Josie Long interview: being a mum can be 'brutal and hilarious'
Even faced with explosive baby poo, comedian Josie Long is feeling upbeat about new motherhood.
She wants to drown out all the negative stories people hear about becoming a parent and instead celebrates childbirth, sleepless nights and extreme nappy disasters in her new stand up show, Tender.
“People love to tell you how bad it is having a baby but what they don't tell you is how joyful it is and how much fun it is and how lovely they are,” says Josie.
The 37 year former BBC New Comedy Award winner old gave birth to her daughter 18 months ago and has written honestly about how becoming a mum has changed her life and she is clearly besotted.
As we’re settling down to chat and her partner, comedian Jonny Donahoe, is about to take their baby out for a walk, she dashes off to find “a spoon, so she has something interesting to hold.”
The show is “about how to welcome someone into the world while everyone is telling us it’s the end of the world,” she explains.
“It's the first show that I have written in a couple of years. It's about all of the intensity and the chaos and vulnerability of new motherhood and its thinking as well about the climate crisis and how you try and respond to that and how you still try and enjoy things and bring in lightness and silliness
“I think in some ways just a decision to have a child is a really positive one because it is saying you have enough faith in the future that you want to invest in them and be a part of it. The conclusion I came to is thank God people are trying to have children now because it does connect people to the better part of themselves. So that is the vague conclusion of it and it's a very silly show as well,it's not all serious.”
Some of the most lighthearted moments in the show are Josie’s descriptions of coping with the disasters every parent faces.
“Things that seem horrific are always funny at the same time,” says Josie.
“I remember once I was on tour for the first time with a film when my daughter was 5 months old and I took her with me. She had been really stressed out and constipated and basically I was in this hotel room and we had had quite a difficult night but I thought you know what, the night’s over we are starting again afresh. Let's get ready and have a good day together. I can only describe what happened next as like a Champagne cork coming out of a Champagne bottle and poo shot out all over the whole hotel room, all over me. And then I was in the shower with her and there was round two of it and it was absolutely brutal but at the same time while it was happening it was kind of hilarious.”
The details of pregnancy and childbirth are rarely discussed on the stand up stage, probably because comedy remains male dominated. But Josie wants to share her experiences and believes women’s life stories should stop being seen as a ‘niche’ interest.
“I have never really heard people talking on stage about birth. And I have never heard anyone talking positively in public about birth. I have only ever heard the horror stories,” she says.
“There's a trope amongst male comedians where they tell grim stories about their wives’ childbirths and I was like, this is so weird that I have heard men talking about it and I have not heard women talking about it. So one of the big things about writing the show was to be able to talk about a birth story that was kind of not nightmarish.
“People love stoking that fear and they forget that women are heroes. I came out of it feeling really empowered.
“I was very lucky and it went very smoothly. I am aware that every birth is different and the way I talk about it in the show is if people who had experiences of birth that were difficult and complicated they need to know they were much better at it than me. I also think it is really important for women to recognise how fucking incredible they are when they give birth.”
“When I started in comedy quite young you’d get told that women comedians only talk about women's experiences. People describe that as if it is awful and that it means they are not interesting and that somehow people won't be able to empathise. The thing that has been really brilliant about writing all this stuff is I feel I'm sharing something massive. The biggest thing that has ever happened to my body, the biggest change in my life.
“And so whats really exciting is if people haven't been through that stuff, haven't wanted to go through any of that stuff or are cis men who couldn't go through any of that stuff it actually feels really exciting to be saying it on stage because I feel with comedy that if you like the comedian you want to know about them and their life. Hopefully, even though these experiences have unfairly been described as only of interest to mums I think it will be interesting to everyone.
“I’m saying this is the most interesting, funny, immense stuff and come and find out about it.”
Obviously she has discovered the terrible truth about crushing lack of sleep new mums experience, saying: “I didn't understand the difference between tiredness and sleep deprivation. Tiredness is like I only slept for five hours - sleep deprivation is ‘I have not slept continuously for more than three hours for months on end’. You really understand why it is a method of torture. I get it. I can't think straight, I'm being absolutely ruined by this.”
But as a self described “cult optimist” she doesn’t focus on the difficult parts of new parenthood for too long.
“The most surprising thing about being a parent is the joy and the fun and seeing my daughter shows us who she is,” says Josie.
“It's amazing. Also the fact that childbirth was not horrific. It was actually a very intense and quite difficult but kind of great experience and i didnt expect that.”
After going through a 50 hour labour, Josie has described the birth of her daughter as a cross between “MDMA - and death”. She had a hypnobirth, which uses hypnotherapy techniques to cope with pain rather than taking pain relief, which she says was very successful.
“I do know there is a bit of a divide so if it works for you great and if it doesn't then its annoying because it doesn't even work.
“I was very lucky and it went very smoothly. I am aware that every birth is different and the way I talk about it in the show is if people who hd experiences of birth that were difficult and complicate they need to know they were much better at it than me like and also I think it is really important for women to recognise how fucking incredible they are when they give birth.”
However she didn’t try the right of passage that is joining the National Childbirth Trust for breathing lessons and a guaranteed group of new friends who all have a similar due date.
“I didn't join NCT,” she shudders, “Because I was like no, I’m not paying £500 for a WhatsApp group. I heard horror stories from friends about how everyone in their NCT group had such a, shall we put it, old fashioned set up in their household so that if you had a slightly more progressive set up in your household you felt a bit alienated.”
Having started performing comedy at just 14, Josie went on to win the BBC New Comedy Award, Chortle Best Newcomer, Best Newcomer at the 2006 Edinburgh Comedy Awards and then was nominated for Best Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards three years running. She has since sold out West End runs, performed at the most prestigious comedy festivals in the world, written five solo tours and sold out shows in LA and New York.
As well as being a panel guest on shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats (Channel 4), Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2), You Have Been Watching, she was nominated for a Radio Academy Award for her adventurous short documentaries Short Cuts on Radio 4 and earned a BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award nomination for her two short feature films, Let’s Go Swimming and Romance and Adventure and her recent feature film, Super November, was nominated for a BIFA Discovery Award.
She has also always been a voice for progressive, left wing politics and has been canvassing for the Labour Party, but has stepped back from activism recently because it’s not easy to bring a baby along to a protest.
She says: “I haven't been able to do as much as I would have liked and when you have a little baby you feel really vulnerable. so I was really scared in ways that I would normally never be thinking things like, oh God will i get arrested?
“I got offered to do something with Extinction Rebellion that I didn't end up doing because I felt a little bit too scared that it might bring a lot of attention to me and I have really taken the baby on any protests because she feels so small so I definitely think that being a mother is a vulnerable and daunting time .
I haven't changed myself, though. I won't become more Conservative. I can’t see how that would ever be a reality. If you have kids and you are already a millionaire maybe you could be a Conservative. But if you’re not a millionaire, you can't do any of the Conservative things so why would you buy into it?”
Although this show is essentially about becoming a parents and the impact it has had in her life, Josie does tackle current issues too. She says: “They show is talking about climate change and feeling very small compared to something existentially dreadful. At the same time I like to think the show is in itself a kind of activist show because it is about deciding to be positive and be active in the face of it.
Josie Long at Cambridge Junction, Friday, January 17, 8pm. Tickets: £18. Box office: junction.co.uk.
More by this authorAlex Spencer