We got in touch with Scottish comedian Janey Godley before a performance in Edinburgh, to talk about her upcoming show Soup Pot, touring up and down the country at the start of next year. Originally finding fame in her online voiceover videos, we touched on the journey that they’ve taken her on, and the importance of comedy in the face of adversity.
What's the meaning behind the name 'Soup Pot'?
It started off when I was doing the voiceover videos and I was insinuating that everybody had this soup pot that they were passing about, world leaders like Theresa May, Bruce Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon, because these were who were the heads of the main parties at the time. It’s not even a feminine thing, the soup pot is a resemblance of a community. When people in Scotland – and all over the world apparently – die or have a wedding or have a gathering, people get out their big pot and make soup or something to welcome people. It’s very much the heart of the community. Some poorer people didn’t have a big pot, so they would borrow the biggest one they could. It was common in Glasgow to say things like, ‘Oh ring up your auntie Betty and get the big soup pot.’
In what ways is this show different to the other ones you’ve done before?
There isn’t another show like this in the world. Nobody else is standing on stage with a screen up of politicians providing their words in the moment. Every single show has some differences. Because politics is such a fast moving medium, things happen in the moment and I can make a video within minutes – I made Theresa May’s leaving speech in a train toilet. Everything is improvised which is brilliant because I don’t like doing things over and over again.
Before now, this genre of comedy was relatively untouched, how did you first get into it?
My daughter Ashley – who’s also a stand-up comedian and broadcaster – would sit in the house with me and do this for years. We would put on afternoon telly and voiceover a whole film together and laugh ourselves sick. We’ve always done that privately and then it started publicly when – there’s been so many elections that I forget which one – Theresa May called an election. We had Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and occasionally Jeremy Corbyn constantly on TV and I decided to take all those voices and just talk rubbish over the top of them. It gave everybody a little sense of relief. The videos then graduated into me taking the political points and holding them up against them. Good satire is exactly that, holding a mirror up to society and reflecting it back onto itself.
You used to do the podcasts with you daughter, when she left, did you find it difficult to start doing it on your own?
Yeah, I had my best mate on board and then she had to leave. Talking to yourself isn’t an easy one but I’m still doing it and the podcast is still running across the internet. Folks love it. I keep thinking nobody’s interested because Ashely’s left but no, they’re still there. If I miss it for a couple of weeks, they’ll go, ‘Where the hell is the podcast?’ We started doing this in 2010. Podcasts back then – and largely now – tend to be male comics getting their famous mates on to talk about comedy, and we made a rule never to speak about comedy or have comedy guests on, to make it different.
Your new show is quite politically themed, do you think it’s important that your political stance comes across quite heavily, or do you try to spread it across all parties?
I do try and become impartial. Nicola Sturgeon gets made fun of – she’s actually witnessed me take the mick out of her haircut. They all get it in the neck, you can’t be a really good satirist if you are heavily weighing in favour of one person – that’s not satire it’s propaganda – so you have to make sure that everyone is getting it in the neck at the right angle.
What’s the typical demographic for your shows?
The demographic of the Soup Pot tour is very broad. The good thing about being an internet sensation – and I say that in inverted commas – is that everybody of every age gets to see them. A lot of people can have an internet sensation video and then bore people to death with the same old sh*t every time they stand-up. Because mine is improvising on the night, that doesn’t happen and that’s what makes them successful.
You’ve been on the comedy scene now for around 20 years, have you seen it change massively since you started?
Years ago, there weren’t as many women in comedy, and that just is what it is. Years ago, we all hoped that the TV or radio people would notice us, because that’s why you do a show at Edinburgh, in the hope that the TV people will say, ‘wow you’re great.’ Then social media came. I remember Patton Oswald standing up at a comedy festival, holding up his phone and saying, ‘we don’t need you anymore.’ That’s the difference. We don’t have to be at the beck and call of a bunch of people in Soho hoping they’ll notice us. We can make our own content and my own content gets more hits that some TV shows. If you find your audience, and you supply really high-quality content and you do it with your own authentic voice, you don’t need them. I’ve said no to some TV projects because I get more exposure in my own right and I don’t have to censor! I can f*ck and sh*t and c*nt all I want on my videos without somebody telling me that it’s got to go through compliance. It’s not that I can’t do that, I mean I’m doing a radio show tomorrow, I’ve done TV, I’ve done Have I Got News for You – I’ve done them all but the difference from now and then is that we can create our own content.
Because your comedy takes quite a lot of forms, from illustrations, and podcasts to stand-up and voiceovers, do you have one which you’re most comfortable in?
Painting. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was a child. I just made a short film which has won awards, I act in a new TV drama, I’ve written a play, I wrote a sketch show and I wrote a radio show but above everything that I’ve done, painting and drawing is still my favourite thing. Stand-up is second. And I’m writing a new book, so I have to get a wiggle on.
Can you tell me a little about your first book?
It’s an autobiography. They’re actually rebranding it as we speak because it wasn’t a misery memoire, it didn’t fit into that ‘my daddy sold me for a cigarette’ part of the library. While it did speak about child abuse and murder, there is also lots of fun in that book. It wasn’t a stereotypical misery memoire because I don’t know how to write sad.
Do you think comedy helps people recover from the kind of things that you discuss in your book?
Yes absolutely. The best thing about murder, child abuse and death is the lack of silence. The one thing which will f*ck you up more than anything is silence. Never be silent, talk about it. Talk about anxiety, talk about stress, talk about depression because the best way to fester mental illness is to keep silent about it. I believe comedy is brilliant for airing these things out, talking out loud and encouraging other people to talk.
Who is your favourite comedian at the moment?
My daughter of course, she’s a great stand-up, and it’s nice to know that I made her with my own placenta! I like Ian Stone, he’s a good comic, I f*cking loved Dave Allen as a child. There’s something about a man who just sat down and chatted as opposed to standing up in a suit talking about his mother-in-law. I like people who bucked the trend. Dave Allen sitting on a stool with a fag and a glass of whiskey and Billy Connolly standing in a pair of flares and a multi-coloured jacket – it went against the establishment. When I was a kid it was all men who looked like they worked for Bradford & Bingley’s Building Society! They were all in suits and shirts and ties, so as a young girl watching that, it wasn’t an arena that was welcoming.
Do you think the comedy scene has become a bit more inclusive for females?
I think more females join and there are more that do well, but there is still sexism in comedy. You will still get clubs that, by and large, don’t have as many females as other clubs, so that is just what it is. Just keep doing it, just keep being a good comic is all I say.
What would your advice be for an aspiring comedian?
Get stage time. Just get up on stage and keep doing it. There’s no point in being funny in your f*cking living room. I used to pay to go to London, pay for a hotel to go and stand on a stage and get five unpaid minutes. At the time I had an accountant and he was like, ‘What kind of a business model is this? Why are you paying to work to free?’ You have to be dedicated to do this sh*t.
What are you optimistic about for 2020?
I’ve got a great belief, optimism and hope in the common people. I think that politics has gone so far, and people have seen so many lies and so much hatred and anger and division, that they’ve all actually pulled together. I believe that unity will happen; the British public have a great sense of unity when they need to and it’s usually when there’s people against us. Comedy brings people together. Laughing is the one thing we’ve got left in the face of adversity and we should all come together with our big soup pots and have a laugh.