Interview by Sarah Garden
As a pub landlady with links to the Glasgow underworld, Janey got into comedy “kind of by mistake”. I sit and wait in her favourite eatery – a chic 30’s style restaurant in Glasgow- wondering whether she will live up to her colourful past. I needn’t have wondered. A dark haired woman with a broad smile bounds through the door and embraces me with a warm hug.
“Let’s go and sit outside darlin’. I need a cup of tea and a fag!”
The waiters smile at her as though she is an old friend and she orders me a coffee. Her gregarious personality is certainly very charming and it’s easy to see why she’s a performer.
“It kind of happened by accident,” she tells me.
“I wanted to get into acting and I started with the comedy as a way to get my Equity (actors’ union) card. It all happened by mistake, it was just lucky that I was quite good at it!”
Janey grew up in Shettleston and has always been proud of her working-class roots. She didn’t have the easiest start in life – Janey was sexually abused as a child and her mother was murdered – as she explains in her book Handstands In The Dark. Her career began as a pub landlady in the East End of Glasgow, though she dreamed of becoming an actress.
“I used to subject my customers to shows. They would have to watch – whether they liked it or not,” she says. Although the days of pulling pints are behind her, that wasn’t the last time she preformed for some of her old customers:
“I had a gig at a prison once. Quite a few of the prisoners were like “alright Janey!” and I was like “how you doing?” People were shocked because I knew a lot of them. They used to be regulars at my pub!”
Though the comedy circuit is notoriously male dominated, Janey says she hasn’t found being female a great disadvantage. She says the problem is that there are female comedians who just want to talk about “the same shit”:
“I mean, if you’re good you’re good. The thing is there are some women in the business that want to talk about cupcakes and kittens – or just being fat. That’s the extent of the humour. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with laughing about that but there’s a lot more funny things in life.”
And life is the inspiration for Janey’s humour. She says that her family don’t mind her talking about them on stage and they are her biggest supporters. Her husband has Aspergers Syndrome and when I ask Janey how it is being married to him, she raises her eyebrows and tells me very matter-of-factly, “it’s a constant source of comedy.”
“My husband just says the things that other people are too scared to say. He’ll be like “what’s wrong with your face?” whereas most people would just stare. We all laugh and he’s like “what’s so funny?” It’s good, it breaks down barriers”.
Janey has a very Scottish sense of humour. She laughs at things that many people would regard as off limits and she swears like a trooper. Yet she says it takes more than that to please a Scottish audience. Glasgow is often regarded as one of the toughest crowds in the industry but Janey tells me you just have to remember Glaswegians “know their comedy.”
“It’s as simple as that. It’s not that they’re cruel, because they want you to be funny – they’ve paid for a show after all. They’ll test you and that’s a good thing, you have to keep on your toes.”
As we wrap up the interview, Janey’s underworld links certainly haven’t come across in her bright, cheerful character – until I ask her what else she would like to achieve. Without hesitation she says:
“I want to be murdered.”
Though she assures me she means in a television drama and not in real life.