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Being nice and doing good

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.

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

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

Going to Glastonbury is NOT political activism!

My name is Josie Long and I am a stand-up comic. I’m also a clumsy, novice political activist. For most of my life I’d felt pretty certain that I was someone with a good social conscience. I felt deeply that I was a feminist and a socialist. I cared about green issues and social justice and all of those things that people whose hearts are in the right place care about, that that was me done. Obviously I was on the right team, obviously I was nice, so I could get on with baking rye bread and watching foreign films.

Josie Long

Idil Sukan

I began to feel unsettled when Boris Johnson got voted in as mayor of London. (I hate Boris so much I cannot enjoy London’s bike share scheme.1) I felt suspicious of everyone around me for the first time. Growing up under a Labour government, I’d been used to regarding the authorities with a kind of complacent half-approval. I saw them a bit like dear old friends, albeit dear old friends whom I deeply suspected had betrayed me.

At the same time, I moved to Hackney, a part of London famous for its lefty political roots. I thought it would be full of 45-year-old ex-punks, ex-squatters and first-wave feminists who’d see me, know I was on the same page and take me under their wing. I thought I wouldn’t be able to move for activist meetings. Instead, I just sat in coffee shops working on my laptop.

Feeling uncomfortable about who and what I was, I tried to talk tentatively about it on stage. I just shouted at people, confused and frustrated. I had a neighbour whom I regarded with contempt for several (absolutely acceptable) reasons:

  1. She bought the Times and the News of the World (and so was probably bang into phone-hacking)
  2. Her boyfriend once wore a ‘Playboy’ t-shirt. (Exactly! Unacceptable conduct!)
  3. She bragged a lot about owning her flat, while I was renting. (Thatcherite!) (Said neighbour turned out to be most sweet and kind, making me feel even worse about myself.)

I had an encounter while walking across London Fields, where hipsters go to picnic. A 40-year-old Rasta guy with his young son walked past me and tutted: ‘Look at these yuppies, taking over our neighbourhood.’

Glastonbury Festival

Luke MacGregor / Reuters

I nodded in agreement before I realized he meant me. I had a kind of epiphany there and then. I realized that going to Glastonbury music festival is not, in itself, political activism. And that’s even if you spend the whole time in the Greenpeace field. I wasn’t any different from the people I thought were wankers with no conscience, wandering around in smocks. I didn’t even have a smock, I was worse.

Since then, activism is like my new favourite hobby. Action makes you feel better. Taking any kind of positive action is the only way to deal with feeling distraught and frustrated at the government. The current British government’s malice and incompetence serves as constant fuel to my activism.

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

  • Johnson was mayor at the time of the scheme’s launch and the bicycles are often referred to as Boris bikes.