It goes against the grain. In my heart I know it’s wrong, and that every cynical, rational, world-weary bone in my body should rail against it. Aside from anything I’m not actually sure it’s natural, and I may run the risk of outing myself and earning the corn of my prurient peers. But, dammit, I will not deny what dwells within my heart and soul.
I’m a little bit in love with Josie Long.
This is a crisis of Shakespearean proportions. I am the leading man (of course): the grumpy, carnaptious Romeo, ever eager to revel in the dire delights of misanthropic mirthmeisters from Hancock to Hicks – whose humour was, as Ambrose Bierce boasted in The Devil’s Dictionary, based on an acknowledgement that Man was ‘An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth…and Canada’ – or, as the late Mr Hicks rather more succinctly put it, ‘a virus in sneakers’. Long is…well…gregarious. A jolly Juliet.
I don’t do ‘jolly’. The ‘Happy’ bit in my internet nom de plume is ironic. Don’t get me wrong, I am a generally well-intentioned chap, obliging, community spirited and socially responsible – but I embrace my Inner Grump. At heart I know that stoic pessimism is the basis of a healthy worldview. If things are a bit shit and people behave in a petty, selfish, hateful fashion…like people, basically…then the Grump can nod his head, his expectations confirmed, and get on with life, smugly secure of his superiority. If things go well, then that’s fine too, as he gets to be pleasantly (and genuinely) surprised. Even when I don my seasonal colours and hold court in Santa’s Grotto I don’t do ‘jolly’: those that misbehave in my presence are faced with the distinct possibility that Godfather Christmas will make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse.
Long, though, is happy, eager to please, optimistic and full of – Gods help us – joi de vivre. She started as a stand-up at fourteen, winning the BBC New Comedy Award three years later. Cheerful and young! If she was an evangelical Tory Chuck Austen fan, too, then she’s be everything I despise. She makes Anthea sodding Turner seem taciturn. She performs shows with titles like ‘Kindness and Exuberance’, ‘Trying Is Good’ and ‘All The Planet’s Wonders’. She giggles – GIGGLES, Goddammit! – with glee as she relates how her relentlessly cheery demeanour, even after being mugged, led a policeman to ask a friend if she might, just possibly, be…you know…a bit simple. She sees charity shops as treasure troves, each little trinket or china doggie not merely the displaced memento mori of a lost life or experience, but a source of mystery. She venerates history’s heroic failures; the crap, talentless enthusiasts and obsessive-compulsives who do what they do not through a yearning for fame, fortune or glory but because they have a passion for their chosen pastime. Amateurs rank highly in Ms Long’s world: ‘ amateur’ is French for‘lover’, she argues, ‘professional’ is French for ‘bum idiot’.
And she means it. Dear Gods! I should, by all expectations, want to batter her to death with the collected works of my favourite literary misanthrope, William Faulkner. For all my love of the movies of Mike Leigh, Sally Hawkins’ Poppy in Happy Go Lucky (2008) – described in the promotional material as ‘a cheery, colourful, North London schoolteacher whose optimism tends to exasperate those around her’ – made me want to nuke North London. I don’t think I could bring myself to book-batter young Josie, though, as she’d probably just giggle again…and read the books, or engage me in a discussion about her favourites. She has lots of favourite books. She makes lists, and has been known in her act to segue from some socially-dysfunctional surrealist rant about train journey reading being interrupted by obnoxious beer drinking yobs (“What you got? A newspaper? Ha! I got the threat of violence! Gotcha!”) into musings on whatever bit of Huxley or De Tocqueville she happens to be enthusing over at the time.
She does a lot of enthusing, does Josie.
To be honest, though, I think that’s why I love her.
There is nothing artificial or contrived about her enthusiasm. However silly her self-sketched illustrations of ‘Small Things I Like’, you never for one second suspect that that silliness is anything less than sincere. When she says that ‘trying is good’ she means it. When she celebrates ‘kindness and exuberance’ she does it with all her heart. She said with regard to her first Edinburgh Festival gig that she had one objective: to ‘disarm the cynics’, and she did. Even Mr Miseryguts himself, Stewart Lee, has had his bitter, black heart brightened by her. Anyone who can start a feature on Radio One – ‘Josie Long's Confuse the Teacher Feature’ – whose sole function is to introduce an odd word into the homework of the nation’s youth liable to bemuse their tutors, is okay in my book. Improving kids’ vocabulary and winding up Teach? Now that’s subversive. When she drifts off into yet another cheery celebration of Nye Bevan (not a character likely to feature in increasingly tiresome tirades of ‘Mock The Week’) you know it’s because she is an enthusiast. She’s a Geek, proud of the fact – and carries her audience away on a beguiling tide of ego-free glee…like Harvey the Pooka’s pal, Elwood P. Dowd. I suspect Josie Long may actually be a Pooka.
A humanist, Lefty, English Lit graduate – hell, she even likes comics – Ma Long makes me smile. She has worn away my cynic’s heart and reminded me that glib bon mots and shock-tactic satireare the easy comedic response to life’s little troubles. To remain cheerful and funny…that takes talent. To make an obvious intellect and giddy girlish imagination infectious does too.
She’s cute, as well.