Josie Long is already on stage as the audience file into Liverpool’s Epstein theatre. Her stage is set with handmade banners proclaiming Long’s new found love of Adele and Pinot Grigio, her political mantra ‘Maximum Ambition/ Minimum Expectation’ and her socialist idols. As the audience find their seats, Long is indulging in a round of karaoke, deconstructing the absurd storyline of ‘Escape/ Do You Like Pina Coladas’. “Don’t worry”, she assures us, “this isn’t the show, yet”.
The show proper, Something Better, is about Brexit, the state of the nation, and an idealist’s place in it. For a show about growing older, about realizing that, at some point, you and the world that you live in might not live up to your conception of it, it’s humour and lightness of touch is testament to Long’s talent. She never thought at 34 she’d have developed a taste for Adele, architecture, and getting ‘on the griiig’, never mind negotiating such a deeply divided Britain. To turn these themes into a show that is neither trite nor navel-gazing, but warm and engaging, is the hallmark of a first-rate comic.
In one of the core threads running through the show, Long describes a train journey to her first post-Brexit gig, in leave-voting Cornwall. She judges a potentially “Ukippy” looking man who sits next to her, before reading an email over his shoulder and realizing that his liberal heart is bleeding just as much as hers. A tirade against environmentally unconcerned baby-boomers—a label she’s instinctively ascribed to her grey-haired train companion—gives way to a rumination on the ‘nice mums and dads’ who visit her shows and have tired arms from holding placards for the better part of the 1980s. In comparing the struggles and small victories of British socialists in the decades past, Josie pokes at the bubble of her own millennial angst: “I’ve been tweeting for years and nothing gets any better.”
Nestled in a riff on the importance of education, the anti-meritocratic tendency of grammar schools and debilitating university tuition fees is a repeatedly cack-handed Harper Lee quote—”Atticus, we gotta KILL that mockingbird!” Misquoted over and over, what initially seemed like a kind of post-truth in practice routine morphed into a virtuoso exploration of theme and variation. Reminiscent of Ted Chippington’s style, this ‘pull back and rewind’ joke trod a skillful line between threatening to go on too long, and getting funnier with each repetition.
The comedian Simon Munnery said of political comedy, “If the crowd is behind you then you’re facing the wrong way”. While this evening wasn’t exactly a political rally, it’s difficult to spot any real sense of disagreement from the crowd. The closest we got was a tepid reception to claims of Adele’s genius. Attempts to annex the audience a la Stewart Lee (“that joke seemed to go well over here, but not so much over there…”) don’t quite work when everyone’s on board. And while Josie claims that she’s “no arena comedian”, you wouldn’t have thought it for the way she fills the room in terms of both stage presence and bums on seats. I can’t help but think that a show about ‘niche’ politics would be better suited to mostly-empty stadium, perhaps the Liverpool Echo(-chamber)?
Filed under: Comedy