven by two huge, perhaps unanswerable questions: how to remain optimistic when things are bad and seem to just keep getting worse? And how to talk to the people who passionately believe in the thing you think is destroying the country?
Long is supported by fast-rising star Tez Ilyas. Tez covers topics as diverse as British Muslim identity and the number of chickens bred specifically for Nando’s, and has the audience in fits. He deals with some unhelpfully talkative audience members in exemplary style, particularly in a hilarious physical response to one woman’s enigmatic comment. (Note to comedy crowds: if a comedian asks you a question, just answer it. Don’t try and be funny, don’t think they’re going to be mean to you. Please just let them do their job.) Tez is playing at Manchester’s Frog and Bucket in April and many of tonight’s converted crowd will no doubt be there.
Josie Long returns for the main show, ‘Something Better’. Often celebrated for her optimism, enthusiasm and almost total lack of cynicism, combined with a ferocious opposition to injustice, Long’s Brexit-based show addresses a lot of tough questions of identity – for her, the audience and the nation. She notes that she can no longer say “there’s more of us than of them!” – the vote proved that’s not true – and what good does talking to people who already agree with you do anymore? The show is, in places, tough and searching, but it’s also funny as hell. No other comedian writes jokes like Josie Long’s, and she’s also adept at being very physically silly on occasion. The centrepiece of the show is a ten-minute routine nominally about To Kill A Mockingbird that has to be seen to be believed. Long knows her audience, and plays with their expectations of her and themselves in her references and her apparent ‘message’. The biggest reaction of the night comes in the shape of a huge gasp when Long reveals that Warburtons are huge Tory donors – “yes, even the crumpets!”
The show does not resolve its central questions, but the fact that it’s even possible to make such a funny hour-and-a-half out of, essentially, asking “but what on earth do we do now?” is quite something. Long is such a likeable, natural performer that it’s easy to overlook what a subtle writer she is. Despite The Dancehouse being uncomfortably hot, ‘Something Better’ somehow manages to make us simultaneously feel very uncomfortable at the implications of the questions being posed, but very glad that it’s Josie Long trying to think them through.