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About Brian Beacom
HOW does an older grandma find herself headlining a major Scottish theater? How does a comedian who has been knocking on the doors of major comedy halls for years get to breathe the same entertaining air on Have I Got News as Hislop and Merton? Or for her comedy parodies to cross almost 40 million social media hits?
Those who knew 59-year-old Janey Godley in Glasgow’s East End from her days as a barmaid had long believed that fame would never come to her doorstep. That is despite the staying power and biting wit of the comedian, which Billy Connolly once described as “brilliant.” And while Godley often wears cardigans, her pace of work is anything but relaxed.
But the comedian herself acknowledges that she had some luck making it big, too. “Ironically, a Tory made me famous,” she says in an unadulterated accent from Glasgow. It was the amusing videos of Theresa May (a voice-over of the last speech of May’s House of Commons, in which she became Theresa of the Calton) that helped me crack down on a broader audience to reach the King’s Theatre.
“But the thing is here. I could never have had this anticipated. For years, I have been doing videos. I have all the podcasts finished. I was a stand-up guy for 25 years. I wrote a novel. I slogged and made a little bit of money. And then I did this voice-over (184,000 views) and the reaction was incredible un*******.
“Godley, whose performance was later described as “the world’s sharpest elbowed comedy,” by the New York Times, admits that comedy promoters never saw her as a big stage contender. “I was always told to be polite to everybody, play the PR game, don’t nail your political colors to the mast. Don’t just rub people in the wrong direction.
She grins, realizing the futility of such a request, knowing that with a fresh can of Brasso she’s riling people up with Aladdin’s panache. It’s a mentality developed in the East End of Glasgow, where Janey, a teenager, had to live in a world of near Dickensian squalor, sexually assaulted by her uncle.
Then she married into a crime family in Glasgow and had to deal with the murder of her mother, all against a backdrop of abuse and sectarianism.
But it became difficult for Godley. She lived to defy tradition. And she never let worries about how best to prepare the parts of her husband for work or the time it takes to stop her from ironing the gym clothes of her daughter. She always gave her all to her career. “I owned a pub.” I used to be a businesswoman with an ethic of good work. I have no regular working hours now. Maybe I can’t get up before one o’clock, but maybe I can work late at night or take funny videos until two in the morning.
“She laughs, “At eight o’clock in the morning, I definitely don’t get up and make my bed. I could see a video of Dominic Cummings hanging out of his pants with his butt and think ‘F***, I have to do a voice over for that.’
So does success have more than tactics to do with stoicism? “Yes, it does.” But I loved writing, too. I wanted to do something, so I wrote my autobiography, which became a bestseller (Handstands In the Dark). And because, while watching a movie, me and Ashley [Storrie, her daughter, the comedian] still had these dumb voices at home, we decided to put them online.
I think the popularity of the videos came about because we no longer have this spitting picture from the viewpoint of politics,” she reflects.” We’re going to have our knickers in a twist, and it works live, really.
Godley doesn’t make a lot of YouTube money, but she uses social media to sell tickets to shows. “Here’s the thing: women my age are constantly told that we don’t know how the Internet works.” Yet I was. I demonstrated how to do it to these 22-year-olds.
Godley cackles like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel,” about to cook the children. “I replayed Theresa May’s resignation speech while sitting in the toilet of a Virgin train that wouldn’t stop talking. I had to press my bum against the speaker to shut him up so he wouldn’t ask me to put my sweater in the toilet bowl, just so I could capture the May moment.” Her voice softens, “So often it’s about getting it right on the first try.”
Does she think she’ll get funnier as she gets older? “Oh f*.