Zoe Lyons: "People are very quick to take offence on behalf of other people."
Zoe Lyons made quite the name for herself back in 2004 winning the ‘Nivea Funny Women Award’ and making her way all the way to the the finals of Channel 4’s ‘So You Think You’re Funny Award’. Since then there’s been no stopping her with television appearances on the likes of Mock The Week and Dave’s One Night Stand and she is now highly sought after both here and abroad. She’s taken to the tour bus again bringing her mixture of the absurd, satire and caustic one liners to a town near you with her Pop-Up Comic show. She won’t be changing the world anytime soon but has assured us that she’ll be asking vital questions such as Dog Prams: why?
Based on the last sentence alone we just had to take the opportunity to question her about the process of creating a solo show and dealing with comedy stereotypes. We also spoke about “offensive” jokes and of course Hitler the vegetarian:
Your latest tour ‘Pop Up Comedy’ covers quite the varied range of subjects. When you come to write shows would you say you start with a central theme and work from there or do you tend to just see where the material takes you?
I tend to write throughout the year and then when it comes to getting a show together I try and see what, if any, through line there is. I actually enjoy piecing it all together and linking in the various random topics. It is definitely easier if you have a theme to follow but I think this show is the least themed show I have done. I think audiences don’t care too much about whether there is a “beginning middle and end”…. as long as it is funny.
You seem conscious not to be labelled with the stereotype of a female and/or lesbian comedian. With plenty of great female and homosexual comics on the scene why do you think there is still an obsession with the sex and sexuality of comedians?
It is just easier for people to label, generally. Say what you see, and that irritates me. There is an assumption that as a woman I am more likely to talk about certain topics and as a gay women I might bang on about it. My material has always been non gender specific and although I occasionally talk about being gay it really doesn’t form the basis of my shows.
You often pop up (see what I did there?) on TV. What do you think of the criticism aimed at the so-called “TV comedians”?
I like doing telly as you get better sandwiches in your dressing room. Who wouldn’t want to aspire to that? There are some that like to have a pop at comics who are on telly a lot for being bland and mainstream. This argument kind of confuses me as it is a pointless argument. These comics are massively popular, they appeal to huge audiences and as soon as you are appealing to the majority of viewers you are essentially mainstream. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it and seek out something more alternative that appeals to you.
You started in comedy quite late at the age of 30. What advice would you give to aspiring comedians who’ve yet to take the plunge?
Just gig as much as you can and keep writing. Watch people who are really good and try and figure out what makes them so good at what they do. It is a difficult time to be getting into comedy – the market is pretty flooded – but if you are determined you must peruse it.
You won the best joke of the Fringe in 2008. Does that put pressure on you to try and better it?
Pressure is something I like in my tyres not my life. I am under no pressure to do anything, that is why I am a comic – it appeals to my work ethic.
A lot of comedians seem scared to say anything controversial for fear of backlash. Did you get much from the self-harm/Amy Winehouse joke in 2008?
A bit. It was interesting though that my friends who had experience of self harming weren’t offended by the joke. People are very quick to take offence on behalf of other people.
You would be amazed at what people get their knickers in a twist about. I had someone write to complain about a joke I did about vegetarian food. He went on to explain that my making fun of vegetarian food was like Hitler’s persecution of homosexuals during World War 2. How angry and removed from reality do you need to be to take an argument to that level? The irony being Hitler was a vegetarian.
Do you think it is right for comedians to censor themselves to please the media?
No, but if you are the sort of comedian that does more “edgy” material you have to be prepared for a bit of a backlash. There is nothing the press like more than a lot of fuss over sod all.
You are an avid Twitter user. Do you use it to road test material and how do you feel about people then passing those jokes around social media and other websites without credit?
I don’t often post jokes on there but if I do and they happened to get used elsewhere that’s the risk you take. I am guessing this would be much more of a problem for the likes of the brilliant Gary Delaney who specialises in one liners. Bit harder to steal my rambling nonsense.
What’s next for you after the tour?
I am doing a comedy roadshow in Australia early summer and then back to Edinburgh in August. I didn’t go last year so I am almost looking forward to it this year….almost.
Like a lot of comedians you’ve done a lot of radio. For you, how does this differ from TV?
Generally radio is a little bit more relaxed and audiences who come to radio records in my experience are a bit more giving, they are a slightly more mellow crowd. Having said that though, television still has the better sandwiches!
Zoe will be appearing in Tewkesbury this evening and visiting the pretty much every nook and cranny of the UK over the next six weeks. Be sure to visit www.zoelyons.co.uk for all tour dates. Pop-Up Comedy is a must see!