Transcript by Patricia Ash-Vildosola
Josie: Basically, we were in a car together, we were driving through Wales, and we tried to perform an overtaking manoeuvre that was very ill-advised, and…
Sofie: Who was driving?
Josie: James. Yes, and we got hit by a car and we got dragged in front of a lorry, and, just, it was a really big, catastrophic car crash, but, as I say, I’ve talked about it quite a lot onstage and on other podcasts and stuff. Basically, it was miraculous that no one was harmed. Really miraculous. And we all were so shocked afterwards, and for a long while, it affected me in loads of ways. Really weird to have such a near-death experience, but one that was so lucky. Normally, in a crash like that you would expect to be injured or something, and that would be your near-death thing, but we all walked out of it completely fine.
It was weird that for a while I didn’t trust buildings. I thought buildings were going to collapse. Got very panicky in cars, very panicky on trains. It made me stop dieting. Just changed my attitude about food.
Before the crash, I’d been chatting with a friend of mine who’s this wonderful woman. She’s an absolute hero of mine, like a substitute parent figure of mine, and she and I went for this long walk. She’s quite a fair bit older than me. We met when I was a teenager and she was in comedy. She was in her 30s and I was in my teens. She’s always been in my life, and I just really love her. We had a long chat about life and death, and about eating and what that meant. I’d been going through some problems, like the stress of touring, a few stressful things in my life. I had a bit of disordered eating, like really punishing myself and stuff.
Anyway, then we all nearly died. That night, we ordered a big Chinese food takeaway and loads of chocolate and booze, and it was a celebration of being alive. This little switch went in my head and went, “I am never going to deprive myself again. I am never going to treat myself as an unfinished product again. And I don’t want to restrict my life in this way that’s unhelpful. I don’t want to see exercise as this thing where if I don’t do enough, I’m not allowed to do what I want.” And it’s weird, because now I think I eat healthier than ever, and in some ways I do follow a kind of diet regime, because I tend to eat the same sort of things for breakfast, I tend to always have salads for my lunch and my dinner. This is so boring. But what it comes down to is now my whole focus in life is on looking after myself, loving myself in a way that I wasn’t so much before, and I think that was the start of it.
And also, I think it sent me a bit crazy, because I ended up leaving a partner quite abruptly, because I was like, “Life’s too short! It’s not working!” I think the perspective I have now is that I would have stayed for another year or more, then done it. But I didn’t, and you cannot change the past. But it was full on. It affected me massively. It was sort of — I really felt I was confronted by the little line that you’re on between being alive and no longer being alive, and it made me change my life in a little bit of a dynamic way, yeah.
Sofie: Is that still ongoing? Would you go back to how you were like before the crash? Do you think it’s permanent, that change has altered something permanently?
Josie: I don’t know! I don’t know. I know it was a big, affecting thing. I think maybe it has altered something in me, just boring — No, not boring. Run of the mill daily things, like — And I also started going to therapy around that time, so I think the two things are definitely joined in. But therapy, it’s taken me from being someone who is full of anxiety on a daily basis to, when I feel anxiety now, I sort of say to myself, “This is anxiety,” and it helps. And on the whole, I had all these issues about food and about eating and beating myself up, like physically hating on myself and being really aggressive with my body and doing exercise to the extent that it was quite masochistic almost. Whereas now, I focus on feeling healthy and joyful and stuff in this way that is really great and has really changed.
Sofie: It’s really extraordinary when you get in touch with — I believe that deep down inside, our bodies know exactly what they want, what they want to do, and the few times you can — That’s why I’m so furious whenever I’m in a gym and they have the machines that count calories and how long you’ve run —
Josie: That is so counterproductive.
Sofie: I just want to hide it all and just — There shouldn’t be anything there. There should just be, like, a note saying, “How does this feel? How does your body feel now?”
Josie: And also, it’s about pushing yourself personally, and obviously those things don’t necessarily mean anything realistic. Like, “Oh, I’ve burned 35 calories,” and they’ve just kind of had to assume that a person vaguely of your size and weight might do that if they worked in a certain way. It is so silly. And it’s the same with dieting, like if you have to eat a certain thing, and your body’s going, “Mate, I don’t need that. I need some iron. Can you get me some iron?”
Sofie: My best friend eats like that. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who’s able to — I don’t know what happened, but she somewhat has dodged that whole thing. So, she’ll just go, “What do I feel like eating? Oh, blueberries and salmon.” Then she’ll buy that and she’ll mindfully eat it, and then just —
Josie: That’s kind of what I do now.
Sofie: That’s almost impossible, having reached that. Having been brainwashed by —
Josie: And also, so, in my life growing up, from the age of 5 it was decided that and put upon me that I had a weight problem. And that was far greater than the reality of what my body was, you know? And the reality of whatever genuine problem I had. And all of those [inaudible] of the way perhaps parents interact, the way perhaps schools interact with it, all of that exacerbated it and made it an issue and damaged my health and damaged my relationship with food. And now I’m 34, and I feel like I have a pleasant and unstressful relationship with food.
Sofie: That’s amazing. That’s really good.
Josie: But it’s partly because I nearly died.
Sofie: I mean, from an outside perspective, worth it.
Josie: Yeah, yeah, worth it. But I was thinking about when you were talking to me about doing this, I was thinking about the ideas of what well-being is and stuff. And I suppose that’s why I’ve gone straight into focusing on, like, exercise, food. I’m really evangelical about how much exercise and diet and sleep and all these beautiful, sensorial, basic things affect your whole quality of life for the better, you know?
Sofie: Because we’ve basically been taught to not listen to our bodies, you know? It’s called cheat days, which is like a bad thing, and that’s when you eat what you want to eat. It’s just this weird, fucked up notion that whatever we really want is — Sleeping in is laziness being a word that it exists?
Josie: Not just maybe you’re tired!
Sofie: Your body needs to rest! You don’t want to go —
Josie: Or maybe you’re somebody for whom life is very, very intense, and so you get very exhausted. Some people work at different pitches to each other. And then it’s like, “Well, because you can’t function on 4 hours sleep like me, you’re a horrible lazy person.” [Sofie laughs]
I used to think, and possibly did, I used to think I had ADHD? I think you can grow out of it, I think is part of it. I used to have real brain fog, really, really distractible, and I still am a bit, but, like, so distractible. I found it so hard to concentrate. I read up on ADHD, and they basically said that your brain functions in this really weird way where it’s like a very bright light being switched on, but then when it’s off, you’re fucking knackered. And you need to sleep in more ways.
And I do think that human beings are so wildly different from one another in ways that we don’t really appreciate. We try to put this standardization on —
Josie: Yeah, and it’s too hard.
Sofie: There was just that there was an article about fat people where it was these people who had done this, what’s it called, this American program —
Josie: Oh, Biggest Loser?
Sofie: Yeah. They would lose all the weight, and then they would just gain it back like that, and more, because their bodies — That’s just how bodies work. If you lose the weight, you can’t. You just can’t. If you’re fat, you’ll just stay fat. It didn’t matter what — They would have to eat, like, 3 peas, and they’d be fat again. That’s just how the body works.
Josie: And also, it’s because anything extreme like that, your body’s just going, “Oh, Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s happening.”
I did this reality show called The Island where you don’t eat for two weeks. They drop you on this island, and you only eat coconuts and you eat what you can catch. I lost so much weight. I was suddenly thinner than I’ve been in years, and I couldn’t cope. A lot of people on the island were really thrilled, but I started crying, because I was like, “I spent so long in my life to get to a point where I didn’t want to be like this.” But I put on weight straight away. Within a week, I’d put on, like, a stone and a half or something. Because your body’s like, “Oh, thank God. Don’t worry. We won’t let that happen again.”
And I think, for me, I’m trying to lose a tiny bit of weight, because I really like the idea of feeling really healthy and less flabby. But it’s not a goal, it’s like an implicit small thing. The idea that if I eat healthy, in the long term by body will adjust in a manner that is slightly healthier. That’s my main goal, right? But I have no intention of weighing myself, measuring myself too much, caring about it too much.
And I think, as women, God, you get so much distraction and time on this thing, because they’re trying to make you focus on that. We’ve got shit to do!
Sofie: I wish the feeling of — I wish that feeling healthy had nothing to do with the body and how it looked, like, the aesthetics? That the feeling of health could just be, you know…
Sofie: Yeah! Or having eaten something that doesn’t have a lot of extra chemicals. If it’s just, like, eating organic.
Josie: I feel like it’s a gift to be in my 30s, because I don’t know why, but I just give so much less of a fuck. And I like myself. And quite often, I look in the mirror — and I don’t want this to sound vain, because I’m hot shit — but I look in the mirror, and I like how I look. And I feel pretty. And I feel happy in my body all these amazing things. For years, I would look in the mirror and get angry and pinch my fat and tell me how ugly I was. It was such a fucking waste.
Sofie: Do you ever think of yourself as a teenager and you just want to hug yourself?
Josie: Yeah. Although, weirdly, as a teenager, I was kind of quite bold and brazen. It was only really in my 20s that the stress of people, being a performer and people talking about your body.
Sofie: Were you shocked the first time? When you entered comedy, were you forced to see yourself in another light because people started telling you…?
Josie: Yeah. The first time people read about my body and lined about how fat and grotesque I was, like sexualized me, it did really, really shock me and it stayed with me for years. I think what happens with me is that I’m quite thick-skinned, but then sometimes things get to me emotionally and I can’t let it go. It just hurts for so long.
Sofie: Do you know when it hits you and when it doesn’t?
Josie: Yeah, and it’s weird. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Now, things really don’t as much. So rare. I’ve had people be really grotesque recently, and it’s so rare that it affects me. You get quite battle-hardened. That’s quite a wonderful thing about being a woman, isn’t it? Yeah, you’ve got all this shit, but as a result, you’re a fucking tough bastard compared to your male counterparts.
Sofie: I once was in a car with a comedian, not the same horrible ending as your story, but he had his iPad and he took this really weird, like, a quick photo of me from a weird angle, and he was like, “Get this, this is really funny,” and then he put up the photo, which was a blurry part of my face. And he put it on his Twitter and said that, “My brother was in the hospital and somebody took his iPad, and this person accidentally took a photo of themselves. This is the photo. Retweet to get the iPad.” It was really funny. And then the abuse started coming in on my behalf. “Oh, what a fat cunt,” and da da da. And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I kind of knew that would happen.” I kind of assumed that would happen because it’s a picture of a woman on the Internet, of course people are going to start going — And he was so shocked! He was apologizing. “I am so sorry, I had no — Can you believe this?”
Josie: And you go, “Yeah, this is our bread and butter.” I was talking to someone about this the other day, where they were talking about people changing their name when they get married, and how he had actually realized that he would hate to change his name. It would make him feel awful and aggrieved, and I was like, “That’s how I feel.” And I think, a lot of the time — And it’s not men’s fault in the slightest.
And also, like, everyone has their own struggles to go through and I’m not trying to diminish anything, but sometimes I don’t think people see the extent of other people’s experiences. And a friend of mine wrote an article about experiences he’d had of racist abuse in his lifetime. And even though I’m not naïve enough to think that racism doesn’t exist or something, but the way he talked about it… It’s a really interesting article, and I would recommend it. His name’s Nikesh Shukla and I think it’s called “Isolated Incidents.” You could Google that, or just Google him and the article. But he talks about how a couple of incidents affected him so much, and there are big deal incidents as well, but, like, I think it’s so hard to appreciate what other people have to go through on a micro level and an everyday level. God, it’s so useful.
That’s why it’s annoying that women’s voices and people whose voices aren’t those of straight white men get excluded so much from the mainstream, because then people don’t know about their stories or they’re kind of abused so much that they don’t want to tell their stories any more.
Sofie: And we maybe — We might not necessarily know what is normal. You know, when you realise “Oh. Oh, you never get that? That’s just — I always get that.”
Josie: Do you know, Twitter’s changed my life, because the first instances of online abuse — And I’ve talked about this on your podcast, I think — that I got before Twitter I just took it all on board and I sucked it all up like a sponge. Now, what is amazing, I think it’s far more normal for women to speak out about their experiences. And I’m very grateful to, like, the Everyday Sexism Project for that. I honestly feel like people are getting a handle on it. And you know that when you get that bad feeling, that it’s worth sharing just in case. You know?
Sofie: Yeah. And I think the only thing that we really need is to get Facebook and Twitter on board as well. To make, you know —
Josie: Yeah. Fuck me, Twitter was so useless when I had someone photoshopping my face onto murder victims.
Sofie: Holy shit.
Josie: They’re so fucking useless. And the police as well. Pretty rubbish, actually. Really depressing.
Sofie: I feel like that’s why we really need to get — Because one thing is getting the support, which is important, but we need to be able to push a button and then someone finds their IP address and, I mean, not, like, and kills them, but, you know.
Josie: They could try.
Sofie: I mean, I wouldn’t — you know. Figuring out that other people have — I had this — And I was talking about this on another episode — listening to The Read, a podcast which is two people of colour who do this podcast, and the first advert they played in the first episode I heard was an advert for natural black hair products. And I was — My first instinct thought was, “Oh, that’s not for me.” Just a tiny bit of, “Oh, shit! I just felt excluded from something. WOAH, I’ve never tried that before.” And then you realise, if you think about all the commercials on TV for white hair, you go, “OH.” And that’s not because we don’t know it exists or we don’t think —
Josie: I think it is the process of trying to educate yourself is really difficult, and prickly, and — It’s like a practice, innit? I was thinking about that with Twitter. A lot of things have really challenged me on Twitter, like just learning more about what racism is and what racism isn’t. And what it means for people’s lives. And about how privileged I am in so many ways. There’s so much like that where yeah, learning it is a challenge, because you’re sort of made uncomfortable, because you kind of go, “Oh, I thought I was a good person.” But that’s not enough, thinking you’re a good person.
Sofie: I spoke to a friend of mine who was a white, straight male. He’s all of the things. And he said something that was a bit sexist, and he’s a friend of mine, so we’d spoken about it. And I basically just went, “This is why what you said is wrong, and let’s have a debate.” And he didn’t understand it, so I kept explaining, “Oh, this is because of this and this and this.” And he kept asking questions; I kept explaining. At the end, he got so frustrated, and he said, “It’s too complicated. You know what? I’m not even going to bother.” And I was like, “That’s because you can ‘not bother.’ You can choose to not let this affect you in any way, and you’ll still be fine.” Well, we have to bother with it, because it’s our everyday life, and that’s the biggest — You get so frustrated when you go, “Oh, shit, this is reliant on people having to make a decision that they’re going to get involved in something.” That’s kind of not so much fun.
Josie: Yes, absolutely! But this is the same as when you’re trying to think about wealth inequality. The only way to solve wealth inequality is to try and convince very wealthy people that it’s fair and right that they are less wealthy. That’s really fucking hard. And it doesn’t even really need convincing, because there’s a plateau after which it’s academic whether you’ve got a million pounds or a billion pounds in certain ways, you know? But it’s that same thing, asking privilege to surrender itself. What the fuck? They don’t want to surrender their privilege.
Sofie: Do you want to hear something really sad? I worked for UNICEF for a period of time as a fundraiser, and we were operating in this very, very, very posh place in Copenhagen and there was this man literally wearing a fur coat and I had to convince him to give money to UNICEF. We’re talking 10 pounds a month. It was nothing. And he had his son with him. He was holding his hand, 5 or 6 years old, and he said to me, he had never heard about it before. He was, “No, it’s not a problem.” I was, “Yeah, there are kids dying and it’s horrible and they’re very hungry.” And he said, “Well, we’ve all tried to be hungry. It’s not like it hurts.” “Wait, what?” And then, he said, “But in their religion,” which is a very offensive way of saying it, “In their religion, because they believe in all these gods, so if they die, they’ll just be all, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ with their gods.” [Sofie cry-laughs, Josie is horrified] And I was just like, “This is the worst thing I have ever heard,” and I kept trying to talk to him, kept- And I think I spoke to him for another 20 minutes, 30 minutes. It was, like, 20 minutes after my day was ended, and I was still just talking to him, because I couldn’t, I couldn’t have him say that in front of his child. So, then the child just looked at his dad and went, “But why aren’t we helping?” And he was like, “Oh, uh, well, buh buh buh.” And the kid was like, “No, but we should help.” Then the dad was like, “OK, fair enough,” and ended up donating.
Josie: Amazing. Guilted by a child.
Sofie: But one thing is — It’s just that he didn’t… know? Didn’t even know. It wasn’t that he knew and then not cared, it was just no one had told him.
Josie: I think privilege is something that you get ensconced in. You’re looked after by — And that’s what I think a lot of the problems in the UK are about is because a lot of the people in government have lived their whole lives in the upper echelon of the most beautiful, rarified, privileged parts of society and they really don’t understand what poverty is and they really are sheltered from the realities of it and they can’t conceptualize how many millions of people are suffering in the country, you know? And so they don’t believe that it could be true, and they don’t understand what the knock on effects of poverty are. You know, one thing leading to another getting worse and worse and worse. It’s like the Pulp song: “You never understand how it feels to live your life with no meaning or control.” [Sofie laughs] All that shit.
Now, what is this podcast? What did you want to talk about?
Sofie: Well, it kind of leads me into — It’s really fun, because you’re.. Ok. I don’t know how to phrase this so I don’t sound like a massive dweeb.
Josie: Oh, my God. I love being a dweeb. It’s my life!
Sofie: But that’s the whole point, is you’re like a cool [Josie snorts] dweeb?
Josie: Thanks, mate.
Sofie: You know what I mean?
Josie: Oh, my God, I love you, I do, being a cool dweeb.
Sofie: You’re in a group of really cool people. I mean, you hang out with cool people.
Josie: Who do I hang out with?
Sofie: You know, the cool people. [laughter] You know what I mean? You’re doing these — You’re part of the, you know, the Stand crew.
Josie: Got a tip. I decided this when I was 11 years old, and it’s stood me in good stead. Right. This doesn’t mean that people won’t think you’re a wanker and hate you, but what it does mean is you will have a better experience of being alive. When I was 11, I decided that I would assume everything I was doing was really, really cool and pretend that I was cool in my head, right? [Sofie laughs] Just presume that everything I did I was like, “This is so cool.” And I don’t mean that in a bragging way, I just mean I just decided not to worry about whether or not I was going to be cool. I just decided to just assume that I was being fucking cool. It’s been great. You feel like you’re having more fun. That’s my top tip.
Sofie: When you were 11!
Josie: Because I was really bullied, and I was overweight. I was having a terrible time, so I was like, “Fuck this. Chess Club’s cool. It’s cool. Me, going to the shop, that’s cool.” I just decided.
Sofie: That’s amazing! Does that change your actions, then? Does that change what you do?
Josie: Yeah, when I was a teenager, I used to act a lot out of bravado. I don’t know if that’s actually good advice, but I think it helps with not doubting yourself. Just getting on with your shit and trying to have the best time possible, you know?
Sofie: Before I went here, I sat next door, I sat by the bar, and I never sit by the bar because I have angst about people walking behind me. But then, because I knew I only had to be there for, like, 10 minutes, I just sat there and I ordered a Coke, and I felt so cool.
Josie: Yeah, so fucking cool.
Sofie: Like in the movies, like in the Western films? And I was like, “Hey, mind if I sit down here? Thank you.”
Josie: I’m just in a bar, having a Coke.
Sofie: I felt so cool. And then, seconds after, I was standing at the door to the club just being in the way, being like, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I- I- I’ll hold the door for you.”
Josie: I’m the same. I apologize. I’m so fucking awkward. I’m so pathetic.
Sofie: So, you would have gone, “It’s really cool, standing here, holding the door for them.”
Josie: No! I would have done the same. I would have been, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” So maybe that is not true. I think maybe just intended the projects I was doing. I don’t fucking know! I just — Sometimes I think I just decided that. I don’t know. I just decided when I was a teenager that: “Cool’s what I’m doing. It’s cool. Doing loads of cool stuff.”
Sofie: In terms of — I think maybe that’s the reason why you’ve managed to kind of create this new idea of cool? I don’t know how new it is, but —
Josie: I don’t think I did that.
Sofie: I think you — Because you’re a cool person to like.
Josie: Oh, my God. This is too much flattery. Nobody — Oh, my God. I don’t think I am. And I think… I don’t know! It’s funny because you’ll get this, you see all the reactions to your stuff, you know? So, you’d never think of yourself in — I suppose I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but, like… I know that there are plenty of people out there that think what I do is the saddest, dweebiest, shittiest thing in the world, you know? So, like, it really helped me to be like, “Uh. I think I’m cool.”
But I like it so much! This is so nice of you!
Sofie: I think I know what I’m saying. No, it’s my way of phrasing things. I think you’re making a group of people who didn’t feel like they were cool feel like part of a cool club.
Josie: I’m so glad.
Sofie: Do you know what I mean?
Josie: Yeah. That’s my dream!
Sofie: Right? It makes sense, because we met — Did we meet — Was that the first time we met, was that at your what’s-it-called, your gig.
Josie: At Lost Treasures.
Sofie: Yes! I feel like that was when we met.
Josie: I think so.
Sofie: And that had that feeling of, you know —
Josie: Thank you! It’s defiance. That’s what I’m saying about what I do is cool. I just want to get on with my stuff and be who I am and be totally unashamed of it. I want to do as much as possible and really, really enjoy my life as much as I can. And I want people who feel that way, or feel akin to me in some way, or who are nervous young women, or women who don’t necessarily feel like they fit in with certain definitions of femininity, or young men, or people who would consider themselves gender non-binary, also very, very welcome at my shows, but I want anyone like that to feel, yeah, I would love it, to feel like there’s someone who’s got their back a bit so that they can just get on with their stuff, and enjoy it, and make stuff, and be vital, and have fun, you know? And not feel they have to apologise for their niche tastes, or their unusual hobbies, or their unpopular choices, or the fact that they’re not mainstream.
Sofie: Yeah, that’s what I was — That’s where I was going. [laughter]
Josie: Thanks. Very flattered, because I feel like that’s part of what I want is to be able to support people who want to be a bit creative, or a bit DIY, or just a bit eccentric.
Sofie: Have a place they can go to be with other people like — That’s the dream, isn’t it? Is that because — Did you need that when you were a — Did you have that, or did you need that when you were a weird teenager?
Josie: I had it a bit, but I also always felt a bit of a weirdo. I went to a grammar school, which in some ways was very good for me, because you weren’t bullied if you were academic, and I really was, and so it was like nerds were cool at school. Which is very much not the case. Well, though recently I suppose Nerd Culture or Geek Culture is very cool.
But I used to go on this thing called Gifted Children Summer Camp, which is like X-Men, but without the superpowers. I didn’t really deserve to be there. There were a lot of kids there that were fucking amazing, and they were all academics. World-changing people now. And I basically used to chat and do collages. [Sofie chuckles] But it was a place where we were really supported to do things that were just strange, extra-curricular little projects. I was very, very lucky to have that, because it was like a safe space for eccentricity.
Sofie: How old were you when you went there?
Josie: The first time I went, I was about 11, and I kept coming back until I was about 18. Every summer.
Sofie: Oh, wow, that’s a nice time to have that. So, already by the age of 11 you felt like a bit of a weirdo.
Josie: Yeah, I sort of — I changed primary school when I was about 9, because I didn’t really — I used to get in trouble the whole time. I think I was a bit frustrated, because I was quite academic, and I was a bit frustrated, so I just wanted to see how much trouble I could get in and get away with. Yeah, so I did all that… And they referred me to this Gifted Children Summer Camp. It was like a special needs thing. It was like, “What is going on with this weird little kid?”
And also, like, I was big. I’m 5 foot 5 now, but I’ve been 5 foot 5 since I was about 10. When I was about 10, I was heavier than I am now. I was a very unusual specimen. And I think I felt very gawky. And I loved comedy and wanted to make people laugh, but it was like a defense mechanism in lots of ways. So, I felt this natural awkwardness of bad posture and self-consciousness, you know? And on top of that being a world-class spod. Stuff like that, yeah, definitely felt like that.
Sofie: And how do you feel now? Do you still…
Josie: No, I feel fine. I feel… like I am being made aware that I am more niche politically, personally than perhaps I would like. But I also feel like I am what I am, and nothing is going to force that to change in a way that I’m not comfortable with. I feel more defiant than ever. It’s such an uncertain year and so difficult in lots of ways. I’ve had a breakup this year, and it’s great that we’re still friends and I love him very dearly, but it’s sad. And I want kids, but I don’t know if I’m going to have them, blah, blah, blah, so loads of uncertainty. But at the same time, I feel more defiant than ever. I feel like the more hard it is, the more my responsibility to fucking keep going. The more difficult things are politically, the more I refuse to give up just to spite people who want me to. It’s like when you’re dying at a gig, and you think, “Oh, you think this is dying? Nah, mate, I’m going to make this so hard for you motherfuckers.” You know? [Sofie laughs] “You don’t like this? Well, let’s see how much you don’t like this 20 minutes about a push-button shower.” So, I feel more proud.
Sofie: Where did you get that from? Because I can kind of relate, but I don’t know how — I think — And especially as women, we are kind of being taught to bow down, you know? It’s a lot of shame and guilt and shut up —
Josie: How dare you think you can have a platform?
Sofie: Yeah, but when you say, “I’ve made the decision as an 11-year-old to go, ‘What I’m gonna do is cool,’” and for you to now go, “Well, fuck this, I’m just gonna be — “ Where do you get your defiance from? Or how would one get to be defiant?
Josie: Well, just accept… I’ve been saying a lot onstage, “I’m still here.” You’re still here! It’s like, don’t let the fuckers bring you down. It’s basically… how dare somebody waste your time and take away your power and impetus in this world? If you have things that you want to achieve — provided they’re for the good of the world, I’m not saying any sinister supervillain things — but — I don’t know.
I think in some ways, your temperament is a thing you’ve got shackled to forever. And I’m quite lucky that nearly every day my temperament resets, and I’m like, “Come on, then.” And I’m quite lucky that I think it’s a good philosophy to have where you say, “You’re going to try and enjoy the details of your life as much as possible.” And I feel that at, like, meals, you know? Like walking outside and the sun hitting your face. Small good things. In my first show I ever wrote, I used to get people to tell me a small good thing. I honestly think if you can enjoy the meat and potatoes of your life, literally and metaphorically, you’re in such good stead for trying to keep going. But also… there’s something so thrilling and joyful about keeping on going. I guess, I don’t know, it’s just in my temperament to want to have a fucking belter of a life and to want to not let people beat me.
My teenage years, I had a bit of a difficult situation. If my mum’s listening, I hope she isn’t, but my stepdad — It was a very difficult time, and I found it very hard to have a lot of… I don’t know how to explain it. A lot of… things in my home life that were trying to break me, I suppose. It was a very difficult situation at home, so I was kind of obsessed with like, “Oh, I’m going to be a comedian. I’m going to have a great life. I’m going to get out of this.” It’s like it comes, in a way, spirit of defiance from perhaps having a bit of a difficult time as a teenager and stuff. I think sometimes if you have to deal with difficult circumstances, it’s the human spirit to be like, “Nah, mate, we’re gonna fucking get through this.”
Sofie: Do you ever have, like, in kind of the shame part of your brain, do you ever have that voice that goes, “You’ve created this monster.” I’ve got that, because my grandfather is a psychopath, but I still have to visit him to visit my grandmother, who is fine. I’ve taken 60 pound cabs just so that he wouldn’t drive me and just be like, “Fuck you. I don’t want you to drive me. I don’t want you to be in control of my life. I don’t want to be in your passenger seat. I’m going to walk. It’s going to take me 4 hours, but — “
Josie: I’m going to feel proud of myself at the end. Yeah, I do know what you mean. A lot of my life has been about being very independent, because for whatever reason, since I left home for Uni, that was kind of that for me. I’ve always spent a lot of time fending for myself in a lot of ways. And that is not to do with my parents. They are wonderful people. I’ve got pretty good relationships, best relationships I’ve had with them for years, really, at the moment, and I’m proud of that. I’m glad, but, for whatever reason, I’ve always really been quite independent, me and my sister, really. I feel proud of that. I like that part.
Oh, God, I sound really sleepy!
Sofie: You are sleepy. That’s all right.
Josie: Yeah, sorry, it’s Edinburgh Fringe we’re recording this at. It’s so comfy. We’re just lying on sofas, whispering.
Hang on. Let me try and think about that. It’s hard, because I like the idea of giving advice or being useful for people, but I also think — I don’t ever want to sound smug or something or I feel like I’ve got stuff down, because I don’t. I think life is really more difficult than I used to think it is, and it’s complicated. I think it’s good not to let yourself get bitter. It’s good to, like, keep your power…
Because I used to have this thing onstage in 2012, and no one ever says, “Guess who I’m bring on the expedition? This bitter, shriveled-up, old husk. Oh, they’ll bring down moral. Oh, they’ll ruin it.” And I think that’s genuinely important. You have to try and fake it, even when you can’t. You have to try and just not be bitter. Be joyful and excited about living, and learning, and experiencing, because you will have a better life from that. And the more fun you have in your life, the more power you have, like, the more people that do hate you can’t take that away from you, you know?
Sofie: You said once, I don’t remember if I read it somewhere or heard you say it, and I will probably misquote you, something about — It was from your time at school, and you ‘realized that some kids weren’t necessarily bright more than they were just confident?’ Does that ring a bell?
Josie: Yeah. It was at Uni. I was so intimidated by all these very, very confident rich kids at Uni. And some of them are the smartest people I’ve ever met. Some of them brilliant people, you know, you gotta have nuance in this. But it took me 2 years to realise that yeah, some of them, they were just confident in a way that I wasn’t, because for whatever reason, my upbringing or whatever had beaten a lot of that out of me. And just because even my grammar school, which was a brilliant school, I was really pleased with it and stuff, but those people had been consistently taught that they were born to lead. Which, you know, we were a little bit, but not in the same way. And those people have this inbuilt — I say those people — [Sofie laughs] I think people from extreme privilege. It protects them and it bolsters them, and it gives them so much, which, again, I don’t think they’re totally aware of, but their level of confidence is A-STONISH-ING.
[inaudible] It was to do with trying to take on their sense of entitlement, but to do it in a manner that wasn’t about acquisition of wealth. It was about trying to make things more equitable, you know?
Sofie: Do you think — That could easily be — That could easily be a way of dealing with feeling that we’re the left out guy, dealing with that realization that everyone you see who you assume have everything together might not have — They might also be —
Josie: Maybe they’re shunned.
Josie: Or, also, there’s that quote which is such a laugh, which is, “Oh, Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” You’re allowed to affect that. You’re allowed to say to yourself, “Ok, today, I’m not going to be the Me that’s nervous. Today, I’m going to be the Me that is pretending to be this wonderful person.” You know? And sometimes faking it until you’re making it really, really works.
People assume — And I did for a while. I remember — I feel like I’m coming out of a 5-year period of real turmoil and adjustment. I broke up with someone and I was really, really cut up about it for a long time, and I was in a very destructive relationship for a couple of years with somebody, and I was in a lovely relationship after that and now we’re still friends, but I felt a lot of inner turmoil, and sometimes I would look at other people whose families are really together or who just seem to be flying really high and thinking, “God, it’s easy for them,” but it’s never easy for anyone. Not even people from privilege. It’s silly for me to go, “Oh, they do this, that, and the other,” because people from privilege can be massively emotionally neglected and have a horrible time at schools that are very, very good for them in some ways. Everyone is going through something. There’s that thing as well, where they say like, “Treat everyone with the tenderness that they’ve had bad news today, as if they’ve had bad news today.”
Sofie: Aww, that’s nice.
Josie: Yeah. And it’s hard when you’re talking about politics not to foster some sort of enmity or comparison and stuff, but you think that somebody’s very bold and bolshy and flying high that they’ve probably got loads of shit going on as well.
Sofie: I feel it every time I stub my toe, because it hurts me in so many ways, and I feel stupid for not remembering that the bed was there, I feel immense pain, and I just think, “Everyone does this.” And that everyone in the world feels this much pain when they stub their toe. And everyone does it.
Josie: All the time!
Sofie: I feel the connection of it.
Josie: I think you’re very hard on yourself. That’s my cold reading of you. That sounds like you’re hard on yourself if you’re like, “I’m so stupid for hurting myself.”
Sofie: No, but I externalize it to, like, a “Stupid toe. You should have known.” I’m fine. I knew it was there.
Josie: Brain you, stupid toe.
Sofie: But I think that it’s a good point. My psychologist used to say, “It’s a very common thing of going, ‘Would you be this hard on anyone else?’”
Josie: Oh, my God.
Sofie: Turn the voice around.
Josie: Completely changed my life. You’re so right. That thing of — I used to be so mean to myself and cruel about my body in a way that — Friends’ bodies, I see them as beautiful, the full range of them. And also, like, getting beyond so much judgement. Celebration, not judgement. “What can we get out of this?” as opposed to “What’s going on?” I used to be so hard on myself, and now I’m like… We’ve got this thing in [inaudible] on the wall we’ve written, “We do what we can.” When I was trying to get over things through therapy about my parents and things that have happened, I used to feel so let down by them, and now I just think, “People try as hard as they can in the circumstances and life is very hard for everyone.” You can’t escape the shit. The shit will show up for you, regardless. Just trying to step back as and when you can, you know? Fuck me, so useful.
Sofie: Yeah… and you get it from other people as well, where — I remember confronting my dad, being like, “You weren’t there when I was a child,” and him saying, “Oh, no, but — “He’s not the brightest, but he said, “Oh, but kids, they don’t know how it’s meant to be, so they won’t take any damage from the dad not being there, because they don’t know there’s meant to be a dad.” And that’s so — I could see his logic, I could see how he reached that?
Josie: And then I lived in the world amongst other kids who had dads. And fiction, where dads were.
Sofie: But I could see how, you know, in terms of how intelligent he can possibly be, that was probably the level of it.
Josie: But also, the decisions people make to get through their lives, because deep down he would have felt so many difficult feelings of guilt, and sadness, and separation, and all that stuff, and sometimes people have to go, “Yup. I fucked that up. Straightforward. I’ll muddle through.”
Sofie: Because when I then said, “No, that’s not how life works,” and he just got really quiet for a long time. I could feel it entering his brain slowly. His teeny tiny brain, and it entered it very, very slowly, and he tried to make it up to me by inviting me over for a barbeque.
Josie: Oh, well, that will sort it, yeah.
Sofie: And then he basically talked for 20 hours, he just talked and talked. He wouldn’t let me get a word in, and he was just talking about — He was just telling everything that happened with me during my whole life, and after about 3 hours, I realized, “Oh, he’s trying to be a dad. He’s trying to be a dad now. He’s just going, ‘Oh, well, she was right! Well, I fucked up. Well, I guess I’ll have to tell her about the time this happened and the time — ’” And it was so useless. And it didn’t help.
Josie: But also so beautiful.
Sofie: It’s maybe the only thing he could do, as well as leaving was the only thing he could do. And then you just have all this sadness and angst and you have nowhere to put — You have no one to blame, and you just go, “He did the best he could. It wasn’t good enough, but he did the best he could.”
Josie: Also, you’re allowed to feel those feelings. When I was going through stuff when I was a teenager, like, I was only… We lived in this flat where we could hear each other breathing; I didn’t feel like I could even cry in my flat, you know? Because I didn’t want to be heard. I didn’t want to give people the satisfaction. I developed this way of being that was, like, “I don’t feel negative emotions. I’m a positive person. This doesn’t affect me. Nothing affects me.” I broke up with my — I got my heart broken when I was 19, and instead of letting myself heal, I was just too kind of damaged, I would just jump into things, but I thought that I was being very mature. I just thought, “I don’t need to get over things. I’m busy. I’m getting on with it. My childhood hasn’t affected me, and blah, blah, blah.” And it was only when I started going to therapy that I let myself be sad, really, really sad about it, and appreciate that you’re a full human being and you’re allowed all your emotions. And that sometimes means that you’re going to be a jerk, but that’s part of life.
Sofie: Did you have that, right when you started learning that, where you would just be really, really sad for no reason?
Sofie: Like, they would have no more popcorn at the cinema, and you would just have a full-on breakdown because you were just letting out all the sadness from when you were 6.
Josie: Yes! There was actually a period of my life in 2012 where I’d broken up with somebody the year before, I was in this really toxic relationship, and every afternoon I’d go home to have a cry and I didn’t know why. It was like bleeding a radiator. It was like, “You’ve got to bleed the radiators. You haven’t done it for 20 years! So you’ve just got to bleed it.”
Sofie: We did it with anger, me and my therapist.
Josie: Do you know, I never properly confronted my anger. My therapist was like, “Here are drugs.”
Sofie: Get excited. She did this whole session, talking about “Let it out, dah dah dah dah, let yourself be angry.” And the first thing I did right after the session, I met with my best friend. She said she didn’t want to have pasta, so I punched her in the face, which is awful. And I told my therapist, she was like, “Ok, roll it back a bit. Take it back.”
Josie: Gone a little bit too far.
Sofie: And everyone was shocked, and it was horrible, but — It just comes out, and you can’t control it, because it’s like all of a sudden, you’re 5 again and you’re screaming on the pavement.
Josie: Yes. I know exactly what you mean. And it’s happened with me on stage, I think. I’ve had a lot of anger onstage in the last few years, which I think were also things that I was dealing with personally. There’s a bit in Hope In The Dark where she says, “Be wary when activists seem to broadcast and forecast despair, because sometimes it’s just their own personal lives.”
Sofie: Oooh, that’s terrifying.
Josie: Yeah, full on though. Not that I’ve ever — Oh, gosh. Yeah, I need to go soon, I’m so sorry.
Sofie: No, that’s absolutely fine, thank you.
Josie: Is this helpful?
Sofie: It’s SO GOOD.
Josie: Listen, it’s funny with things like this because I think I’m more self-conscious than ever in some ways, and the one thing I don’t want is I would hate for people to think I know what they should do in their lives. But I think, with things like this, if you’re talking about how to get through life, it’s so important to think: 1.) you’re not alone; 2.) it’s never the end, like, don’t let it be the end; 3.) things change in ways that are so surprising and delightful, and that that is inevitable; and 4.) like, genuinely fake it until you can make it.
My friend who’s the woman that I was talking about the day I was in the car crash, she’s got this maxim which is: “Accept, adapt, have a laugh.” [Sofie laughs] The 3 As. Accept, adapt, ‘ave a laugh. And I always think of that, some of it is about “Ok, what is the truth of the situation? What do I have to do to get through the situation? How can we have a bit of fun?” And we say that’s emergency, optimism is a weapon, and if all else fails, be silly.
Sofie: Aw, that’s really lovely. And also, everything you do is cool. [Josie laughs]
Josie: Give it a go! What I say is if you’re a young person listening to this or an older person listening to this and you’ve always felt like, “Oh, no, I’m not allowed, it’s all right for them,” just pretend that you’re fucking James Dean or someone you think is cooler than James Dean. Just pretend that you’re young Marlon Brando in Streetcar, but you’re not a cunt. [Sofie laughs] Just let yourself believe that you’re fucking cool.
The nice part about being single again is I thought no one would ever, ever find me attractive, and having little romances and intrigues, and you find yourself strutting about like, “Mama’s got her groove back.” [Sofie laughs] It’s a fucking delightful feeling. It’s wonderful to feel like that, to feel like people find you attractive or you might now and again feel like hot shit. And I’m not saying you feel like that all the time, because you’re never going to unless you’re a cunt, but let yourself have a strut, you know?
Sofie: The best part of little flirts and stuff is arguing in the rain. Oh, my God, I love it so much.
Josie: “You pissed me off so much.”
Sofie: It’s so good. I love it.
Josie: “You’re an idiot.” “Am I?” [both laugh]
Sofie: Thank you so much for doing this.
Josie: It has been such a delight to talk to you. Thank you for being so complementary about my ridiculous life.
Sofie: Your coolness, I’ve bought onto it.
Josie: You’re cool.
Sofie: Do you want to — Facebook, Twitter…
Josie: When do you reckon you’ll put this —
Sofie: Absolutely not sure.
Josie: Ok. If I’m already dead, RIP me. Peace out. In heaven now. [Josie laughs]
Sofie: I’ll milk that so hard. Oh, my God, she just said this on my podcast. Last words, properly milk it.
Josie: Oh God, I hope I’m not dead. If I’m dead, just remember it was far too soon and it was a tragic waste.
I have a Twitter, Josie Long. I rant about politics. I am so sorry. I am not sorry I am sorry. You can find my dealings on my website. I’ve got a feature film that I’m making for no money that will be out next year. I’ll be on tour in 2017. I’m writing a theatre show in 2017 in Edinburgh next year. I’ve got irons in the fire. Just, you know, keep on keeping on, lads. [laughter]
Transcript by: Patricia Ash-Vildosola