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Josie Long Comedian talks motherhood and the darkening political climate in new show

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Giles Smith

Cult optimist Josie Long has returned with a show about a new human she brought into the world.

Tender is a show about motherhood, how it changes you as an individual and how it compounds your relationship with the future.

Tender comes to Leadmill Comedy Club on Sunday 9 February. Josie told us more.

As a comedian, how has motherhood affected you?

It's a combination of making me feel much more confident, much more assured, thrilled to be returning, but also really frightened and tentative. I ended up having a break of about three years between writing shows and coming back to it was scary because comedy moves so fast. I was like, 'Is there any place for me and my shtick anymore?'

Then getting back on stage and feeling so at home and at ease and excited to be there was just astonishing. Part of my show is about the fact that I found giving birth really empowering. I came away from it feeling untraumatised and quite strong. As a result, I feel being on stage I'm a bit like, 'I couldn't give a fuck. I've given birth.'

The way I describe [the show] is: how can you bring someone into the world when everyone around you is telling you it's the end of the world?

I remember I was doing a gig in Hackney about a month ago and some people were... not specifically annoyed at me, but just mucking about in this way that was unhelpful to the night, because it was a mixed bill night. I think in the past I would have gotten emotionally affected by that or slightly nervous, but I was just like, 'You have to stop! I'm at work. We don't have much time.'

In terms of how I've approached writing a show, I'm not sure I've changed that much. That was quite a thrill in a way, because it was nice to come back to my stuff that's mine and find that it was still here and still mine. I have less time to work, so when I do work I really have to get shit done. As I say that I think, 'Do I actually? Or do I still fuck about a lot?' I think I do still fuck about a lot.

So for people who aren't familiar with the Josie Long oevre...

The brand.

Exactly. This is a motherhood show, but people shouldn't be expecting a Kids Say The Funniest Things routine.

The way I describe it is: how can you bring someone into the world when everyone around you is telling you it's the end of the world? It's about pregnancy and birth, but it's also about the intensity of it and the smallness of it and the tenderness of it and the sweetness of it, alongside the terrifying and chaotic backdrop of climate change, political instability and cruelty. It's about wrestling with all those things and trying to get through it with some kind of joy and optimism.

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Photo by Giles Smith

If the world's going to hell in a handbasket, how much does having a vulnerable dependent magnify all your concerns for the future?

Massively. The way I mostly feel is, thank god that people are having children in difficult and frightening and uncertain times, because most people are reminded of their humanity around children and most people are softened and made kinder by their presence. On top of that, to have a child is to invest in the future and to say, 'I am willing to try and I believe in the future enough to try'.

On the other hand, sometimes when you think things are really scary, I think it's even scarier knowing that I am only getting older and this sweet person is my charge. It's a tricky one. I think, given recent events in British politics, it's not easy to be an optimist at the moment. It's harder to be generous of spirit and it's harder to feel like a viable mitigation of climate change is going to happen.

But I'd also like to say that, as problematic as they are, Extinction Rebellion did galvanise and excite and wake up a lot of people. They did really push the narrative and Greta Thunberg, who I've written some perfectly serviceable material about, has been amazing. I think that there's always plenty to hope for and there's always plenty to try for and there's always things you can do.

I'm a natural optimist. I just keep waking up and being like, 'Okay, here we go again!' But not everyone is and it shouldn't really matter. What should matter is determination - just keeping on going, not giving up, trying to be active and outspoken in whatever ways you can.

No matter how bleak shit seems, I feel like anything is better than nothing.

How do you manage to maintain this optimism? Is it just your default state of mind or do you need to work at it?

I do have to work on it. It's very hard to maintain a generosity of spirit to people who would not return it to you. It's hard to maintain that feeling that you want to work towards a more humane society when that same society is pushing an inhumane version back at you.

But there aren't really any other choices. The only choice is to try and foster compassion and positivity, because the other choice is like a living death. There's no other way. Life is always inherently somewhat joyful. That's why having a baby is wonderful, because it's joyful every single day. It helps you to fight and focus.

Climate change is real and it's horrific and it's bigger than all of us. Until governments actually do what is necessary, that's quite terrifying. On the other hand, I can't imagine a world without that joy. I can't imagine a whole generation deciding they can't have children and that's that. That literally is Children of Men. That film is bleak as fuck.

Have you heard about anti-natalism, the belief that having children could be immoral if, for example, climate breakdown meant you couldn't guarantee they'd be safe or provided for in the future?

I have and I appreciate it. But I also think that we're just little mammals and were put on this world to love. It's one step too far to tell people that they can't reproduce. It's too much. I commend and admire people who do everything they can to live an exemplary life. But who will care for us when we're old if there are no children? Who will help any of it? It's more complicated than that, isn't it?

Is it likely the show will be altered in any way to address the General Election result?

Well, it's lucky that two times during the show I lament the fact that Boris Johnson is the prime minister and that we need to build a guillotine. Those things don't need to change - if anything they're more pertinent than they've ever been. But I think I will have to write some stuff about hopelessness and defeat. But that's what's nice about touring a show, that it can still evolve and grow, so I just expect it to naturally happen on tour.

But the message of the show will remain the same: that it's not about optimism or pessimism, it's about trying and not giving up.

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