kerry godliman

Kerry Godliman – Just Bosh It

“Just don’t make me sound like an arsehole.” Kerry Godliman says as we’re wrapping up. “Often I’m really candid in interviews, then I read it back and wonder why I said some things.” We might be a little bit closer to understanding how the After Life star has managed to simultaneously build successful careers in both drama and stand-up. Self-awareness and brutal honesty are key to engaging with most audiences.

It’s early in the morning, so her defences might be lowered. It’s been a week of juggling family life and recording commitments, with an extensive UK tour running in the background. The latter has been calling everywhere, and is due to hit Crawley Hawth on Fri 14 Jan and Brighton’s Komedia on Tues 8 Mar. Characteristically titled BOSH, it details her efforts to cut through the static of modern life and get on with things.

With shows twice rescheduled due to the pandemic, she says the dates are now so spread out and scattered that it doesn’t feel like a grind. Some acts might be performing four or five nights every week, but she’s got other things to look out for. “My ideal is doing three shows a week. In the Autumn it felt like a proper little tour. We’d go up North for a few days, then come back, and then off to the West Country. That was really nice.” With examinations of the myriad joys of owning a campervan, the decline of dollies, ornamental tat and trials of navigating lockdown in her dressing gown, she describes it as an update of how she’s been getting on.

The title stems from her appearance on hit TV show Taskmaster, where Greg Davies would make light of her enthusiastic strategy by saying she was ‘boshing it’. In a roundabout way, the experience did make Godliman reflect on her nature and the way she did things. Sometimes it is effective. She did win Taskmaster. But it’s something she’s often been embarrassed about. “It’s not very ‘female’. Women are encouraged to not be as aggressive or bolshy. I know it’s the way I am, and it’s effective for comedy, but it’s not so effective for parenting and softer skills.” There’s plenty of things which are socially acceptable for men to indulge in, but there’s an air of negativity when women act in the same way. Especially if they’re ambitious or outspoken. “When I started, the words ‘potty mouthed’ were always being trotted out. But I’ve never heard a man called that.”

It’s manifested in a show discussing the power of determination. While her approach to writing doesn’t involve consciously setting out to deal with a specific theme, certain material bubbles up organically. “It’s on your mind, and you evolve routines out of what’s going on. Then when you retrospectively look back, there’s a theme there naturally.” Lockdown has served the piece quite well. Her material often revolves around domesticity and for several months, that’s all most of us knew.  “I could lean quite hard into what I’d written. In fact, the pandemic just turned it up to technicolour. Those things where you’re pissed-off with your kids or your partner, they became heightened. Self-reflection was also turned up… and that’s what comedy is.” While the show talks about getting things done, it also explores why we also need accept failure. Often, it’s not a true setback, but another step in achieving ambitions and developing better self-awareness.

After 20 years of touring, she says she’s becoming far more relaxed about what she can achieve with her shows. “The lovely thing with tour shows is that you can be a little more languid with the audience. With comedy clubs, you really have to hit it. It’s like a pop song. 20 minutes of bangers. You can be more explorative on a tour because you’re given a lot more space.” She’s started viewing her stand-up as an ongoing conversation. Becoming better known has enabled a shorthand with audiences, which saves a lot of work when establishing that vital rapport at performances. An emerging star is faced with bounding onstage and needing to quickly explain themselves and why they deserve a chance to speak. When asked if she’s considered developing some catchphrases, she admits ‘Bosh’ is now serving her quite well. “Greg did message me and say I owed him 15%of my tour sales, because he gave it to me. Cheeky fucker,” she says with a huge laugh.

She says she doesn’t have a fear of being misunderstood within her comedy, but there is an apprehension about being underwhelming. “That’s the worst crime… when you go ‘Oh, you all just think this is crap.’” It’s certainly anxiety dream territory, but most comedians will confirm it’s a perpetual concern. Even the wrath of a displeased audience is preferable to one demonstrating indifference or pity.

On the other side of her professional life, Godliman recently finished filming for Trigger Point, the latest thriller from Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. This six-part ITV drama follows the high-stakes work of a Metropolitan Police bomb disposal unit. “I got to say a lot of acronyms…” Alongside Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester, she faces a sustained terror campaign which threatens London. But the real targets may be closer to home.

As well as recording a new podcast for BBC Sounds, which will come out later this year, she’s soon returning to Kent for the filming of Whitstable Pearl’s second season. She plays the titular character, a single mother running a seafood restaurant who has becomes a private detective. She relishes the change of pace between performing comedy and drama. “I love it. I wouldn’t want to do just one or the other.” There’s a certain amount of delight for her that some people still don’t realise she effortlessly shifts between the two professions. 

“I’m enjoying the way that stuff I’m getting to do, as an actor, is slightly leaning into my comedy persona. Whitstable Pearl has humour in it. It’s a light drama, with some sideways glances in it, but it’s not a comedy.” If she was motivated to go wholeheartedly into ‘serious’ drama, there’s an admission stand-up might get in the way. Having attended drama school, and there were a few moments in her earlier career when she fantasised about being a ‘proper actor’, she’s realised there’s an unwritten need for neutrality if anyone wants to be taken seriously in roles. “Stand-up means I come with all my baggage, voice and casting brand. Now I bring it to the parts I play. In a way, that’s OK.” Her work on Channel 4’s Adult Material ably supports the suggestion. The dramatic examination of the porn industry saw Godliman playing a scandal-plagued MP. Although the character had a wealth of different experiences to her own life, she was undauntedly a ‘boshy’ individual. Similarly, her role in Sky’s critically-acclaimed Save Me had a rich vein of humour running underneath it, despite offering a dark narrative. “I quite like that territory. If I had aspirations to do Shakespeare or Chekov leads, my stand-up persona wouldn’t be of much value.”

Asked if she would consider doing Shakespeare, she suggests that there’s always a part of an actor’s ego which wants to do everything. She has seen several of his works recently, which undeniably has inspired her on some level. “I came out thinking: ‘I’d LOVE to have a crack at that!’” Because all the other things actors end up doing, like selling sandwiches or telling people they’re nicked, almost every drama production owes a debt to the structures of Shakespeare and Chekov.

This month promises a third season of Ricky Gervais’ joyously robust After Life. It follows Tony, a borderline misanthrope whose life has suddenly lost all direction. Godliman plays his late wife Lisa, who has left a series of videos accumulating all her feelings during the final months.

Gervais had her in mind when he wrote the part, and she instinctively knew what he was trying to achieve. She’d hesitate to call it easy, but she found the role very natural. It would be vastly different if she were dropped into the RSC to play Lady Macbeth. “I’d have to really bloody work. I’d have to dig around and explore. But when I’m doing Ricky’s stuff, I can just sit with it, and I don’t have get too cerebral. It’s difficult to talk about the acting process without sounding like a wanker, but the part just feels very right.” Her appearance in the show is almost complexly confined to a laptop screen. With many viewers discovering After Life during the pandemic, and only being able to see loved ones in similar circumstances, it’s proved to be a profound and timely dramatic device.

after life, ricky gervais, kerry Godliman
Godliman and Gervais in After Life

As with her role in Derek, where she played a put-upon but undaunted care home manager, Gervais seems to centre her characters as the show’s moral core. “Lisa needs to be there because Tony is a challenging character, to put it politely. You need her to legitimise his behaviour. It’s all a careful balance, he [Ricky] knows you need one to make the other one work.” In many ways this marries up with what we were talking about earlier. You can bobble along doing bits of drama and have a stand-up career. It just takes a desire to grab the opportunities. A bit of boshing. When Gervais gave her the parts in After Life and Derek is when everything shifted and it all tied up.

 As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also some prospective TV writing work coming up. And more stand-up touring. And probably more chances to get stuck in. “None of us design our careers. They just end up as they end up. With acting, you’re just sat on your arse, waiting for people to give you a job. I think that’s why I like stand-up. Because I can control it more. That boshy nature suited it. I can just say ‘Right! I’m doing this.’”

Kerry Godliman’s BOSH comes to Crawley Hawth on Fri 14 Jan and Brighton’s Komedia on Tues 8 Mar. After Life Season 3 comes to Netflix later this month.

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