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‘It’s the opposite of a cynical show’: Josie Long on bringing science/comedy event Cosmic Shambles to NZ

Is Cosmic Shambles a ‘mind-blowing night of laughter, discoveries, mystery guests, and live tunes’, as the publicity has it – or something even weirder? British comedy star Josie Long tells Sam Brooks what New Zealand audiences should expect.

Sam Brooks: So, hi! I guess the most obvious question to start with is what book are you reading at the moment, if any?

Josie Long: I’m reading How To Stay Sane by Philippa Perry, she was one of our guests on Book Shambles [the podcast Long hosts with fellow comedian Robin Ince] and it was such a great chat. I was embarrassed that I’d not yet read her books, so I immediately read her graphic novel couch fiction and then started on this.

She’s so humane and compassionate and it comes across the whole time through the prose style.

I’ve also just been sent Reni Eddo Lodge’s new book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race which I can’t wait to read.

That is maybe the best book title I’ve ever heard. Do you read many graphic novels?

Yes, I do, I really love to read them.

I’ve recently been reading political ones, one about the Paris Commune, one about Rosa Luxemburg, one about Emma Goldman, March , which about the John Lewis and the civil rights movement, it’s a really great way to find out about these things I think

Also I really love Kate Beaton, whose books are more like funny strips than a novel but still a favourite.

I know Kate Beaton! Somebody got me The Princess and the Pony for my birthday last year, because apparently that’s the kind of thing they thought I’d be into.

That’s a great present. I read a good one about Jeffrey Dahmer too, My Friend Jeffrey.

Oh shit! I’m obsessed with Jeffrey Dahmer, I absolutely will check that out.

The last great one I read was Sex Criminals, the art is honestly so beautiful and I want to figure out how to blow it up and hang it in my flat.

Cool, I will check it out.

I guess we should probably talk about Cosmic Shambles at some point. What is it, and what’s your role in it?

It’s an excited and enthusiastic scientific romp. That’s probably the best way to describe Cosmic Shambles, it’s about the joy of discovering things and it’s about the fun in passing that on. It’s scientists, mathematicians, musicians, comedians and all kinds of cool others. And my role in it is pretty much as a lucky and enthusiastic lay person.

Robin Ince (The Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox) is the person behind these shows, he has really boundless enthusiasm for bringing people together and sharing this kind of thing.

The core Cosmic Shambles cast: L-R Prof Lucie Green, Robin Ince, Josie Long, Matt Parker, Dr Helen Czerski

So you’re the audience surrogate, kind of?

Yes! I see that as my role, but also it’s fun to have a range of acts and performers on. I know that I can do things that are silly and not as thorough or scientific in their basis and that’s a lot of fun.

How do you tie a show with so many disparate elements together?

I think what ties it together is a positive attitude and a desire to learn, it’s the atmosphere of the show that is the same throughout. It’s the opposite of a cynical show.

What’s the green room like, and I guess, what’s the process of making a show like this come together?

The green room is cool – the scientists especially are very fun and silly. Everyone is excited to see each other and hang out.

What kinds of audiences do you guys get, like who is like, your ideal audience member?

We get quite a diverse blend of the best kind of nerds.

But honestly there’s no ideal audience member, just someone who is excited about the prospect of hearing interesting new information.

Which sounds so ideal. And every show is a little bit different right?

Oh definitely! We have local special guests and there’s always room for mucking about.

Who’s been your favourite guest so far?

So we haven’t started this tour yet, the first show is tomorrow, but the best guests at the London show were The Cure! And Eric Idle, I think. But also [astronaut] Chris Hadfield was pretty special

Oh my god The Cure! Did you meet Robert Smith? What was he like?

I did, and I can confirm that he is a kind and sweet person

That’s all I needed to know about Robert Smith. Just one more question, which is book-related again! If you were like, “Sam, you have to read this one book before you die.” What book would it be?

Well if you were about to die I would be like “talk to your loved ones, fuck books mate.” I’m kind of terrible at choosing favourites. I really loved Hope In The Dark (by Rebecca Solnit) recently, I find it really inspiring and great, and I recommend pretty much all Kurt Vonnegut, but in terms of one book being enough of a guide to life, I’m not sure I know it. I wish I did. There’s too many!

There are always too many books!

Amen to that!

Cosmic Shambles, with special guests Michelle Dickinson, James Nokise, Matt Stellingwerf and more, is at Auckland’s ASB Theatre on April 4 and then at Wellington and Christchurch. Book tickets here.

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