Scottish comedienne/writer/actress Janey Godley is possibly the best all-round creative I have ever encountered.
There’s a lot of bullshit in the wonderful world of comedy. But she genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature, mentally and visually fluent – yes, she can even paint on the rare occasion she actually pulls her bloody finger out. She promised me a picture in 2005. I still haven’t had it.
Like many others, I first became aware of her in 2003 at the Edinburgh Fringe, when I saw her comedy show Caught In The Act of Being Myself and then two days later, her straight one-woman play The Point Of Yes about heroin. Both told basically the same overlapping autobiographical story but in two dramatically different styles. One got belly laughs for tragic subjects that were in themselves not funny; the other told a straight dramatic story but had glimpses of humour.
It was the breadth of her performance ability which was impressive.
In 2004, the Financial Times wrote that seeing her breakthrough comedy show Good Godley! was “not unlike the sensation of shock and delight, thirty years ago, of seeing very early Billy Connolly” and, since then, she has repeatedly been referred to as “the female Billy Connolly”, probably because critics can’t think of another Scots comedian – but also because they both share an easy-going anecdotal style – though there is a difference.
As the Glasgow Evening Times wrote: “Like most professional comics, Janey gets her raw material by throwing an empty bucket down the well of experience. But her personal well is far deeper than most – and considerably darker”. The London Evening Standard wrote that hers was “the kind of gig that sends a chill through you even as you are laughing” and could “have the room in a mix of giggles and incredulous gasps.”
As a result of seeing her at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe, I recommended her to an editor at publisher Random House’s imprint Ebury Press and, rather to my surprise (because she was almost totally unknown both in England AND in Scotland at the time), they virtually tore her arm off in their rush to sign up her autobiography… and they had only heard just the bare outline of her extraordinary life story.
I allegedly edited the book though, once she got the hang of it, there was little need to edit anything apart from occasional punctuation and spelling (a much-over-rated thing, as I have mentioned in this blog before). And we did have a long initial talk about the extent to which the dialogue could or should reflect Glaswegian dialect.
It is (and I own no percentage) an extraordinarily gripping read. To me, it seems like a cross between Edgar Allan Poe, Jilly Cooper and Last Exit To Brooklyn. It was a top ten bestseller in both hardback and paperback.
Which brings us to Billy Connolly and New Zealand.
Janey has always admired Billy Connolly. In her autobiography, she wrote:
“The one good thing about having Charlie in our house was that he brought along his Philips stereo record player and I was in awe of his music collection. The Stylistics, Abba, all the best new disco hits and LPs by cutting-edge Glasgow comedian Billy Connolly. Wow! I’d think, He can tell a story that isn’t funny but the way he tells it makes it funny! I would rush back from school before Charlie got home from his work as an apprentice electrician and play the vinyl records on his big rubber-matted turntable through his big loudspeakers.”
Janey has been to the New Zealand Comedy Festival four times, winning prizes on each trip.
At the moment, she is there again and the impossible (therefore, in the real world, the inevitable) coincidence happened this week. She ended up in the same hotel as Billy Connolly.
As she tells it in her blog today:
“The Big Man is in town and was staying in the same hotel as me and (daughter) Ashley. To make matters worse, the hotel slip under every door every day a note about the weather and about comedy shows at the festival. So they slipped under his door: Come see Janey Godley at the International Comedy festival and see why the press call her the female Billy Connolly. I was horrified to know this! He would read that shit!
“I had small dreamy moments, we would meet in the lobby and by some miracle we would be pals for life meeting up again!
“I certainly had to stem the overwhelming desire to stalk every corridor and hunt him down, so I eventually gave the reception a copy of my autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a short note to be sent to his room. The fact he may ever read my book would have been enough for me, I am not joking – it was that or I started hacking into the reception computer to find his room.
“So, there was me and Ashley sitting having a cup of tea in the most beautiful hotel room we have ever been in and my phone rang.
“Hello, Billy Connolly here, the Scottish voice boomed out.”
The rest of what happened is in Janey’s blog today.
But the point of the story as far as I am concerned is this…
I have seen how some people react to Janey.
Comedian Boothby Graffoe once said: “She is brilliant; she is also terrifying.”
The (Glasgow) Herald called her Good Godley! show “frequently hilarious, frequently frightening” and called Janey herself “a little intimidating and exceptionally funny”.
The Edinburgh Guide said: “The thing about wee Janey is she’s a wee bit scary, OK? A wee bit scary and a big bit talented…”
She once told me when I interviewed her for a magazine: “I have the confidence to get up on stage because after the life I’ve led – all the madness and the pub and the gangsters and the abuse – there is nothing frightens me any more. So, if I ever stood in a room with 600 people and talked for 15 minutes and nobody laughed, then it’s no worse than having a gun held at your head and I’ve already had that, so it doesn’t really scare me.”
She genuinely is a multi-award-winning comedian. She genuinely is a best-selling author. She genuinely is a force of nature. And people are often intimidated by that and by her personality.
But she, too, has heroes.
Because she, too, is only a frail, creative human being with all the insecurities which that entails.
People are only people.