Warm up acts

Janey Godley became an sensation in her fifties with her hilarious voiceovers. Marissa Burgess finds her sweary but warm, and rounds up the rest of the best winter stand-up performances

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It’s not often that you find yourself a viral internet sensation when you’re in your fifties but that’s what has happened to Glaswegian comedian Janey Godley. Although she’s been a stand-up for 25 years, and a damn good one at that, it’s her comedic voiceovers that have been attracting attention of late.

She’s voiced everyone from Boris Johnson to a pair of raccoons, incorporating sharp political satire with a delicious sense of silly. MPs are transformed into the ordinary folk of working-class Glasgow: a world populated by Franks or Sandras on a constant mission to find the communal soup pot because someone needs it to make a stew. It’s as simple as it is wonderfully funny and even first minister Nicola Sturgeon has joined in, tweeting Godley to tell her she’s “found the soup pot”.

Its origins are equally as simple too, with Godley and her daughter Ashley (Storrie, a successful stand -up in her own right) sitting in front of the telly mucking about.

“We’d put on the afternoon telly. It’d be an old black and white film – Sir John Mills and Anthony Quail on a submarine – and we’d have the volume down and be like: ‘There’s no entertainment on this boat! What’s this, the Love Boat? This is rubbish!’ Or, Dynasty! Oh my god – Dynasty is ripe for it!”

Its public debut though was on the night of the Scottish independence referendum at Wild Cabaret club night in Glasgow. “We had the big screen on and it became apparent that Scotland was going to lose the referendum so everybody was getting really despondent. I had the volume down and started to do voices of all the politicians that came on over the mic. People were absolutely losing their shit with laughing. I thought: ‘Right, that’s a thing then.’”

Reference to the soup pot has become ubiquitous in Godley’s work – almost a catchphrase – so it’s no surprise that that’s what this tour of voiceovers and stand-up is called. But it has deeper significance too.

“The soup pot is the heart of everything. And I love that it’s become a thing because the soup pot is very much a community thing. In any indigenous society you’ll see people round the pot, for a funeral, a death, a wedding or an engagement or someone going away. It got lent out to everybody. Not everybody could afford the big, big pot and it was used to put washing in, it was used to wash babies, it was used to make soup, it was used to make the big stew at the new year. Even if you’re in England or Scotland or Australia or Borneo the big pot is the heart of the community. That’s why it’s called The Big Soup Pot tour. It’s bringing everybody together to have a big laugh.”

One of the things that marks Godley out is her incredible back story. She grew up in the east end of Glasgow. Although much loved by her family it was a difficult life. She was sexually abused by her uncle, who was later sent to prison for his offences, and her mother Annie Currie was murdered by her boyfriend when Godley was in her twenties. But there’s a sense with Godley that nothing could keep her down or hold her back.

“Every time someone told me to shut up I shouted louder. If someone told me to go to sleep I stayed awake. That’s just my personality. Ashley always says: ‘Everything that you had against you was destined to be the one thing that shut you up and it did the opposite and I will never understand that.’ I don’t know – I always thought I would be OK.”

Of course it could be in her genes, as there are some formidable women in the family. Her great -grandmother Julia brought up Godley’s father as her own after his mother Martha had him out of wedlock in the 1930s. Neither of those women were to be messed with.

“Martha was a feisty bastard,” Godley laughs.

The Soup Pot Tour comes to Sheffield City Hall (18 Feb), Leeds City Varieties (19 Feb), Liverpool Epstein Theatre (20 Feb) and Manchester Comedy Store (26 Feb) 

The Secret Policeman’s Ball – Amnesty International’s legendary fundraiser – has been resurrected this year by the Guilty Feminist podcast. More than four decades after the first one, in 2019 there have been three shows, ending with Manchester Palace Theatre (3 Dec). Hosted by Guilty Feminist creator Deborah Frances-White (pictured), the line-up includes some of the best stand-ups around – with the permanently and hilariously exasperated Bridget Christie, Portmouth’s finest, Suzi Ruffell, The Mash Report’s Nish Kumar, fab Iranian comedian Shappi Khorsandi and actor and top comic Tiff Stevenson.

There are a fair few doctors turned comedian and Adam Kay was doing just fine in his second career performing mischievous comedy songs at his piano. But his comedic yet poignant memoir This Is Going To Hurt – based on the diary entries he kept when he was working as a junior doctor – catapulted him to even greater success. His second book, Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas, takes a look at his more seasonal journal reports and this tour of it takes a special Christmas-time look behind the blue curtain in Liverpool (15 Dec) and Salford (16 & 23 Dec). Post Christmas he returns to the original book tour.

After being nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award at the Fringe once before, this year Jordan Brookes finally won it with I’ve Got Nothing. There’s nothing quite like a Brookes show and no performance will be the same. But it will no doubt be unexpected, physical, balletic even, while playing around with the norms of stand-up and taunting us with taboos that probe audience discomfort. It will also have more false endings than Brexit. He’s in Sheffield (30 Jan), then York and Manchester. Be sure to catch him.

Less of a character act and more of an otherworldly alter ego, the former Houses of Parliament guide John Kearns creates nuanced, almost whimsical shows. Plonking a dodgy wig on his head and adding multi-directional teeth, Kearns spins gentle tales about the minutiae of life filtered through his philosophical, absurdist slant. It’s an approach that has served him well. He won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for best newcomer in 2013, and then followed it up with a main award win the year after. Since then Kearns has garnered consistent acclaim from fans and critics alike for his shows. He pops by Leeds (20 Feb) and Sheffield
(18 March).

As sharp as the lemon of the title of her second solo show, last year at the Edinburgh Fringe Catherine Bohart marked herself out as one to watch. In 2018’s Immaculate the Irish Catholic stand-up chatted about her bisexuality and her burgeoning relationship with her new girlfriend, fellow comic Sarah Keyworth. One bigoted audience member objected to the subject matter so this time around her response is to delve deeper into queerness. Dropping by Salford (16 Feb) and Leeds (28 Feb), she’ll provide plenty of tightly-penned gags along the way.

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