New Internationalist

Being nice and doing good

Issue 451

Having opinions on social justice may seem like common sense so why does it incite people to shout in your face? wonders Josie Long.

At the start of 2010 I was writing a show about trying to be ‘good’ instead of trying to be ‘nice’. I didn’t really know where to start, beyond my fear of a Conservative victory in the upcoming British election and my new conviction that I had to say something. I’d made a chart that stated:

Being nice = making yourself a cup of tea

Doing nice = making your partner a cup of tea

Being good = making a stranger a cup of tea

Doing good = Setting up a comprehensive healthcare system that’s universal and free at point of use.

I’d also taken to writing lists of ‘stuff that needed sorting out’, and assigning them to people at the end of my gigs. Unsuspecting comedy-goers would get handed a slip of paper saying something like ‘Get Tesco to piss off!’ and I’d hope for the best.

Idil Sukan
Josie Long Idil Sukan

Halfway through the year I was doing my usual ranting in a room above a pub in London. On the way in I was introduced to a group of people who hadn’t been able to get tickets to the gig. They all looked much cooler than me and were talking animatedly. That night I met my three activist fairy godmothers, Hanna, Deb and Becky: campaigners for social justice and the environment, and kickass feminists to boot.

Although I’d not written about specific political events before, I’d always considered my shows to be political with a small ‘p’. My first stand-up shows were about my love of DIY culture, about trying to inspire people to learn for the joy of it; and about optimism, kindness and acts of creativity.

To me, these things all link in and make sense with what I feel now on a wider scale about social justice and higher taxation. On top of this, the activists I’ve met remind me of DIY promoters – they have ideas and then they just get on with it and make them happen.

adactio Under a CC license
adactio Under a CC license

Much to my annoyance, I was starting to realize that these things seemed self-evident and highly rational to me, but not to everyone. Yes, I am anti-austerity; and I distrust and loathe the Conservatives we now have in government, but these feelings stem from a foundation of optimism and a desire to have a society where everyone is kind to one another, not from a hatred of Tory voters.

For the first time in my life I found people taking offence at what I was saying. Well, that’s not strictly true: people have often taken offence to my stand-up, but in the past it was only down to their (obviously erroneous) opinions as to its quality, or my appearance or haircut, and not because what I had to say was offensive. A man furiously heckled me at my club for being ‘biased’ and then refused to leave. People would find me after gigs to ‘debate’ with me. Their debating would involve them shouting at me.

I hate the idea that I offend people now, but I feel so proud when people come up after a gig and say that they have been inspired or feel bolstered by it. Living under a government you disagree with is a daily kicking, and if what I do helps keep people I agree with sane and supported, it actually feels useful.

Josie Long is a comedian, writer and BBC radio presenter. Web: josielong.com Twitter: @JosieLong

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