Heard the one about the vicar's wife and the very saucy punchline Meet the stand-up comic with a very irreverent sense of humour
23:16 GMT, 22 August 2012
Gayna Cooper is resplendent on a big squishy sofa in the corner of the Rectory sitting room. On the mantelpiece is a large, red sparkly sign that reads ‘LOVE’. Behind her, the rectory gardens stretch out, green, lush and awash with garden furniture and high-tech barbecuing equipment. Birds sing, butterflies swoop and Gayna is cracking jokes about sex. With her husband the vicar.
‘I always make love with my eyes closed, because I find his dog collar very distracting.’ Boom! Boom!
‘In my other career as an image consultant, I told my husband that sex is now out of fashion — it’s a little trend I started.’
Scandalised congregation: Comedian Gayna Cooper has been married to vicar Noel Cooper for 41 years and has launched a new career as a stand-up comedian, cracking jokes about sex
Gayna is 61 and has been happily married to the Rev Noel Cooper for 41 years. Lately, however, she’s been causing a bit of a stir both at home with Noel and among the 140 parishioners at the church of St John, Bedford.
Because the mother of five boys and grandmother of seven has launched a new career as a stand-up comedienne — with a special line in jokes about vicarage sex, the perils of the missionary position (‘You can’t have a joke about sex and vicars without mentioning the missionary position’) and the ups and downs (sorry) of being married to a vicar.
She’s been creating a sensation at comedy nights in pubs in Bedford — with crowds cheering and laughing and shouting for more.
Makes them laugh: Gayna has been a comedy night sensation at pubs in Bedford while Noel stays home, 'too embarrassed to come'
Funnily enough, those crowds don’t include husband Noel. Noel is 62, sports a white goatee and specs, likes reading, bird-watching, chess and golf, and sounds as though he’d rather dance naked round the altar at St John’s than watch his wife at the microphone.
‘I’m very shy and I’d be far too embarrassed to come,’ he says, quietly horrified from his post on the other squishy sofa. ‘I just couldn’t. I couldn’t bear it. I just quake at the thought of it!’
Which means he hasn’t even heard some of her best (and rudest) jokes. Including the one about his very distracting dog collar, and a far ruder one that she only used in her own rehearsals about how to spice things up after 41 years of sex in the missionary position, that I’m not allowed to tell. ‘Don’t for goodness sake put the punch line in or I’ll be in trouble!’
And not just with Noel. There are his 140-odd parishioners to think of, too, many of whom are furious about Gayna’s new career. What will they make of some of her more risque gags Will they ever enjoy receiving communion from nice Noel again
‘I don’t mind what people think of me,’ says Gayna, who is wonderfully jolly and has an awful lot to say. ‘But I do worry about what the congregation might say. I don’t want people saying to Noel: “Oooh, I’ve heard about your wife . . .” I’d never do anything to harm him. But it’s really not rude, just gentle innuendo.’
It all started last year when Gayna was diagnosed with cancer of the womb. As part of her recovery, she was determined to do all of the things she’d always wanted to do.
Having raised four sons (her second, Daniel, died of cot death) and enjoyed previous incarnations as a jewellery designer, glass decorator, image consultant, after-dinner speaker, author of two books and manager of a property business and an eBay shop, she fancied a new challenge. So she joined an eight-week course for novice stand-ups.
‘It sounded terrifying, so I decided to give it go.’
Not surprisingly, she was the only vicar’s wife on the course.
'It's like making mother-in-law jokes, just that mine are about sex with a vicar'
‘I didn’t tell anyone to start with, but it soon slipped out and everyone was surprised. I think I was the only vicar’s wife some of them had ever met.’
She also didn’t tell Noel right away. ‘When I did finally tell him he gave me a bit of a withering look,’ she jokes. ‘But he trusts me, and everything was very tongue-in-cheek and I would never ridicule him. It’s just humour.
‘And I’d never use bad language! I get so cross when people just say the F-word and everyone laughs. That’s not skilful. I’ve never used the ‘F’-word in my life and I never will. I can’t physically say it — not even very quietly to myself.
‘And I decided I’d never be rude to anyone, or make them feel small — not even hecklers. My jokes are only ever at my expense.’
And, er, Noel’s
‘Well . . . no. Because it’s not personal — it’s like making mother-in-law jokes, just that mine are about sex with a vicar. They’re not really about him — I’d never ever do that.’
Together since teenagers: Noel and Gayna met at a Christmas Eve party when they were aged 17 and 15 respectively and have been together ever since. Back then, Gayna was the 'churchy one'
Which, with nice Noel sitting quietly on the other sofa in shorts, sandals and smelling very pleasantly of aftershave, is rather a relief to hear. After a wobbly start to the comedy course, Gayna soon hit her stride. On her first night performing to an audience, she introduced herself to her first pub audience with the line: ‘How fantastic it is to be in a pub on a Sunday night — I’m usually in church. It’s much more fun here — in church you get one glass of wine and you have to share it with 50 others.’
The audience loved her.
Sex aside, she has plenty of raw material. ‘Strange and weird things are always happening to me,’ she explains.
Such as the inadvertent one-liners from
her grandchildren: ‘Why have you got a moustache, Grandma; ‘You’re not
fat Grandma, you’re just a bit wider than everyone else.’
'How fantastic it is to be in a pub on a Sunday night – I'm usually in church'
But Noel does keep cropping up. Not surprising, given they met at a party on Christmas Eve 1966 when she was 15, he was just 17, and have been together ever since.
‘He had long blond hair, a little narrow knitted tie, corduroy drainpipes and that worked for me. We had a snog and that was that — 46 years in total: that’s two life sentences. Ha ha.’
Back then, Gayna was the churchy one. Noel had a good job in computers for a big corporation and no truck with Christianity. Until, one day, Gayna dragged him to church on the way to a family lunch and the vicar asked whether he was ‘ready to meet God’
‘And suddenly it was “Boom!”, I am,’ says Noel from his sofa. ‘Suddenly it all made sense. I knew I had a calling, so everything changed.’
‘Just a bit!’ says Gayna. ‘He had a good job, we lived in a big house with thick carpets and a company car, and we had to give all that up and go and live on a student grant with three kids.
‘At first I was furious. But he wasn’t going to do it without me, and I soon came round.’
Still, she was never going to be the average vicar’s wife. ‘I went to my first clergy wives’ do terrified that I might actually fit in! I love being a vicar’s wife, but I don’t want to look like one!’
Sexy vicarage set: A local open-mic regular, Gayna is getting rave reviews. She said 'I'm always nervous, but it's as if it's what I was created to do'
Noel, meanwhile, isn’t your
archetypyal vicar. He is painfully shy — ‘I’m not quite antisocial, but
nearly’ — is a determined homebody and gets nervous having to do any
form of speaking that isn’t from behind his pulpit. (‘That’s fine,
because it’s a calling’).
Is he funny, too
‘Er, he can be,’ says Gayna loyally.
‘No, not really,’ says Noel. ‘But I love
comedians. I used to love Eddie Izzard, but he’s gone very anti-God and
‘And I think Gayna’s very funny — really properly funny. I just can’t bear to watch her. I feel so embarrassed for her that I’ll never be in her audience.
‘I’d be so nervous that it might not go down well that I couldn’t sit through it.’
Meanwhile, Gayna — who is now a regular at a local open-mic session — is garnering rave reviews for her sexy vicarage set.
‘I’m always nervous, but it’s as if it’s what I was created to do,’ she says. ‘Ever since I was a child I’d wanted to be on stage. I love Joan Rivers and Dawn French, but I don’t really warm to Victoria Wood, despite having seen her a few times — but people like me didn’t do that. It wasn’t even in my culture to contemplate it. You had to go out and get a job. Fifty years on, I’m fulfilling my dreams!
‘And I’ve got a message. It might not be about God specifically, but I’m breaking stereotypes — it’s all about vicars’ wives, sex and being over 60. And letting people know that, just because we’re pensioners, we’re not dead yet. I want to encourage people to get out there and live their lives. If I can do it, anyone can.’
First things first, though, they’ve both got to get through Church on Sunday.
‘I don’t know what the reaction will be but I shall go in with my head held high and a smile on my face and people can take it or leave it,’ says Gayna.
‘But anyone who thinks I’m writing about what actually goes on in the bedroom with Noel is bonkers. It’s not personal at all — it’s just a bit of humour.’
‘Hopefully it will be fine,’ says Noel, a little more cautiously. ‘Because at least anyone who knows Gayna knows she’s madder than a box of frogs and wouldn’t be shocked by anything she does.
‘She’s very funny and I’m very proud of her — but I just can’t watch her.’