Zoe Lyons travels the world being funny. According to her website you may have seen her performing in Australia, New Zealand and Leicester. Martin Walker conducted a Three Minute Interview with Zoe in March this year, but now they get back together for an extended chat about her latest Edinburgh Festival Fringe show.
“How to describe an hour long show? Umm. It’s called Mustard Cutter. I’ve been previewing up and down this fine land, in various confused village halls. I was previewing the last time we spoke.”
How’s it been going?
“It’s been going good actually. It’s been going really good. It’s the least themed show I’ve ever done, which is why I’m finding it hard to describe. But the looser structure as freed the show up.”
So there isn’t a through thread?
“There is. But I’m not so concerned about having a beginning, a middle and an end. You know, a story… five minutes of pathos… three minutes of payback… and some sort of resolution or conclusion at the end.
“The comedians I really enjoy watching are the North American stand-ups who come on stage start talking, keep going for fifty five minutes and then stop. I thought, it’s a stand-up show, so I’m just going to do that for fifty five minutes – with a very, very, very loosely connected theme.”
So what’s that?
“The loose theme is around the idea of being better. That’s it. The idea came to me as a result of moving to a slightly posher area. And I found people who thought that they were better than me. I acquired a brilliantly snobbish neighbour and it got me thinking about what it might be like to feel that you are better than somebody else.”
So was there an altercation with your neighbour?
“No not an altercation. They could never be an altercation because I’m not one to fight my corner in that way. I’m a non-confrontationist. No, what I do is sit and stew on it and then build my Edinburgh show around it. Far more cathartic. It’s the most childish, pathetic, passive aggressive thing I can possibly do. And it feels wonderful.
“You’ve gotta have some benefits to this job. There’s no sick pay.”
The hours aren’t bad though?
“That’s true. I suppose I then started thinking about neighbours not getting on as well. Scotland splitting from the UK, and the UK splitting from the rest of the EU. Are people better together or better off apart?”
So do you touch upon the Scottish Independence debate in your show?
“Only in the most delicate way. I think like most people, I have no idea if an independent Scotland would be better off. Nobody really does, so you can only go with what your heart says. And my heart says that the T-towels of the UK will look crap once Scotland’s gone.
“JK Rowling may have chucked in a million quid, but I’m throwing that in to the debate. Think about the T-towels.”
How did you get started in stand-up?
“I have very few other life skills or options. I can’t sing another company’s mission statement. So I always knew I’d have to do something by myself. And I loved performing.
“I was at university doing phycology, but I spent all my time doing plays and stuff. Then I went to drama school and spent four miserable years failing to get any acting parts. I did wee bits of Fringe stuff, but not anything very satisfying.
“But I found myself watching more and more stand-up. And I thought, ‘I’ve got to give it a go’. So I wrote five minutes of utter shit, and it went all right. So I decided that’s what I want to do.
“Looking back, the reason it went all right was because I had a lot of friends in the audience. I wonder what would have happened if the material had received the reaction it should have got… I don’t know what I’d be doing now. I think I might be a plumber.”
Are you ambitious?
“No. Or rather I have difficulty focusing my ambition. I’m not a goal orientated person. I have a very short attention span. Often my ambition would be to have a steak later that evening. But because I have very low expectations, I can meet them. So that makes me successful.”
But you are successful. You’ve done loads of telly.
“Yes I have. Well I’ve done more than some and less than others. I’ve done enough so people get confused as to when and what I’ve been on.”
It seems you are always on Mock the Week.
“I think its four or five times I’ve done that. I was just on again very recently, so maybe five times. I was doing Mock the Week before the BBC announced there would be no more all male panel shows. Now I’m just there for the tokenism. But I’m quite happy because they have very nice sandwiches.”
Does it annoy you that some idiots might think you’re only on Mock the Week now, because you’re the token women?
“Not really. People will think what they will think. The first time I was slagged off on Twitter I didn’t appreciate it, but I’m used to it now. After one appearance some guy set up a Twitter account the only purpose of which was to have a go at me. These guys have always existed, but now twitter has given a voice. It doesn’t worry me anymore. It’s just a bit sad.”
If only people like that would channel their energies into complaining about something important. Like poverty or inequality or war or something. They could actually make the world a much better place.
“Trolls of the world unite.”
Is there a sitcom inside you?
“I get asked that a lot. Honestly? No. I’ve had a look and it’s not there.”
Your acting again at the Edinburgh Fringe aren’t you?
“Yes. It’s a play called Outings. It features rehearsed readings of people’s coming out stories, based around the template of the Vagina Monologues. There are four actors in the cast, with one rotating cast member, so they’ll be a new person every day doing a guest spot. I think it’s a great idea and I’m really, really looking forward to doing it.
“It’s great that equal marriage is on its way here, but there are people being stoned to death in some places abroad. In most Commonwealth Countries and many other places homosexuality is illegal and punishable by prison or worse.”
Are you political?
“You know I really wasn’t in my youth, but I am definitely getting more publically aware as I get older. I sometimes discuss a little bit of politics as part of my stand-up, but I’m still learning to do that. I’m not quite there yet. Your job as a comedian is to make it funny.
“Sometimes I’m better doing impressions of turkeys in an oven.”
But you have talked on stage about being gay.
“I have and I do in this show. If there are still some people out there that have a problem with it, I like to explain to them that I’ve got a partner of sixteen years and we live the same mundane couple’s life as everybody else. We worry about energy bills and the mortgage…. Boring, boring things. I believe in normalisation if you know what I mean? My house is not a pit of sodomy and sin.”
People can still be curious sometimes about what gay people do in bed.
“From the stage I tell people what me and my partner do in bed. After sixteen years together we reminisce.
“Emo Philips – he inspired me when I was growing up. Now I follow him on Twitter! I love that awkward introverted righteous clown. Steven Wright – the American comedian. Maria Banford. Wonder Sykes. Musical comedy isn’t my thing – I want to beat it to death with a tambourine, so I’d have Janynes Addiction with additional vocals from Peaches. Not the dead Peaches, the US artist Peaches.
“And this is why I’ll never have my own show.”