Kirsty Wark and Janey Godley FRSE in conversation
As an end-of-year special we are sharing this illuminating and entertaining conversation between award-winning actor and comedian Janey Godley and Kirsty Wark FRSE. Recorded as part of the Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission, this interview investigates some of the ways in which communication has become important during the pandemic; from the internet’s potential to create community and keep in touch, the varying roles and voices of communicators in getting the message across, and even the origins of Godley’s iconic ‘Frank, get the door’!
This interview was initially recorded as part of the Public Debate and Participation work strand in December 2020 at The Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow and was premiered via the RSE’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
Please note transcriptions are automatically generated so may feature errors.
– Welcome to the RSE’s Post-COVID Futures Commission. I’m delighted to be joined by the comedian, the award-winning comedian Janey Godley who has discovered a new voice during the pandemic. The alternative voice of the First Minister of Scotland or perhaps even her inner voice. Janey, before we even talk about the First Minister tell me about your own experience of the pandemic in your family, in the community, in your neighbourhood.
– Well, it’s weirdly, it’s kinda okay in a sense, because my husband has got autism. So he is really not into meeting a lot of people and quite enjoys the mask and the social distancing. This is his utopia. My daughter Ashley, who is also a stand-up, broadcaster and writer. She’s been doing her live radio shows from her bedroom, so I have to be very quiet between ten o’clock and one o’clock on a Friday night. And not let the dog tap tap about the floor. And myself, it’s been weird because I’m very much an outside animal. For the first time in my life, I feel like an old woman because I stay in the house and I do housework and work out menus and I’ve turned into that woman from Brief Encounter but without the train station incident. And that’s weird because I’m normally out the house six, seven months of the year.
– And we’re gonna go on and talk about, also the character Betty who is very much in her house.
– Later in the conversation. But you already had the ‘Frank get the door!’
– That’s turned into this. (Janey laughs) I mean, ‘Frank get the door!’ I’ll be unsurprised to hear Joe Biden say “Frank get the door!” (Janey laughs)
– I’ve already made Trump say it (both laugh) on a video. (Kirsty laughs) ‘Frank get the door!’ was originally about three years ago when he got the door for Theresa May on the day of her resignation. She was at the podium. “Frank get the door! I hate the whole lot of them!” And, Frank was originally a customer at my pub. I owned a pub between 1980 and 1994, back in the East End of Glasgow and Frank was a guy who whenever there was any problems I’d go “Frank get the door!” And he’d hold the door back while he read a paperback cowboy novel. He was so laid back. (both laugh) And I would get the person out or he would get them for me. So Frank was a real character, very quiet and very unassuming. And I’m sure he’s passed away now but he doesn’t know he’s dead famous.
– He’s dead and famous.
– Dead and famous.
– Not only is he dead and famous, he’s been immortalised by the First Minister.
– Yes, he has. And I think it was just something nice to say at the end of each COVID briefing was, “Frank get the door! I want a wee quiche and beans today.” (Kirsty laughs) You know, just to normalize… I think the point was, the COVID briefings were so same same, same, same, same, same, and monotonous. So a kind of tried to make the message stronger.
– And the danger with the COVID briefings whoever’s delivering them, being samey is that people don’t listen and people stop listening
– You glaze over, at a point.
– So I pick out the most important parts.
– Right, So, what gave you the idea of being the First Minister’s secret inside voice?
– There was nothing, I was bored in the house. You see, the voiceovers were very successful before COVID, I had just done a tour with the live voiceovers and the voiceover started when Ashley and I get up. And we would put on the TV in the afternoon and it’d be some old submarine film with Anthony Quayle and David Niven or something. And Ashley and I would “There’s nae entertainment on this boat is there?!” we would voice over them just to keep ourselves happy. And we did that. We still do it. We still turn the volume down and voiceover entire TV shows and it makes us giggle. You know, some mother and daughters do crafting and stamping together. We do comedy together. And so then when the COVID briefings came out, I just thought there’s an awful lot of blah, blah, blah here let me pick this up a pace. And it was just “Everybody just stay in, or I’m gonna come oot and put my toe up the crack o’ yer arse!” So, people went, that’s right, we’ve to stay in or Nicola will kick us up the bum.
– But she was delivering quite a clear message.
– And I wondered, did you ever worry that the alternative message almost was going to be the one that was going to garner more attention.
– I didn’t care. The point was, is the message was getting out, stay in the house, stop gathering in the parks, with your barbecues in the height of summer, with your frisbees and “don’t let me catch yous out there.” “Fine, if you want to die, go die, that’s what’s gonnae happen.” I basically imagined, a wee woman called Janet at a bus stop and how she was translating the Nicola briefings to her friend wee Agnes. So she’d be starting. “Did you see that Nicola on the telly, we’ve no to go oot we’ve all to stay in the house.” And I just voiced that.
– As, it’s gone on, they’ve become, I think, even funnier and actually bolder in a way I think. And also, but also, you know it’s okay to be emotionally, this is an emotionally frightening time. You’re giving yourself licence almost to say more.
– To try and be more part of that whole message coming from politicians, coming from journalists, coming from comedians.
– Absolutely, and I did it through my wee sausage dog as well for children. I did one so that the wee sausage dog could say, I give her a wee carrot and her mouth moves. And then I speak over it “It’s OK to be frightened. Everybody’s frightened. But if we do what our mammy and daddy tells us and try and just keep ourselves, our hands clean and we’re missing our grannies and grandas.” so I did it through the dog as well. So children could hear it. Cause those ones don’t have swearing in it because believe or not, I can actually talk without swearing I know, who knew?
– Yes, absolutely. And, so I did ones with the sausage dog and what I do privately as well there’s a lot of people write to me and say their wee kid loves Honey and they’re having a bad time. And I do a wee personal video for them. “Is that you Alexander? It’s wee Honey here. I’m sending you all my love” and we send them out as well so that wee kids can have some connection with the adult world of Corona.
– I want just to talk, very briefly about the technicalities of doing this, I mean, how quickly do you get that down?
– Six minutes. (Kirsty laughs) Six minutes, literally my phone do that, do that, do that, bla, bla, bla, do that.
– No I mean the decision of what you’re gonna say.
– Oh no it’s all improvised I’ve never thought anything out. The only time I’ve ever edited it was when I got a name wrong. I got somebody’s name wrong and then I had to go back and take it off the web and start again and do the name. No it’s all improvised.
– And do you ever think there’s something you said which you regret?
– Yes I’m a human being I’ve said hundreds of things I regret. I remember agreeing to get married when I was 18 (Kirsty laughs)
– No I mean
– I know. Yes, of course, of course, as a comedian, I look back on some of the old videos, I saw one last night on YouTube and I look back and go God, why would I why is that acceptable to say then, but not now? You know, it was very innocuous, but I just thought, yeah of course you regret saying things.
– Have you had any acknowledgement from the Scottish government about the impact of what you’re doing? Because it’s almost like there is now not one briefing but there are two briefings and that people can say, well actually I can watch Nicola Sturgeon and then I can watch Janey Godley be Nicola Sturgeon. It’s almost like two for one.
– Yeah, I’ve had quite a lot of criticism from the Unionist side saying that, you know, a true satirist slags the government, why don’t you make a fool of her? And I’m like, okay, first of all, you don’t think I’m funny So if I did that, why would you watch it? Because you’ve already said I’m not funny, so I don’t do requests. And secondly, find me a Unionist comedian in Scotland. And I’ll ask them to do it for you. And apparently there’s none. So, it’s not the fact that, put it this way, you see if it was Ruth Davidson up there giving out the message, I do exact same. It’s not about the politician. It’s not about the politics it’s about getting the message of coronavirus out there in a funny, informed, stupid, cheeky, mildly offensive way.
– For let’s take an example, where what you and I would do would have to be very different. So, let’s take the, whoever it was, two or three hundred fans outside Celtic park protesting about Neil Lennon And I will be able to say as a journalist there were X number of fans outside. They were there from this time to that time there were X number of police officers X number were hurt. Proportionately, statistically, it would suggest that of those fans, several would have elderly parents, several will have people working in the care sector whether it be home care or NHS or whatever. I could say that and people can make up their own minds. But you can just fire in.
– Yeah, I could just fire it out and see what a bunch of absolute arseholes standing outside shouting at a football. But the good thing is when they were there, they weren’t annoying me online. So I was secretly happy about that. (Kirsty laughs) No I can say it in a different way. You know, the way I can say, you know Trump is up there standing and he’s like “I’ve won” and I can go, nah you never “I’ve not won this, I’m really angry. Melania’s packing up the Lladr and Capodimonte as we speak, she’s got the big suitcase off the top of the wardrobe and we’re off. And I can do it that way. And it makes me laugh. And the kind of gives me an alternative voice to all the horrible stuff that’s happening in the world you know?
– But do you feel now some kind of literally a personal responsibility for getting a pandemic messenge out as a comedian. I mean (Janey laughs)
– No, I’m not responsible.
– But I mean, it is as if we need to hear the Janey Godley version as well.
– Yeah, well I think we all kinda know what it is now. So I think we all know we need to stay in the house, we have to stop gathering, wear your mask, clean your hands and stop thinking you’re particularly exempt from this situation or I’ll run out and put my toe up the crack of your behind. I think they all know now.
– But the question is, is that more effective than a straight political message?
– Yes it is more effective I think because I can have an authentic voice but I don’t, I’m self-employed who’s gonna sack me for saying that? Nobody. So I can say it and get the message out there. And I do my best just to make it funny and informative and educated without being, you know the BBC. It’s just me in my living room.
– And what about the clarity of the message? Because of course, one of the things that has been said during the whole pandemic. Is that Nicola Sturgeon’s message has been clear and has been focused and some of the other messages have not. Has there ever been a point where you’ve thought, I’m not sure she got it right today. I’ll just alter that my voiceover?
– No, I’ve actually when Catherine Calderwood messed up, I ripped her And when, what was the other woman? Margaret Ferrier and I’ve actually had Nicola Sturgeon , berate them through my voice, going “I’m gonnae have to put a find friends on them to see where they are!” and that was that Margret on a train “Honest to God, you cannae trust your own people at times!” you know I will say it because, if I think she gets, I mean I don’t know if she gets it wrong because we don’t know the figures, you know, if I think that sometimes it’s too technical and I’ll just say “Right, a lot of people are dying again!” that covers it.
– I wonder that brings us onto the idea of what is science because the idea is that, you know we’re all meant to think, well, you know science is a discipline, which must have only one outcome. But now we’ve learned during the pandemic that as many people are interested in it have different opinions in it are actually technically scientists. There is no one opinion of science. And I think that was really difficult for people.
– Yes, of course it is, and there’s a lot of misinformation. Straight away when they announced the vaccine, people are like what about thalidomide? Thalidomide wasn’t a vaccine, you know, and you get a lot, I feel it’s a comedian’s job to say to people Right, stop this. I have on my Facebook page, if you put up any anti vax or misinformation, I’m gonna block you. You need to stop doing this. I’ll happily take the vaccine. I know a man contacted me and went ‘Oh, I wouldn’t take the vaccine” wait mate, you used to take home made ecstasy when you drank in my pub. I understand your theory here, you know. So I think it’s important that we all as a society, batter down that. And people say yeah but they have to have a platform. No you don’t. If a flat earther comes to you and says I want to talk about the flat earth you have no reason to platform them because that’s no a thing (Kirsty laughs )
– By the way.
– That’s no a thing, don’t platform them because you’re discussing a ridiculous thing. So people will say but they’re entitled to their platform, yeah, they are, but not with me. They can go and talk to Betty at the bus stop.
– But then you would have the SAGE committee, you would have independent SAGE, and then you would have what the government do because SAGE just advises the government. And so it’s understandable, I think there’s…
– that there has been so much information out there. That people genuinely do feel conflicted and confused. and worried because they’ve got this idea that my goodness, my job is so insecure they might say should I go out to my job? Should we go out? What should we do? And I wonder if then comedians and people actually other cultural figures can have a role in trying to demystify a lot of that.
– Well, I think that if the government cannae demystify it, I’m gonna have a problem demystifying it. (Kirsty laughs) But yeah I agree that there’s so much information and there’s so much science that we have to believe in and quite rightly so. But at the same time, we have to make up our own minds to, basically every single family as far as I’m concerned, this is just my opinion, every single family is a single unit. And it’s up to that single unit to decide do we just throw caution to the wind? Or do we try and stick to the rules? And that is as basic as this comes down to.
– But, maybe as an individual decision, but a family’s individual decision could impact a much wider community. And I wonder if you feel in any way that you have a role to be, ‘stop right there’?
– Well, I wouldn’t like to police everybody else, but I just do it through the videos and say, look, the longer you go out, the longer we have to stay in, it is that simple. The more you go out without a mask and touch all the vegetables in the shop and annoy everybody and stand in pubs and shout at the top. The more you break the rules, the more we cannae get out. And that’s as basic as I can put it.
– I think though, it must’ve been particularly hard for people who already live on their own.
– Who are in wherever age actually, but probably kind of sixties onwards. This must have been an incredibly tough time. I wonder if people in the seventies, eighties and nineties I’m sure they do find you.
– Yes they do.
– Tell me about that.
– I get lots of emails. And at the very beginning of the pandemic. My daughter Ashley and I, every single night, seven nights a week we would do a live Facebook stream from the fan page. So you didn’t have to be a friend you could just watch it. And we would chat for about 40 minutes, every single night at nine o’clock. And we would get something like forty, fifty thousand people watching. And we would be talking about mental health. We’d be talking about how difficult it is. We would be laughing. We’d play characters, we’d have a joke, we invented games. We basically, and then lots of people could join in. And they’re like hi Janey, it’s wee Margret here from Dundee, I’m like, Oh Margret I hope you’re well. Talk about it and pull on your emotional life jacket keep your family afloat. And we did wee slogans with each other and weput up links to each other to chat to. So now we’re down to three days a week. We do Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, nine o’clock Ashley and I do a live stream. We get more viewers than quite a lot of programmes (laughs) we put it up, and then it stays up so people can watch again and listen to it. And what we’ve done is we’ve built a community. And then I get all these emails, every single day we have the email hour, and people will write to me “My wee granny said she loves your stuff and thanks you for giving her a wee shout out” and stuff. So we’ve created our own wee community of trying to help each other. Yes, people all over the, and it’s not just Britain. I get messages from all over the world. People in Alaska, Anchorage, California, Australia. All write to me and say, I sometimes don’t understand every word but my God, you have made us laugh and you’re right. And then they share their experiences of how the pandemic is affecting them and their countries specially on that live stream. We’ll have somebody saying we’re in Melbourne, we’re COVID free now. So people are getting information through different sources.
– But it’s funny because it’s as if only through the pandemic, has it dawned on people just how isolated many many people are.
– Yes, and we speak about mental health and we put up mental health links. And I talk about mental health problems. I mean, I wrote last week that I was feeling really blue and the newspapers picked up on my tweet and told everybody I was dead sad. So that was interesting for me. And I think it’s important for people like me and other people who are perceived as very strong, to say, I’m really frightened. I get scared, I have five mini panic attacks a day. I can be washing the dishes and go Are we all gonna die? No, right go back. You know, and I think it’s important to say that out loud so that people aren’t made to feel stupid for worrying. You know, you do get “Don’t be so stupid!” It’s not stupid to worry. It’s not stupid to have mental health anxieties and vulnerability. That’s a very important natural part of being an adult human and child.
– But that whole idea of communicating with people all over the world, on your Facebook page and on emails. That has been an incredible thing that’s come out of COVID.
– Yeah, it’s a shared experience. We’ve got the exact same experience as a boy who wrote to me in Madrid. We’ve got the exact same shared experience as guy who writes to me from Holland. We talk about it. We share information, we share tips on how to do things. And we try, Ashley and I sometimes at nine o’clock we feel so bleak and sad. We can’t do it, but we go on and we say was a hard one tonight guys, I’ve not really slept well. And Ashley, she cries. She just cries, somebody will say “Oh my mum’s in hospital.” I have to try and calm her down from crying. And we try and just be honest, a bit. It’s really scary, but it’s better than that. Let’s all stay together like the war. No. Quit that narrative. This isn’t the war. We don’t have black out curtains. We don’t have this, people aren’t dropping bombs, there’s a virus out there.
– But the other differences compared to the time of that war and indeed in the sixties and seventies. Is this idea of community was so much attached to the church before. Churches so, if Mrs. Thingy wasn’t in her pew that day, somebody would be round to the door the next day saying what’s going on? And a lot of that has gone. And a lot of people don’t have those kind of mechanisms of making themselves known to the outside world. And I wonder, if something the pandemic might, I mean it’s a bit like Pollyanna here I think this might happen. Might change that. Might we keep this up?
– I think, it has changed. You’re absolutely right Kirsty because one of the things that came out of the comments on. I read all the comments on the live stream. And people saying, God, I never even knew my wee neighbour upstairs. And you know, we went up now and I go with a mask and I go shopping for her, that would never have happened. So, and I’ve got to know my neighbours more.
– Have you? That’s interesting.
– Yeah, though it’s not that we never liked each other. It’s just that we just had the different lives.
– Passed in the close.
– But there’s a woman downstairs who just moved in a couple of years ago and she’s lovely and she’s from Richmond, I found that out. And her name is Ashley, same as my daughter. And I sit out on the top landing and she sits on her landing and we were discussing, she’s done a few university dissertations, you know me, I left school at 16. I’ve not even got an O level. And we were talking about writing. And she was saying to me, a good way is to set time aside to write, well we’re just having a chat. I’d never have spoke to her, you know and I’ve met my other neighbours as well, Elaine. I know her and we have a chat sometimes and we stand away in the landing at each end because we’ve got a proper old close, you know, and we have a natter. And then we’ve asked each other a few, and I’ve put up notes saying if anybody needs anything give me a shout. I’ve got toilet paper. I’ve got, if there’s anything you need we’re gonna be doing a big shop if you can’t get out. And that has been nice for me not so much for my husband who doesn’t really like meeting people. He’s like I don’t even know these folks. And I’m like, it’s fine, just drop off at their door. And he’s been going round delivering the mail and sanitising it and putting it through their doors for them and stuff. So these wee things have helped.
– So in terms of the broader culture and arts response to COVID, which I actually think In Scotland, I think has been absolutely phenomenal. One of the big things has been what the National Theatre of Scotland did and it was Scenes for Survival and they are extraordinary. But you came up with your own narrative for that. Tell me about Betty.
– Well, the National Theatre asked me to write a funny thing, because I’m a comedian and I thought I don’t wanna write a funny thing. I want to write a thing about a woman who is suffering coercive control during the pandemic which is such a very vital subject to speak about. Imagine you’re already in a controlling relationship and now you’re in one in lockdown. That just ramps that anxiety up a hundred times.
– And has proved to be the case.
– Yes. So I wrote about Betty. And Betty is a wee woman who is lovely, she’s got a wee sausage dog called Bobo. And her husband Jim. Jim cannae be telt. You cannae tell Jim to wear a mask. Jim is one of these men that, you know, “Naebody to tells me what to do.” And we knew they existed, and women are like that too. So it’s not just about, but this is about Jim. And Jim didn’t wear a mask and Betty followed all the rules. Because Betty was used to doing what she was told. Because she was coercively controlled her whole life by a man who decided how she would wear her hair, what makeup she would wear, who she could speak to, who she could be friends with.
– What she could eat.
– What she could eat. He controlled everything. So it was easy for Betty to follow the rules. But it was hard for Jim because Jim was the controller. So Jim got the COVID and he’s in that room in there. And he died. And suddenly Betty is free. She doesn’t know what to do with her freedom. They had to come and take him away. And her boy is in London, her Steven, and he left home at 16 because, you know, he couldn’t obviously stand his dad. And then so now Betty has got this life that she’s trying to navigate. And she’s in lockdown and she started to wear brighter colours and let her hair down a wee bit. She’s reconnecting with her family and friends and she’s making a lot of noise with her dancing shoes on the wooden floor. Cause Jim didn’t like a carpet, didn’t like a fabric between his feet, beneath his feet so they have wooden flooring. And so she’s now got on her dancing shoes clumping about.
– But in the first episode, I mean, there’s going to be a third episode. You heard it here.
– There’s gonna be a fourth.
– But the third episode is going out on Boxing Day and Betty, I think will continue. I can see Betty in your repertoire.
– I think Betty is somebody that, whose life we should all get to see open up. It’s been a really interesting journey with Betty because I had so many charities concerning women and violence who contacted me and who have used the video and ask permission. I was like, yeah, share it, do what you want, use it. Show it, do what you need.
– Cause the first one, I mean, and I had the luck to see, just now, what’s going out on Boxing Day where, as you say, she is starting her transformation it’s just like a butterfly coming out of this chrysalis.
– And, but the first one, it was, it was bleak. It was funny. But it was bleak. And it really was speaking to the thousands upon thousands of people in that situation.
– Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, my mum was coercively controlled and she eventually was killed. And so I have sort of firsthand experience of watching her. “Oh no, Peter’s a good a man. It’s just it’s me I wind him up, you know.” And I’m like, mum you have to get away from him, “Oh God no, Peter’s a good man, he’s good man.” And I’m like, and so I have first hand experience of waiting to see if they could get my mum’s body out of the River Clyde. You know, and get her buried, get her cremated. And knowing that, and the police not even caring what happened to her. You know the police came to see me and they said you know, “She was just a wee drunk woman, Janey.” And I thought oh well, I hope the Queen Mother never gets drunk in case you have to just let her die as well. I said to them at the time, and they were dead annoyed at that. But it was that just dismissive of ‘she’s just a wee drunk woman’, you know, like the same they did with Carol X the famous case with that. It’s just disregard she’s just a woman of no value. Her life is of no value because she let society down and be being poor and drunk and, and not keeping herself nice.
– Yes not keeping herself neat.
– So she deserves to die.
– So in the first episode we realise of course, that Jim the black humour of course, is that the COVID has taken him and freed her to have another kind of life.
– Yeah she didn’t expect that, she expected her and Jim to die together, dead old while he was controlling her last breaths probably. And it turns out that she is only 62.
– I know and she becomes younger in the second and third episode.
– She realises that she’s not an old woman that has to tie her hair back and not wear makeup. She realised she can let her hair down and dance. And she never, she forgot that. She forgot who she was. And that’s what coercive control is. It’s a very subtle process of repeat, repeat, repeat propaganda into your head to convince you that you are worthless.
– Now in the third episode where you team up with the Elaine C. Smith and Isa your sister, as she is, knew about this all along. And that’s another story as well. People that know about it all along and can’t do anything about it.
– Well that’s the thing.
– Or won’t do anything about it.
– The thing about coercive control is everybody can see the movie that you’re in. But you can’t because you’re in it. I mean, I remember, you know friends and, or, you know when I had the pub in the East End and I would see women say “Oh no, my man doesn’t like me wearing that.” And I’m like, what? I mean, my husband has autism. So there’s very similar behaviour patterns but not in anger, but because of, you know he will go, “I’ll tidy your handbag for you” and I’m like no you won’t, you won’t but thank you for offering. But he used to want to go in and tidy my handbag that could look coercive control but it’s not. It’s his need to put all my pens together with an elastic band and I’m like no, pull the elastic band off. Ashley and I are being defiant in our mess just to rail against his machine.
– But I wonder whether or not you’ve had since the first two episodes have gone out. Have you had women reach out to you?
– Oh yes.
– And is it your business? Not is it your business, is it, can you give advice? Can you say?
– No it’s not my business and I can’t give advice.
– But you must feel you want to.
– No, I do say to people thank you so much for contacting me. I wish I had the resources to tell you. And I’m always very honest when people write to me about child abuse or murder or death or anything. I always say I’m not qualified to be able to give you advice.
– But you can get this there.
– But here’s some links that you can. I mean, I’ll probably say the wrong thing which I have done so many times, you know, and you know I was abused when I was a kid and people would say to me, you know, it’s really good that you’ve grown up and you’ve let go of the anger. And I’m like, nah, I want him to die. They’re like, you can’t say that. And I’m like, no, I can, I can say that. They’re like, well, it’s not helpful to other people who have been survivors. And I’m like, oh, I’m sorry. I’ll shut up then. But I still hope he dies. And then when he died, I was like, “Yas!” And that’s my lived experience. So that’s why I’m not best placed to be giving advice to other people. I might say it wrong.
– But people might come out of this pandemic actually with a renewed spirit about dealing with this or maybe saying well, look.
– Yeah I’ve been in a situation, they might say, where lockdown has actually made something so much worse that I now realise, especially as if this were to ever happen again, I need to move on. I need to get out.
– Yeah I’ve had a few friends whose marriages have broken down during lockdown. Mine has been on the bare thread of just Like yesterday, my husband said to me, “Could you check there’s toilet paper in the toilet before you go in? Instead of shouting to me, can I get toilet paper when you get into the toilet?” And I was like, “Why are you even bringing this?!” I was like why am I screaming? Why am I screaming? And then Ashley had to come out and adjudicate the argument. And I was like, why are we arguing about toilet paper? But it’s wee tiny things that’s making me, you know, like and she doesn’t completely shut the jar on pickles in the fridge and I’ll pick up and it’ll drop. And then I want to go through the house with a hammer. And I’m like why am I insane?! And I realise that we all have to, I mean, now we actually say to each other ‘We are gonna have a positive day today. Let’s not get angry at small things.’ And then she’ll check on me and he’ll check on me and I’ll say to him “You’re being annoying.” And he’s like, “Right.” And it’s doubly hard for him because of his autism. He can’t see a way out. He’s like, “But I should be allowed to say that to you” and I’m like and Ashley is like.
– Let it go.
– And I’m like okay, okay, okay, okay.
– Some of the creativity as well that has come out, for example there were, you know wonderful Black Lives Matter murals over at Glasgow. You know, I’m on the board of the Scottish Ballet what Nicholas Shoesmith did at the Edinburgh Festival, that was moving. I was crying, watching Catalyst. It was just so extraordinary. And, and that whole artistic response.
– It’s almost as if it’s been really tough for artists tough for freelancers.
– Absolutely – Appalling. But they’ve also found a different, a new creative impulse.
– There is a sense of a new enlightenment.
– A new enlightenment and, and and actually valuing artists.
– Yes, yes. I’ve discovered that I can paint more than I thought I could. Cause I do a bit of painting.
– You’ve been writing.
– Writing, I’m writing a book, I’m writing plays. But the thing is, as a female stand-up and I found this to be quite an interesting point. A lot of female stand-ups we don’t always get the gigs the boys get. There’s a lot of comedy clubs don’t book as many women. I won’t need to name them but there is ones that don’t. They book mainly men. So women comedians always had a side hustle. We always had a podcast, we’re always writing for newspapers, we always had a side hustle going for years. So when the pandemic hit, we already had a side hustle going. And a lot of comics were like what do we do now? And I’m like “Make a podcast write a blog, do some writing, write a play.” And they’re like “How?” I’m like, well, we all were. And that has been a very interesting outcome for me is that, the amount of women who were COVID ready. Which was weird. You know, suddenly my autobiography that was written 15 years ago became a best seller because people are like who is she? Buy her book. You know? And we always had that sort of side hustle going. Ashley and I had a podcast going for 10 years. She does Twitch streaming. We’ve always had videos making, we’ve always been putting out content, cause we never always got the gigs. So we always had to have other things. That’s worked.
– That has really worked. And that will continue.
– Yeah, yeah. You look at some of the brilliant comics and lots of great boy comics. Some of them like Rosco, who are doing great Twitch streams. That’s what I love to see a lot of the my comic friends, wee Rosco, who has put a lot of, he was in Up For It with Ashley, Rosco and Christopher. Putting all their artistic content onto Twitch. Buying screens and doing green screens and doing animations. And it’s really brought something and I’m really happy seeing that.
– I’ve just recorded an episode of The Reunion, a special episode for Christmas, with Michael Rosen who was in hospital for three months. He was in an induced coma. And then he, after the induced coma had to learn to walk again. He’s still got long COVID. He doesn’t have the sight in one eye and he’s deaf. And it was talking with him and his wife, Emma and his consultant and the nurses and so forth. And about that whole creative journey to come back to somewhere. And the idea that what, what his consultant Professor Montgomery said was “No matter what doctors and nurses and care staff can do, the creative impulse can be engendered by the tapes the birdsong, the jokes told on a tape beside the bed, the songs.” That’s what brings people back.”
– Yes I agree. We weirdly stopped watching television and started listening to music. And that’s not something we did as a family. But we have the other night Ashley made tequila martinis. We’re not even big drinkers, but we said we’re gonna have cocktail hour and we’re gonna listen to classical music that’s what we’re doing tonight. She makes these wee tequila coffee martini things, they were repulsive, And then we played music, but we just sat there. And it’s amazing because people are reaching into parts of their creative soul that they kinda went, like me as a great example, I’m a comedian. I don’t need to be doing anything else. Let me just go onstage and do my schtick. But now I’m like, God I’m really good at making videos.
– I’m really good at writing this. I can write this and I can do this. And it’s made me realise that there’s a lot more to my abilities than what I originally thought.
– And I wonder if that actually is a case, not quite across the board, but with lots of people who’ve had to make do and mend during lockdown and change what they do.
– And actually.
– Try doing comedy on Zoom.
– Try, I did it last night, you’ve got all these people. And there’s just a picture of my dead dad on the wall and I’m like, this is not the audience I expected. And you can hear them laughing a wee bit but, I depend on me going blah, blah, blah, ha, ha, ha. blah, blah, blah, ha, ha, ha. You go, blah, blah, blah, silence. You’re like, I’m gonna die. My soul has just disintegrated inside me and trying to learn that skill has been quite hard one.
– But for all the different engagements in the arts, it has been really hard. And you know, the government does put an element of money in. But do you think that coming out of this that actually there has to be, I mean it sounds, again, it sounds so of motherhood and apple pie. But there has to be a kind of recalibration about how people, well, you can’t make people read you can’t make people do poetry, you can’t make people do stand-up. But actually that side of our lives for our brain, is as important as any other side.
– Absolutely. I think people have turned more to the arts and comedy and listening, you look at Mr. Michael Spicer who does The Voice Next Door. He has come out of this with a skill he didn’t know he had as well, he does those videos. And you know, you look at people. I have never seen so many people engaged in books as I have this pandemic.
– Me and Jane Fallon and Emma Kennedy and a lot of other writers online we would recommend books, now it’s a thing.
– And you look at the reaction to Shuggie Bain
– Massive. It’s a wonderful book.
– It’s a wonderful book.
– But the reaction has been phenomenal.
– But the reactions as people are now like “God tell me a good book!”
– Yeah, tell me a good book, and books are for them. And the other thing is that, you know, people that wouldn’t dream of going I mean, as you know, book festivals are seen as incredibly kind of middle-class and esoteric, actually book festivals online people listening, I interviewed Douglas, interviewed lots of different people and the, and the pickup, the take-up of that is because actually they don’t necessarily want to go to Edinburgh or Melrose or Aberdeen but they can actually do it. So actually, now, the digital offering will be as important as the physical offering. If not more, after the pandemic.
– I have never seen so many people ask me for, I do book recommendations, I’m a voracious reader, and I listen to and I do audio books. And also I tell people that you can get free audio books in the library you don’t have to buy them online. Which helps out libraries if you can go online. And I have never had so many people go “What was that series of books that you wrote?” People ask, it used to be one or two. Now it’s like 70 and now we all go online and chat about books. Music people saying, “Oh my God, did you hear that old CD by Nils Lofgren? It’s really old.”
– I’ve still got the vinyls!
– Yeah, Steely Dan.
– I’ve got the vinyls
– Yes so, this whole people going ‘I can’t do this, so let’s talk about this.’ And that has been really interesting for me as well. And it’s engaged me in things that I forgot about like my love of music and my love of writing and my love of books and paintings doing wee paintings and drawings and people going “Oh my God, did you do that by hand?” Yeah I did, and I used these paints blah, blah, blah. So that’s been fabulous, I think.
– And tell me, when are you and Nicola Sturgeon going to be in the same room together? Ever?
– We have been at one event but I don’t really want to be pals with politicians they’re not my friends. She’s a politician you don’t be pals with them. You just do your best. And I know that she enjoys the ‘Frank get the door!’ cause she did it for the STV charity appeal. And we raised lots of money. That was the other thing during lockdown is we did charity appeals and we raised a lot of money for the Carer’s Trust. Ashley and I did a 12 hour live stream and we raised over 14 grand for the Scottish Carer’s Trust. Then we raised a lot of money for the STV children’s appeal. I can’t remember the exact figures. But there’s a lot of money being raised. And I still sell the emotional life jacket badges. And a hundred percent of that profit goes to, I don’t get a penny, it all goes to the Carer’s Trust because that’s an emotional life jacket. Keep your family afloat. Wear the wee badge and the money goes to the, and if I can raise, and then last week, I did videos for the homeless charity that Richard Leonard spoke about but didn’t visit. I did shout outs for 20 a shout. I did 170 videos in one night. We raised over 3000 just doing that, and over 4000 from joint donations in a weekend. So you can use your wee bit of flashy fame for good as well, you know?
– I know, but I think you’re missing a calling. I really do think you have to be a itinerant speech writer for Nicola Sturgeon.
– I could never be a speech- I could never be a politician. I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be able to still shout really loudly and swear. You know, I get trolled a lot by politicians, and I don’t understand why politicians have to attack me. I don’t mind the public, but if you’re a paid politician maybe you should stick to your constituents and then you wouldn’t have lost all your seats in Scotland. But that’s why I’m not allowed to be a politician. (Janey laughing) And I don’t want to be a politician. I like having this freedom of expression and choice. I might not be everybody’s bag, not everybody likes it but like I’ve always said, a lot of people really love what I do, a lot of people really hate what I do. Both are correct. That is the arts.
– Janey Godley, thanks very much.
– Thank you.