Right up front I have to say that Josie Long is an inspiration to me.
Let me explain; this is a woman of my age group with the same left-leaning politics and alternative outlook as I possess. Yet, unlike me, Long exudes a cheery, bright, good-natured optimism at every turn. She seemingly has this incredibly capacity to take every bitter disappointment in our political landscape in her stride and maintain her inimitable positive spirit in the face of extreme adversity and disappointment.
In Something Better, the show she has been touring up and down the country since February this year (following residencies at London's Soho Theatre and New York's Barrow Street Theatre at the tail end of last year) Josie admits that it's not always easy to remain optimistic in the wake of Brexit, UKIP, Theresa May, Donald Trump and a Labour Party that seems hellbent on toppling its democratically elected leader. But after tonight's experience, I know that there's something about being in a room full of like-minded people attuned to an exceptional performer on the stage that certainly helps life our collective spirits!
Unusually, Josie was on stage as the audience arrived. This wasn't the show she took pains to point out several times - hilariously - but rather, the pre-show karaoke thanks to the music on her iPhone. Basically, Josie wanted to greet everyone with a little sing-a-long and deconstruction of her new favourite song. I must confess to never truly 'hearing' the lyrics of this, but after Josie broke it down, I know I will never hear it any other way now
She then did a mini-set to kick off the show and explain her outlook and politics, as well as the banners that graced her set, which were full of uplifting messages like 'Minimum Expectation, Maximum Ambition' and a portrait of 1970s Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid.
This led to an amusing story about how Josie has so much respect for Reid that she has this banner on her wall at home, and how her flatmate asked a visitor if they knew who it was. ''Um, Fred West?'' came the answer! Who would put Fred West on their wall?!
Josie then vacated the stage for her support act, Tez Ilyas, a very funny young British Asian comic who had some good lines about what it is to be a Muslim these days ("we've become recurring characters on that long running series...what's it called? The news") as well as the perils of Tinder. Following an interval, Josie was back to do the show proper and a very fun 90 minute set it was too. All the expected topics were covered; The Tories, Brexit, UKIP, Trump, Corbyn, Baby Boomers and the bleak looking future they've handed to their children, and finally an explanation as to the uncharacteristic appearance Josie made on reality TV show Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls (basically they falsely hooked her in with the notion of it putting her politics into action and building a micro-society based on equality from the ground up) As with some of the best, most enjoyable stand up sets, I laughed so much yet can scarcely now recall half of the things I found so hilarious (though a very funny tease around a quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird remains in my head and I'm chuckling just thinking about it now) but what I have most emphatically come away with - despite her admission that it isn't always easy - is the notion that we have to be hopeful and we have to keep fighting and get active, however small. Josie's recommendation at the close of the set, to read Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark, is one I will definitely be looking into....just as soon as I can get Take That's Never Forget (the post-show karaoke song Josie serenaded us with as we left the theatre) out of my head!
The Something Better tour comes to a close this week with performances in Lancaster, Kendal, Nottingham and Tywyn. I heartily recommend anyone to check Josie out if ever you can, especially if you're on the left and feel a little disheartened with the world. You'll come away smiling and reminded that you are not alone. You are never alone.