In a scene from the new documentary about Janey Godley, the Glasgow comic chats to friend and fellow stand-up Jimmy Carr.
“To this day, I don’t know what was worse – being cancelled or being told I had cancer,” Janey tells him. Carr looks horrified and tells her to calm down, that some people didn’t like a joke she had told.
Full of contrition, Janey was referring to the autumn of 2021, when tweets containing racist and discriminatory language, which she had posted 11 years earlier, led to her being dropped from a Scottish Government Covid awareness campaign.
It came at a time when her voiceover videos of Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus updates had introduced her to a new and bigger audience.
Two months after that incident, Janey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and was later told the illness was terminal.
Janey: The documentary
Those life-changing moments are examined in the new documentary, simply titled Janey, which will receive its world premiere at the closing gala of the Glasgow Film Festival on March 10, with a nationwide cinema release to follow.
The honest and open film also looks at the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her uncle and the murder of her mother, Annie.
It’s been a tough life, I say to her, as we sit down to chat about the documentary, yet she has still managed to find humour in it all.
“It has been tough but it’s also been good, with a lot of love,” Janey insists. “My wee ma and da were mental and problematic in their own way but there was a lot of love in my childhood as well.
“I’ve got to do a lot of things, especially when I owned the pub, then became a comedian, an author, a playwright and an actor. I got to do a lot of good stuff but of course there’s a lot of s***e in there as well.
“I think it’s a Glaswegian trait where we can find light in the dark and use gallows humour. It’s that old joke, you know, ‘There’s ma dad deid’ and the person replies, ‘Whit shoe size was he?’ We shake it off with laughter.
“Nothing was off limits in the documentary, I said we should talk about everything.”
Still, there is no hiding the fact that going back to her childhood home on Kenmore Street, where her mum’s brother, David Percy, sexually abused her, was difficult.
“That was hard. Standing outside the house where I was abused was traumatic in some sense, but I’m glad I did it. I had passed by it before but hadn’t stood in the street like I did that day. My pal Shirley was with me and she made it feel safe, but it did feel weird doing it.
“There was part of me that imagined my wee mammy standing at the window looking down at me, saying ‘Here she is after all these years’. Annie would have been 90 at the weekend but she didn’t see 50.”
Living with cancer
Janey turned 63 earlier this month, a day after her latest three-month scan showed no change to her cancer, which means the current treatment programme she is on is continuing to do its job.
“You tend to get all the legal stuff done, that’s important, but other than that you say, ‘F*** it’. What else can I do? I can only live until I can’t live, like anyone else,” she reflects.
“People say stupid things, like ‘I could get hit by a bus tomorrow’. But they don’t have a bus chasing them. I do.
“You just get on with it. Until I feel really ill, I won’t know what this is. I know what’s round the corner and there will come a day when they have run out of options, but it’s not the now. Like my husband says, it’s not today.”
That attitude led to the making of the new documentary, which was the idea of Janey’s daughter – fellow comedian and frequent collaborator Ashley Storrie.
“She said we should make it and spoke to my agent, who spoke to some production companies. Ashley is a producer on it and did a lot of the filming.
“She did a lot of the camera work backstage and in the car and at home. We had really good fun doing it and I love the finished product. I love seeing my pals in it, like wee Shirley.
“She and I became friends through the actor Simon Pegg. His wife Maureen is Shirley’s niece. I met Simon and Maureen in London and they said her aunt Shirley lives in East Kilbride and I’d get on well with her. I told them I didn’t want any more pals.
“They went and spoke to Shirley and she said the same thing, that she didn’t want more pals, but they put us together and we’ve become pals for life. We’ve been to Boston, London and Skye together. When I had the hysterectomy, she took me home to her house and looked after me for 11 days. We’re like best pals and slowly turning into each other.
“Having all my friends surrounding me at this time has been great and there are also so many people online. I’m lucky.”
Not Dead Yet tour
The documentary follows Janey on her Not Dead Yet tour, seeing her win the inaugural Sir Billy Connolly Spirit of Glasgow Award at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and performing to a sold-out Armadillo in her home city, her biggest headline show to date.
Janey thought the tour would be her last, but it isn’t. She is back out on the road around England this month and has a Scottish tour booked for the autumn.
“I just keep going,” she laughs. “I genuinely thought it would be the last time I’d be on stage, but it’s not. That’s the thing about living with a terminal cancer diagnosis, you keep going until you stop going, and that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to keep going up on stage.
“You would regret it if you didn’t. If you spent every day doubled up in grief and fear, you would be losing out on the days when you could be enjoying things. There are days like that, but there are lots of days that aren’t.”
There is a poignant moment in the documentary when, just before they are due to take to the Armadillo stage, Ashley breaks down and wishes this moment her mum had waited so long to have wasn’t taking place under these circumstances.
“It’ll always feel like that,” Janey tells P.S., referring to the suggestion that this is all ending prematurely. “But the flip side is that I don’t want to get dead old and forgetful, and pee myself and walk about with a basket full of dead cats. I want to go when I’m alright.
“I live every three months with the scans, waiting for the latest results. There are different treatment options available and I’m not out of options yet.”
Her favourite moments from over the years, she says, were the week she spent in New Zealand with Ashley and Billy Connolly in 2010, and becoming a published author.
“Billy emails me occasionally – just to know he knows me is amazing. He came to see me do stand-up. It was horrible, I thought I was going to die. He said he was a great audience member, and he was, but if I had died up on stage I would have had to kill him. Seeing my daughter sit beside him watching me, and later sharing a pizza and a cup of tea, was a highlight.
“So was becoming an author and publishing books. I left school at 16 because I had no shoes. I didn’t even get an O level. I have a new book coming out this year.
“I’m also learning the violin again. I learned it as a kid but my ma pawned it for a year. The school thought I was a virtuoso but I only had it in my hands twice. My husband has bought me one. I’ve started painting again, too.
“I’m trying to get through each day positively.”
Stunning archive find took Janey back in time
John Archer, the director and producer of Janey Godley’s new documentary, could barely believe it when stock archive footage of 1970s Glasgow showed the comedian walking around her home city as a teenager.
“I was being shown rushes of the documentary and John had used the material to give context to the time,” Janey explains.
“As I was looking at the footage of a boy and girl walking in front of a tenement, I told him that was me on screen. It was from 1974 and I was 13 at the time.
“I was wearing a distinctive-looking red and black coat. It had belonged to Lorraine Gallacher, a girl in my class, and it was handed down to me when she grew too big for it. And I hated it.
“I’m rolling a football along the ground – I was good at football – walking with my cousin Sammy, who died in 2000.
“There was a crane in the background and the only thing I couldn’t understand was why we would be in the Finnieston or Govan area, as that’s not where I lived, but I asked a relative and they said Sammy’s mum was squatting in a tenement in Govan.
“I had no recollection of it. John was stunned.”
Janey is showing as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, which runs from February 28 to March 10. Tickets go on sale tomorrow.
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