It has taken me over a week to write about Josie Long’s off Broadway stand-up show, Something Better. It’s not that I didn’t like the show—I did, I liked it a lot, but since T***p (I can’t even say his name) became the President-Elect, it’s been hard to feel good about doing anything (including writing) that isn’t direct political action. This all feels releavant since Something Better is the British comedian’s response to feeling the same kind of defeat I’m speaking of, when her native UK withdrew from the European Union earlier this year. Long didn’t know what her U.S. audience would be going through when she wrote the show and booked this tour. She didn’t know how close to home her material would hit.
And it hits hard since Long is extremely articulate and it’s impossible not to absorb her material simultaneously rapidly and deeply. She has a masterful way with words and her British accent adds a certain infectious charm to the show. Something Better was billed as a show “about staying positive in the face of everything from breakups to Brexit” but in my memory, it was mostly about staying positive in the face of political absurdity. Romance jokes were sprinkled in here and there, but they felt secondary the way romance and socializing feels secondary in real life now. Or maybe it’s just me. (It’s not just me according to what I’ve been reading.)
Long introduced herself on stage before her solo show began by warning the audience that she is extremely optimistic and she knows that sort of optimism isn’t for everybody. Later during the show, Long recounts a story of going on a reality TV show and how there was a male contestant who just seemed determined to crush her spirit. That one man quickly became a metaphor for what life felt like for Long post-Brexit vote.
When I walked into the Barrow Street Theatre last week, I was handed what looked like a ‘zine instead of a typical theatrical program. Truthfully, I’m only reading the ‘zine which is actually labeled as “Official Show Programme” now as I write this because life after T***p has felt hard and art after T***p has felt nearly impossible. Long’s programme/’zine begins with Long introducing herself the way I would have done in a ‘zine I wrote as a teenager—when I was way more optimistic than I am now. How has Long not lost that spirit in the face of everything? Her show talks about how she did lose that light inside of her momentarily and her show also talks about how she gained it back.
I’m turning the pages of this programme/’zine and there is even a comic strip by Long. She keeps on giving. There was so much heart in her performance and it’s here now again in the booklet that was distributed for free at the show. She even recommends books to read in this difficult time (Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark) and a playlist of songs about courage. The final pages include something called “The Arts Emergency Manifesto” which includes inspirational lines like: “The future is another place. Allow yourself to believe a better life is possible. Say it loud, defiantly, to everyone” which is really what Long does in her one-woman show, Something Better. She really tries to give her audience a glimpse that there is “something better” coming, but we have to work for it and we have to be willing to have faith that it’s there.
As Howard Zinn says, “What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”
Josie Long’s Something Better runs at the Barrow Street Theatre in NYC until December 3.