The Independent

‘I’m not brave... I’m scared’

Scottish stand-up Janey Godley is on tour despite receiving a devastatin­g cancer diagnosis. She talks to Isobel Lewis about cracking jokes after chemo and Jimmy Carr’s inspiring words


Not many people would choose to go on a comedy tour when they have incurable cancer. But Janey Godley isn’t like most people. Since being diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, the Scottish stand-up, 62, has juggled chemothera­py with going on the road. “It’s definitely picked me up no end,” she says cheerily

from her hotel room, with her daughter – and support act – Ashley Storrie in the background. Initially she was going to cancel the tour, until she realised this could be her last chance to perform – but doing a live show while undergoing treatment isn’t without its issues. “I didn’t sleep well last night because it’s the first night of chemo,” she admits. “One of the side effects is my nose hairs come out, so my nose was running constantly on stage.” Godley spent much of the show apologisin­g to the audience, while also warning them that she had diarrhoea and may need to run to the bathroom at any moment. Godley sighs. “So that was fun.”

You can tell Godley, her hair a cropped grey compared to her previous long brown tresses, is tired from touring. But if it wasn’t for the cannula bruises on her hands that she shows me over Zoom, you might not know she has cancer at all, given her surprising­ly chipper tone. To say the diagnosis came as a shock is an understate­ment. “It was like throwing a fucking grenade into my family.” But before all of that, Godley carved out a place for herself as an outspoken voice after cutting her teeth on the comedy circuit in 1994, delivering material about “the darkest subjects” – her childhood sexual abuse, her parents’ addictions, her mother’s death. “I was talking about mammy’s murder and child abuse and rape in 2000… way before it became ‘confession­al comedy’,” she says, matter-of-factly.

Three decades on, and she’s more recently found fame as a viral hit on Twitter with her voiceover videos dubbing then first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s daily Covid briefings with swearybut-informativ­e internal monologues. She kept them going right up until Sturgeon’s recent resignatio­n, while also sharing her forthright opinions online. Godley is fiercely and vocally prorefugee­s, transgende­r rights and Scottish independen­ce, and can never resist arguing back with the people who troll her for those opinions. When one accused the comic of faking her cancer, she tweeted back: “Scottish unionist claims I am lying about cancer, his hatred of [the] SNP makes him angry at my ovarian disease.”

Her daughter, lying in the back of her hotel room, groans when Godley talks about Twitter trolls. “I know Ashley wants me to ditch it,” she says. What keeps her there? “Because I’m fucking old and I’m argumentat­ive and I’ve had my menopause and my womb’s been pulled out and I’m dead annoyed,” Godley replies, then laughs. “There’s something in my childhood where I always had to fight, I always had to argue, I always had to stand up for myself, I always had to defend myself. I think that is partly my negative part in my psyche and I have to catch myself and stop arguing with bams.” (Scots for nutters, for anyone wondering.)

There was one period during her decade on Twitter, though, where Godley stopped the arguing and took a step back. With her videos impersonat­ing Sturgeon going viral (the politician joked that Godley was her “alter-ego”), the comic was enlisted to front a government Covid awareness campaign. But in September 2021, a series of racist, ableist and offensive tweets made by Godley in 2011 resurfaced online, leading to public condemnati­on and her being dropped from the campaign. People close to Godley told her not to apologise, but she did it anyway. “I said things that I thought were funny, and I thought wasnae important, but it was important and words hurt,” she says. “So many people went, ‘I would never apologise’ – well, that’s you. I think it’s important that you accept you fuck up. And it doesnae matter if people don’t accept your apology, they

There’s something in my childhood where I always had to fight, I always had to argue, I always had to stand up for myself

don’t have to… Freedom of speech isnae freedom of responsibi­lity.”

But in spite of the low points, Godley has found a community on social media. She was diagnosed two months after she was dropped from the Covid campaign, inspired to get checked out after reading a tweet from presenter Julia Bradbury that first alerted her to the symptoms of ovarian cancer (feeling bloated, needing to urinate a lot, not being able to eat due to constantly feeling full). Godley had noticed a swelling in her stomach and a loss of appetite, so underwent blood tests; just 24 hours later she received the diagnosis. She had Covid at the time and had to wait seven weeks for a hysterecto­my, “knowing that that tumour was sitting inside me all over Christmas”. After the operation, doctors informed her it was stage 3, “which isnae survivable”.

After months of gruelling chemothera­py, Godley was told in July that there was no evidence of the disease in her body. But in November, shortly after she’d announced the Not Dead Yet tour, it returned. Her cancer levels had skyrockete­d “up and up and up” and her doctor said that the prognosis wasn’t good. Godley told her agent to cancel the tour. In the end it was her friend Jimmy Carr who convinced her otherwise.

“I was telling him, ‘I need to cancel the tour’ and he’s like, ‘Why?’” she recalls. She worried about being “really weak” on stage. “He went, ‘Let’s be honest, you being weak on stage is usually quite a little funnier than most people who are alright... Is your mouth still working?’ I went, ‘Yeah.’ He went, ‘Get on tour.’ And I thought, OK.” Now, Godley is relieved she listened to Carr. With the regular chemothera­py, her cancer levels have dropped right down. “But you know, we might beat it this time, but it’ll come back again. And I’ll have to just keep fighting – well, fighting’s the wrong word – I’ll have to keep throwing chemothera­py at it.”

There are a few times in our conversati­on when Godley uses words like “fight” to describe her cancer, before correcting herself. Many patients dislike this kind of language (if the person who survives cancer “beats” it or “wins the battle”, did the person who died “lose” because they weren’t strong enough?). Godley feels the same, and takes particular issue with one word. “I haaaate the word ‘brave’,” she says. “I’m not brave. You’ve no idea how much I cry going in for chemothera­py… I’m not brave; I’m absolutely shit scared.” It’s no different to calling someone brave for taking paracetamo­l for a headache, Godley says. “Taking chemothera­py for cancer isnae brave, it’s survival… That’s not bravery and I don’t face it bravely, either. I just keep going.”

Godley doesn’t know how much time she’s got left, but she’s very aware this could be her last live tour. She tells me she’s been capturing parts of the tour on video. Is she thinking about her legacy? Godley pauses, then nods. “Yeah, my legacy is important,” she says. “I want, when I go, for people to look back and see an incredibly flawed human being who fought like fuck. Not cancer, [but] fought people and life and succumbed to cancer.” Just then, Godley’s daughter Ashley pipes up. “She tried her best,” she says. Godley smiles, and agrees. “She tried her best.”

Janey Godley performs ‘Not Dead Yet’ at London’s Leicester Square Theatre from tomorrow until Saturday, and Belfast’s Festival Marquee on 2 May

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 ?? (Images by Janey God ley) ?? The comic made her mark on the circuit by tack l ing taboo subjects
(Images by Janey God ley) The comic made her mark on the circuit by tack l ing taboo subjects
 ?? ?? ‘Cancer threw a grenade into my family’
‘Cancer threw a grenade into my family’

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