mon 15/04/2024

Janey review - fitting punchline for a contentious comedian | reviews, news & interviews

Janey review - fitting punchline for a contentious comedian

Janey review - fitting punchline for a contentious comedian

A rounded portrait of the Scot who told Trump to go home

Janey Godley: doggedly touring her comedy between bouts of chemotherapy Hopscotch Films

The Glaswegian comedian Janey Godley, the woman who put the punch in punchline, has what she would call a “mooth” on her. It delivers pith and grit and lots of short words needing asterisks. Though possibly not for much longer, as she is in the throes of ovarian cancer.

But that didn’t stop her doing a tour called "Not Dead Yet" last year. The title is an echo of the mordant humour she has purveyed since embarking on a comedy career in 1994, after the family pub she and her husband Sean ran was taken over by his brothers. That the family was more the Sicilian kind is typical of Godley’s CV. While she toured, cameras were filming what may be her last hurrah.

Godley is a contentious character for some, a woman whose early Tweets were deemed toxic and got her cancelled when were they were unearthed 11 years later. She lost her role as the face of Scotland’s anti-Covid campaign (slogan: test yourself, push a stick “up your beak”). She admits to camera now that there was language in the Tweets that was “horrifically despicable”, though good luck to the unversed in translating one of the featured Tweets out of Middle High Glaswegian.

The sinful in her, though, is not as clear cut as her more saintly exploits. Many cheered her on when she picketed President Trump on a visit to his Scottish golf club in 2018. “Trump is a C***” read her hand-crawled sign, for all the world’s media to see. Now fans accost her at gigs with signs of their own, saying “Trump is Still a C***”. 

Between these two poles, Janey presents a fly-on-the-wall’s view of a woman who is refusing to give up, doggedly traipsing from gig to chemo and back and on to the next gig, often with her best mate Shirley as a companion and her daughter Ashley as a general factotum – minder/producer/film-maker/fellow performer/life coach. Janey is sanguine about her prospects, including dying before the tour ends, or even dying onstage, which her mate Jimmy Carr agrees would make her “a legend”. She is already planning her funeral, which will feature a pub quiz; Shirley will bring some gingerbread. 

Janey GodleyThe director of Janey, John Archer, has assembled good visual documentation for the film – home movies, old photos, clips from gigs and TV appearances. We see Godley as a small child, as a 13-year-old walking through some waste ground with her brother, then as the young wife behind the bar of her pub. She takes Ashley on a tour of Shettleston, her old neighbourhood, which has either been razed or upgraded out of all recognition. But she hasn’t forgotten which window her late mother Anne liked to look out of, or the old milk factory where she and the other kids banged balls into the door.

The family home was also where she had “the worst experience a child should suffer”: being regularly abused by her alcoholic mother’s brother David, her screams drowned by the strains of “Love Me Do”. (That’s such a dark joke, you suspect she made that ironic detail up.) But there were also good times, when the kids used to ask to look after other people’s babies and pushed them round in giant Silver Cross prams. It’s the territory of Billy Connolly, the man, she confesses, who can make a private part of her anatomy tingle; we see her wiping away tears as he presents her with the Spirit of Glasgow award at the Glasgow Comedy Festival.

This is a standard piece of verité film making, but it’s also smart and well edited, gradually building up a rounded portrait of a woman who hid in her local library when things at home got bad and she needed humour to get her through. Then, liberated by having to leave her pub, Godley found a sense of herself as a stand-up. A chat one night with fellow comic Stewart Lee about her hardscrabble background then gave her her natural terrain when he pointed out that these stories were what she should be telling onstage. Often she has recycled some kind of family incident into a Fringe show, even the death of her mother, killed on a trip with her boyfriend “upstream” on the Clyde in 1982, exactly how, according to Godley, the “po-liss” never bothered to establish.

After slowly building back her career, Godley has found herself in unlikely company, such as doing a joint session at Glasgow’s Aye Write book festival with the woman whose interior monologue she became famous for overdubbing, Nicola Sturgeon. (She also does a very funny line in animal voices.) A fan flies in from New Jersey to see her show, Mark Hamill follows her on Twitter, lines build up at the venue in Glasgow where she does the last night of her tour. “Every auntie in Glasgow has come out tonight,” notes Ashley. Onstage, Godley discusses the possibility of amputation (though at first I thought she was talking about a stamp), and a man cheerily detaches his prosthesis and waves it around. Ashley dissolves in tears, sure Godley has done her last gig. “This is nae it,” Godley assures her.

Those who abhor comedy’s lingua franca, ie. persistent swearing, will not want to see this film. But, if only for its serving of unfiltered Glaswegian vocabulary and rank black humour, it’s highly recommendable. And it’s a perfect punchline for Godley’s rackety life. As she says to the mounted policewoman warning her not to picket Trump, ”Bye, bye, cloppity do.”

She is already planning her funeral, which will feature a pub quiz

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters