“If you’re working class and smart it really messes with people’s heads.” Comedian Janey Godley talks to Northern Soul
Don’t you wish politicians would just tell it like it is instead of waffling on without actually saying anything?
Humour can be a great way to make news and opinions easier to digest. You can be subtle about it, or you can be Janey Godley. In 2016, Godley was pictured outside Donald Trump’s Turnberry Golf resort in Scotland holding a sign emblazoned Trump is a c**t. The image went viral.
The veteran Scots comic and writer has never been one to pull any punches. Alongside selling out tours and appearances ranging from Scottish soap River City and Have I Got News for You to acclaimed 2018 film Wild Rose, Godley is also an irresistible presence online. Her spoof social media voiceovers on clips by the likes of Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have amassed more than a million views. They’ve provided a much-needed laugh as well as giving voice to the frustrations of many. It’s clear that humour can still effectively hit a target.
“Absolutely,” agrees Godley. “The Boris ones I do tend to be more political, but the Nicola ones can be a wee bit more fun. We still get the message across but make it funny as well. How politicians talk is incredibly boring and repetitive, but if you hear things in a funny voice it might just fucking stick. People are stealing the audio and putting it on TikTok. That’s brilliant because they’re repeating the mantra ‘stay in the fucking hoose or we’re all gonnae die’. I like that people are using it as a catchphrase.”
Even Sturgeon has re-tweeted some of the clips where she features, and has acknowledged that she wishes she could be as blunt as Godley.
“We’re basically saying the same thing,” Godley explains. “This is going to be difficult, we need to flatten the curve and the longer we stay in the house the more chance the NHS will have of recuperating. The bottom line is we’ve all got the potential to cause somebody’s death and devastate a family and that’s just the way we have to look at it. If my husband is carrying the virus but doesn’t have symptoms then hangs about the supermarket, he could kill somebody.”
The choice of clips is carefully considered, but there are some of the daily news briefings that Godley won’t touch. “There was one the other day where Nicola Sturgeon was reading out people’s names in the death toll. It would have been disrespectful to do that one, so instead I did one with Michael Gove and his fucking shitty curtains.”
A major frustration for Godley (and for many of us) is the number of people still not observing or respecting social distancing.
“It’s fucking ridiculous. I had to walk on Great Western Road because people were walking three or four abreast on the pavement. Of course, I shouted and called them ‘mother f**ing c***s’, but I still had to walk on the main road. Someone shouted ‘you’re gonnae fucking die on the road’ and I yelled, ‘thanks to you I’m gonnae fucking die on the pavement’.”
Godley began in comedy in 1994, a relatively late starter after 15 years working as a barmaid. It’s clear that there wasn’t any major soul-searching involved when taking the plunge into a whole new career.
“There was no big plan. I was about 35, left the pub and thought I might become a comedian, so I did. I’d never seen a woman like me do it before. All the woman in comedy I’d been aware of were actresses or in musicals, so I had to invent the job that I did. My years of being a barmaid equipped me with some tools, but I knew how to be funny. Even as a kid I was always the storyteller that gave people a laugh.”
Natural comedic talent is in the genes. Godley’s daughter, Ashley Storrie, is also a successful comic and writer. Her mum is clearly proud. “She did stand-up when she was just a teenager and now writes for TV, but I told her to go back on stage because she’s funny as fuck.”
There are many more female comics on the circuit now than when Godley first started out. “I love natural storytelling woman like Susie McCabe, Sarah Millican, and Katherine Ryan.”
Despite this, Godley believes men can still get away with more. “When I first started on the Jongleurs comedy circuit, men would swan around making jokes about having a wank. The whole audience would laugh but try that line as a woman and the men would get upset. Why am I not allowed to do a wank joke? There’s a lot of double standards.”
I’m a Scot who has lived in Manchester for several years and yet it still puzzles me when people think my pronunciation of a word is funny. Godley has a strong Glaswegian accent but will never make any concessions for it in her work. “People have asked me to caption the voiceovers but I’m not going to. If you can learn Rabbie Burns or Shakespeare or understand a woman in London then you can fucking learn my accent. I’ve had to learn fucking accents off American TV and all that shit, so you’re going to have to learn how I speak.”
She adds: “My favourite comeback is when someone asks, ‘can people understand you?’ I go ‘are you some sort of c**t?’ They can’t believe I’ve said that, so I reply, ‘you fucking understood it, though, didn’t you?’ It’s also a class thing. I watched Darren McGarvey on Question Time and someone asked what his accent was. How fucking dare they? The man has won awards for his writing, yet it’s his accent they ask him about?”
“If you’re working class and smart it really messes with people’s heads. They think that if you’ve got a scummy accent you should be a scummy c**t. End of. Interviewers often say, ‘oh, you came from a difficult background’ and I go ‘yes, my family absolutely inherited poverty. What’s your next question?’ I suddenly have to justify how a poor girl from Shettleston managed to make it. Don’t fucking fence me in. My past doesn’t equal my future.”
“Absolutely,” says Godley. “They’re trying to beatify Johnson at the moment, but he did not fucking deal with this. He carried on regardless even though he’s known about it since January. Cheltenham Festival shouldn’t have gone ahead. Stereophonics in Cardiff shouldn’t have gone ahead. Lewis Capaldi in Aberdeen should not have gone ahead. I lost 50 grand because two shows I had lined up had to be cancelled but I didn’t give a fuck. There’s a lot of older people who come to see me and I could not sleep at night knowing they might be dead as a result. I was still touring up to the first of March but, if I’d been advised sooner, I wouldn’t have gone.”
It’s extremely hard to suppress frustration regarding how poor advance preparations to deal with the pandemic have been. However, some believe that while so many are dying, now is not the time to apportion blame. But this is an opinion Godley strongly disagrees with. “Now is the time,” she insists. “The time is always now, especially when the Government has spent 10 years dismantling the NHS and you see doctors and nurses working with bin bags on. How fucking dare the Government let that happen? They sent round vans saying, ‘immigrants go home’, yet now they praise nice Jacinta for holding a dying patient’s hand all night and risking her own life in the process.”
Despite the mounting evidence, many people remain apathetic to the flaws of those in positions of power. Godley has a compelling theory as to why this is. “It’s a brain-washing thing like a cult. The biggest part of a cult is when people absolutely believe it. By the time they eventually start to realise its wrong, they’ve invested so much in it that human pride can’t allow them to admit ‘fuck I was wrong’ or ‘this is bad for the country’.
She continues: “We voted for Brexit, we voted for Boris, we’re covered in Union Jacks and we can’t back down because that is seen as a weakness. People would rather further immerse themselves in it and die defending it rather than admit they might have been wrong.”
Godley was quick to embrace social media platforms to promote her career. She produces content across most online outlets including an award-winning weekly podcast with daughter Ashley. “I know that a woman is not supposed to know how to do this stuff, but I was an early adopter of social media because I knew it was the future. People don’t need PR. If you can let the world see what you’ve got, you’ll find your audience and your audience will find you.
“I had to find mine because TV isn’t going to put an old, white Scottish woman on shows like Live At The Apollo. Just last year I was the first working class Scottish female on Have I Got News For You and that’s been running for decades. I don’t really give a fuck, I make enough money doing what I do.”
She adds: “My audience comes to my shows and I sell the gigs out, so I don’t need all the other stuff. I have a bigger audience on my social media than a lot of those TV shows anyway, so it is what it is. It sounds as though I’m being churlish, but I’m not. I just don’t fucking need it.”
Images courtesy of Janey Godley
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