Brian Beacom

HOW does a woman of granny age come to find herself headlining a major Scottish theatre? How does a performer, who’s battered at the doors of the giant comedy halls for years come to be breathing the same entertainment air as Hislop and Merton on Have I Got News? Or achieving close to 40m social media hits for her comedy spoofs?

Those who know the 59-year-old Janey Godley from her Glasgow east end bar worker days had long suspected fame would never arrive at her doorstep. This was despite the comedian’s perseverance and having a caustic wit that Billy Connolly once described as "brilliant". And while Godley may wear occasional cardigans there is nothing at all cosy about her work rate.

Yet the comedian herself admits there was some luck involved in making the big time. “Ironically, a Tory made me famous,” she says in an undiluted Glasgow accent. “It was doing the funny videos about Theresa May (a voice-over of May’s final Commons speech in which she becomes Theresa of the Calton) that helped me crack the wider audience, to get into the King’s Theatre.

“But here’s the thing. I could never have planned it. I’d been making videos for years. I’ve been doing all the podcasts. I’ve been a stand-up for 25 years. I wrote a book. I plugged away and earned a wee living. And then I did this voice-over (184,000 views) and the response was un******g believable.”

Godley, whose act would later be described as, "The sharpest elbowed comedy in the world" by the New York Times, admits comedy promoters never considered her a contender for the big stage. “I was always being told to be nice to everybody, to play the PR game, not to nail your political colours to the mast. Just don’t rub people up the wrong way.”

She grins, acknowledging the futility of such a request, knowing she rubs up people with the brio of Aladdin with a new tin of Brasso. It’s an attitude formed in Glasgow’s east end, in which the teenage Janey had to survive a world of near Dickensian squalor, in which she was sexually abused by her uncle.

She then married into a Glasgow criminal family, found herself having to cope with the murder of her mother, and all to a backdrop of violence and sectarianism.

But Godley grew tough. She lived to defy convention. And she’s never been held back by the worry of how best to prepare her husband’s pieces for work, or the time it takes to iron her daughter’s gym kit. Yet, she’ll give her all to her work. “I owned a pub. I was once a businesswummin with a good work ethic. Now, I don’t keep normal hours. I may not get up until one o’clock, but I could have been gigging until late or making funny videos until two in the morning.”

She laughs: “I certainly don’t get up at eight am and make my bed. I may see a video featuring Dominic Cummings with the arse hanging out his trousers and think ‘F***, I need to do a voice over for that.”

So is success more about stoicism than strategy? “That’s right. But I also loved writing. I needed to do more and so I wrote my autobiography (Handstands In the Dark) which became a bestseller. Then because me and Ashley [Storrie, her comedian daughter] had always done these daft voices at home while watching a film we decided to put them online.”

She reflects: “I think the success of the videos has come about because we don’t have that Spitting Image overview on politics any more. We get to take the p*** and it really works live.”

Godley doesn’t make much money from YouTube, but she uses social media to sell tickets for gigs. “Here’s the thing; women my age are constantly being told we don’t know how to work the internet. But I nailed it. I showed these 22-year-olds how it’s done.”

Godley cackles like the witch in Hansel and Gretel who’s about to boil the children. “I voiced over Theresa May’s resignation speech while in a Virgin Train’s toilet that wouldn’t stop talking. I had to put my arse against the speaker to silence it from telling me not to put my jumper down the toilet pan, just so I could capture the May moment.” Her voice softens: “So often it’s about getting it done there and then.”

Does she believe she’s getting funnier as she gets older? “Oh f***, aye!” she declares, and if Godley was ever haunted by modesty she talked herself out of that corner a long time ago. “Interestingly, I’m helped by the reaction to the current PC culture.”

How so? She laughs; “Now, I break the rules even more. And I tell any critics, ‘I’m nearly 60. I can say whatever I like.’”

Did she ever have doubts, feel like throwing in the mike? “Naw. For 25 years I was the sole earner in my house. I managed to pay off the mortgage. It’s not like being an actor – you don’t have to wait for the work to come along. I just kept on doing all the wee gigs I could.”

Godley has also been acting, playing a lawyer alongside Martin Compston in TV drama Traces. And she’s set to make a short film. “Oh, and I played a barmaid in Wild Rose.” That wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch? “Naw. I had to stand there and shout, ‘You’re barred!’ which is something I had done every weekend for 15 years.”

Godley adds: “Ashley says I’m a bit like Dolly Parton.”

What? In that you have a great country voice, a penchant for short cowgirl skirts and a plastic surgeon on speed dial?

“Naw,” she laughs. “Because, like Dolly, I work because I fear poverty. I worry that I’ll go back to being the wee lassie that never had a good coat and nae shoes.

“Someone will say to me, ‘Come out and do a gig for a hundred quid and I’ll say ‘Aye.’ But Ashley will rein me in: ‘You’re no’ going out for that, Ma.’ I think me having success now has a lot to do with Shettleston-driven poverty.”

How poor was she? Was the electricity ever cut off? “Well, the last time I couldn’t afford a pair of shoes was in 1979. That was when I met my husband [whom she doesn’t name] and we worked in a pub and we pooled our wages and lived a frugal life. Even when we got the pub in the Calton we had to keep to a budget of 20 quid. I can remember being in a supermarket once and taking something back.”

What of her comedy material? Will that soften with age? “Not a chance. I’ll still call Trump a c***.” Would she tackle the Derek McKay issue? “Of course.” She climbs Mount Righteous to deliver a sermon. “You see, the bottom line is I don’t care about someone’s politics. I won’t stand up for anyone if they do something wrong. Even if you’re SNP you’ll get a kick in the balls.”

Janey Godley is in many ways a great role model for women. She believes in taking control of her own life. Setting her own terms. “I was getting called ugly and all sort of names by a bloke on Twitter recently and I then called him fat. And he says, ‘How dare you!’ And I replied, ‘I’m sorry. After working in a pub for 15 years I never learned to take abuse and no’ answer back. In fact, you’re an arse.’”

Janey Godley's success will continue. Right now, she’s mastering TikTok, (the video-sharing social network platform.) With a wee bit of luck the venues will become even bigger. “Doing this comedy thing and writing is something I love,” she says. “I want to move forward.”

Her eyes glint: “I once had a knife at my throat in 1982,” she smiles. “Since then life’s been easy.”

Janey Godley’s Soup Pot Tour; the King’s Theatre, Glasgow. From tomorrow to March 25. Subject to change.