Josie Long has a policy not to read reviews. But when it comes to her latest show, Cara Josephine, I really think she should make an exception.
I counted 91 stars from a possible 105 in the round-up of critical opinion from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, which offers quite the impressive footer on the press release for her biggest UK tour in years. And, having had the pleasure of seeing the show during its month-long, sold-out run north of the border, I’d be quite happy to add another five (out of five) to the tally.
Although I’d been unlucky enough never to have seen one of Josie’s previous shows (she’s a triple Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee), Cara Josephine still managed to surprise me.
Known for airing her political leanings, frustrations and activism on stage – albeit it a manner which guarantees you leave wanting to be her best mate – this charming and brilliantly crafted hour delves much more into the 32-year-old’s personal life than ever before.
In it, Josie talks about love, her childhood, her family, her broken heart and her mission to be as outdoorsy as a bear. I mean Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg still get a kicking, but it’s very much as an aside to the main event.
“I felt a bit like I didn’t have anything really new to say about politics,” says Josie of the marked change in the focus of her material. “I felt like it would just be me saying the same thing. The Government hadn’t changed and my feelings and beliefs hadn’t changed.
“But with this (the breakdown of her relationship) it felt like it was such a massive thing in my life and I really wanted to talk about it . . . there was also a little part of me thinking that maybe three people would be expecting me to do a show about politics, so I would show them!” she laughs, “but it was more that I felt this show was in my heart.”
Josie, who began her stand-up career at the tender age of 14, says the decision to explore unfamiliar territory came with similarly unfamilar anxiety built in. “I felt on much more shaky ground in terms of not wanting to talk too much about people when they don’t have a right to reply and knowing what was too much to share and what wasn’t enough to share,” she says.
“Also, with the writing process, I wanted to try to sit back more and see how it developed. With other shows I’ve tended to just preview it and go for it. Those are basically my two statuses,” she laughs. “But with this I did quite a lot of really loose works in progress to hopefully let things come out of the woodwork and see what I was trying to say.”
Once she had worked out what that was, Josie, who has become a familiar face on TV comedy panel shows as well as a regular on the radio, was faced with the reality of covering subjects she would have usually stayed away from on stage.
“It was so weird,” she says. “I’ve got a bit of material about sex in there, and I’ve never talked about sex before on stage. I was so freaked out the first few times I did it. And now I’m on stage telling this story – which is pretty grisly – and I’m so chilled out about it. It’s like I’ve forgotten that I’m sharing something very intimate.”
Although the personal nature of the show did make Josie feel more exposed than she’s used to, the Oxford graduate and long-time social justice activist still managed to apply her aforementioned policy on reviews.
“I was nervous because I was very worried people wouldn’t like it and it wouldn’t do well and stuff, but at the same time, I don’t really read reviews and I don’t think it would have made that much difference if people had slagged it off to me,” she says.
“I would have still tried really hard to make it good and tour it.
“But I am very, very relieved that so far it has generally been going down all right,” she says, somewhat soft-pedalling the five-star response to the show, which comes to both The Stand in Newcastle and Arc, Stockton in March.
“It feels nice to be getting back to towns and cities which I haven’t been to in a while,” she says. “I like touring.
“I’ve got friends around the country who I like catching up with. I like eating in new cafes and I try really hard to go for little swims,” she adds, referring to her penchant for a bit of wild swimming.
“Last time I was in Bishop Auckland at the end of 2012, some ladies took me out swimming in the sea and they were like Vikings. I was in the sea for a good while, having a swim. But then I was like ‘OK time to get out now guys – hypothermia’ but they were in for hours. I might give them a call.”
Josie Long brings Cara Josephine to The Stand Newcastle and Arc Stockton on March 16 and 19 respectively. www.josielong.com