In response to a recent tweet asking “What have you ever done?” Janey Godley replied:
“Jailed a paedo, wrote a book, bought a house, survived rape, won a comedy award, gave birth, owned a pub, made soup, had a fight with Trump, got banned from America, survived my mum’s killer stalking me at age 22, knitted a doll, wrote a play.”
To call comedian Janey Godley a force of nature is not a cliché.
It is no secret that Janey survived sexual abuse from age 6 at the hands of her uncle (and then had him convicted and sent to prison.) It is also no secret that her mother was murdered or that she was married to the Glasgow mob. But Janey has turned horrific events into comedy gold. Her pitch black stand up routine has earned her a string of five star reviews over many years – with endorsements from Billy Connolly, Jennifer Saunders and others – yet, it has been her satirical political voiceovers (which she posts online) over recent months which have brought her a huge new audience, and it is this format that she brought to the Fringe this year.
You’ve just been to the Edinburgh Festival. How was it?
It was absolutely fabulous. It was a really successful festival. Just the whole vibe was great. The show I took there – the’ voiceover’ show – has never been done before. It was a one-of-its kind at the festival and went really, really well!
What was the funniest thing that happened during the festival?
I suppose falling down a flight of stairs. I’ve been playing a lawyer in a TV drama and the lawyer didnae have a limp – so that was quite funny – having to fake not having a limp.
The TV Drama in question is an adaptation of a Val McDermid book, soon to hit our screens, but it is not Janey’s only foray into acting. She has also recently played the part of a barmaid in the film Wild Rose. An apt casting as Janey used to run a pub in the east end of Glasgow, and a satisfying riposte to a bitter relative, who once told her she’d never be anything more than a barmaid.
It was in this pub in the east end of Glasgow where Janey’s training ground for stand up began. The Calton – in an area cited lowest life expectancy for men in the whole of the UK – and a place Janey jokes they’d “shoot you for the price of a box of eggs”. I tell her that my dad used to run a bar and that he once told me that, “It’s all just theatre!”
He’s right. The lights are behind the bar. The bar separates you and them. You’re already on stage. It’s your show.
If you want to watch a master class in how to control a rowdy audience google “Janey Godley Takes On One of Edinburgh’s Drunkest Audiences.” There can be no doubt that it’s HER show!
Janey’s daughter Ashely Storrie is also a comedian. They shared a flat during the festival where both put on different shows and received rave reviews. I am fascinated by the dynamic. You have to have pretty thick skin to be in the public eye and get up on stage. And no matter how many people think you’re great, there will be others who want to knock you down. Janey’s background in the pub trade in one of Glasgow’s roughest areas stands her in good stead when confronted with hecklers. I wonder if Ashley is able to bounce back as readily and whether Janey worries about her daughter in this regard. Asked by the Herald in a 2018 interview if Janey was like a “mother hen coaxing her offspring?” Ashley replied, “She’s a mother raptor!”
What was your reaction when she wanted to get into the business? Have you always encouraged her?
Well, Ashley was 13 when she took her own show at the Edinburgh Festival – the youngest person ever to have a show there. But she didn’t want to do comedy for years and I encouraged her not to do it if she didnae want to do it. If she wanted to be a florist or a baker or whatever, I’d encourage her to do that as well. But now she’s back doing it and she’s brilliant!
Has there ever been any rivalry between you and Ashley?
I say in my show that Ashley became a comedian because… ruining my body wisnae enough for her. [both laugh a lot] But it’s a joke. We love each other deeply. No, there’s no rivalry. She’s my daughter and I’m very proud of her. She’s incredibly talented. We have the typical mother and daughter snarks at each other as everybody does. We take the p!ss out of each other – in a gentle manner.
You’re very open about your childhood growing up in Shettleston in Glasgow and about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your uncle and also about your mum’s tragic murder… How do you stop these events from overwhelming you?
Well, because I won’t let the man who abused me rule my life. And I won’t let the man who murdered my mammy ruin my life. Why should I let the men who tried to stop us from having a life, why should I let them win? I’m a comedian because a lot of people told me not to be one. But I have that kind of personality that the more I’m told that I can’t do something, the more I do it.
Working in the pub is hard, hard, writing a book is hard, acting on stage is hard, working in a fish factory is hard, cleaning rooms is hard… but comedy is easy.
In these very f@ckin frightening times, we aw need a soup pot.
Last year her uncle was found dead at his home. And after rattling through the horror of her abuse and her mum’s murder Janey pauses for a while before delivering the black as coal punchline…
Isn’t it funny most of the men that f@ck me aboot, die alone, so ye know… Karma’s always there!
In areas such as Shettleston in the 60s and 70s, where there was intense poverty, there was also a strong sense of community; fierce groups of women sticking up for each other and helping each other out – sharing the soup pot. Characters such as “Big Jannette”, “Isa MacNamee” and “Aww the Sandras” have found their way into Janey’s voice overs – often fresh from the Zumba and ready to storm Westminster. I ask her why she thinks these themes and characters travel so well?
It’s very easy to explain, people are ex pats. We are travellers of the world. Nobody is just Australian or American or whatever. And they all have an auld granny or aunty… and if they don’t know what a Pippa Dee party is they ask me. People remember the soup pot. The soup pot is a universal symbol of community love and sharing. At a wedding, at a funeral, at a tragedy… where people come together to heal or celebrate they put on the soup pot. It’s nourishing… and in these very f@ckin frightening times, we aw need a soup pot.
A recent Janey Godley voice over video of Boris Johnson trying to usher Nicola Sturgeon into Bute House lasted only a few seconds but has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, where she has Sturgeon saying, “Put yer arm down, ya @rsehole. Get in!”
The FM was asked during the Edinburgh Festival how she felt when Boris Johnson tried to guide her into the building. She said: “If you want to know EXACTLY what I was thinking, and I mean EXACTLY, watch Janey Godley’s Voice Over!” High praise indeed.