Host of BBC2’s Lightning and Live at the Apollo, Zoe Lyons is going to be pretty much ubiquitous in 2023. Freshly announced as a contestant in C4’s next series of Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, she’ll be spending the next couple of months touring the UK with her latest stand-up show; The Bald Ambition Tour in which she explores the funny side of her recent midlife crisis. She’s at the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury next month so I got on the phone for a natter.
You're coming to Banbury with your new tour.
Yes, heading out on the road again after quite a hiatus. I think it’s four years since I last did a tour. I’m very excited.
You've done so much television and so much live stand up. What are the main differences – and which do you prefer?
They both have there pros and cons. Obviously TV has its fun side and there are obvious advantages of being on TV and the things that come with that. I’ve been lucky enough to do some quite fun things which I really enjoy. I think any comedian will tell you though, coming off the back of the pandemic, there’s nothing like being in front of a live audience. We've really missed it. Just being able to go out there again and see people is really lovely. I’ll be very honest with you, last time I did a tour I came home and thought that will be the last tour I ever do, because the travel as a comic can be quite brutal. There’s nothing like having a break from it, having it taken away from you completely, for you to go ‘you know what, I really miss that’.
That’s great, but please stay on TV because we need women being funny on TV.
I know. I’m doing my best.
Thank you from the sisterhood. I read you originally wanted to pursue a career in acting and then took a sideways step into comedy. How come?
After leaving university I had a bit of a gap then went to drama school in London and spent two years there. The Poor School in Kings Cross. I guess the dream was becoming an actress – that’s what I was planning on doing. It’s a really hard profession and you are predominately at the mercy of other people’s decision-making as to whether you get the part or not. I thought I can’t live a life like that: I want to be in control. So, I thought if I can generate something and I can do that then I don’t need anyone’s permission.
Makes sense and I suppose when you are acting, essentially you are reading someone else's lines.
Yeah, I can be myself on stage. The thing is, I like mimicking. I’ve always been a reasonably good mimic and my routine is pretty acted out anyway, so I get to utilise my acting skills on stage. It’s the best of both worlds. I think the most important thing was having control over what I did – or at least some control.
What do you love about comedy?
I love those moments when you really feel like you've connected with an audience. When people get it and you've managed to convey something in a way that just resonates; that commonality, that coming together of minds. There’s nothing like hearing a room full of people laugh – it’s just wonderful. One of my proudest routines was about Brexit. It was a really interesting time to be a comedian during the build up to 2016. A lot of comedians are left wing – it’s just the way it is – and there was a lot of quite lazy comedy around how stupid people were in voting for Brexit. There’s a lot of London-centric, south-centric, left-leaning comedians (and I'm left-leaning, very much left) but it was very interesting to see the heavy-handedness with which people were dealing with quite a divisive subject. I thought, how do you find a way of talking about this which connects everybody? I managed to write this whole routine about Brexit which related to a fly being trapped in a coffin. Every night I performed it, it got a round of applause. I was so proud because it spoke to both sides. Somehow it landed every night. We have more in common than we have differences, and I think if you can find those moments then you’re on to a winner
It sounds excellent. Is it on YouTube?
I think its on Next Up online.
You've got quite a dark take on funny.
Do you think?
Yeah, but I'm here for it.
I like that.
When I discovered you'd studied pyschology I thought, ok, that makes a lot of sense.
Well, this show I'm going to be doing next year is all about a sort of mid-life crisis and a minor nervous breakdown. Off the back of the pandemic I lost my hair and had a marital separation – or as we now call it (because we're back together), a gap year. That was quite a dark period in my life but out of that a lot of funny has come. I don't mind sharing it; I quite enjoy sharing it because I know a lot of people have been through similar things. As a women in comedy for over 20 years; as a gay women in comedy for over 20 years; as – now – a bald gay women doing comedy, people pre-judge you. I suppose this tour is quite personal but I’ve made it funny and I also know from talking to people who they have been through similar things that it’s good to realise you’re not alone.
There’s something very generous in offering your experience up for others.
Talking about the hair loss, I’ve had so many women come up to me afterwards, saying ‘this is what I’ve got, I haven't even told my husband I’ve got these patches’. It’s just connecting. Don't get me wrong, I'll throw in an arse joke as well, but its just nice to connect with people.
I know you've talked about alopecia being stress-related.
Oh, totally. I’ve got Alopecia Areata which is classified as an autoimmune condition. I know mine is triggered by stress. I’ve had it bad twice in my life, and both have been through times of heightened stress. When it fell out this time I could literally feel it coursing through my body and I knew all my hair was going to fall out and there was nothing I could do about it. Now its growing back in…I'm going to say, an interesting way. I look like a sort of weird punk badger.
Amazing. This is our optimism issue, so what are you optimistic about for 2023 personally and globally?
Well, personally I think by the end of 2023 I'll have a full perm. I’ve promised myself that when my hair grows back I'm gong to treat it like a princess. So my optimistic outlook for 2023 is a full, bouncing, bouffant hair.
I mean, thats already happening.
I really hope that in future we can start looking after the planet a bit better, that’s my big hope. That we can somehow realise what we've got before its too late and protect it.
I’m an Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conseravation Society and I recently hosted an event for them with a brilliant scientist about ‘forever plastics’ (PFAS). These are in everything; non-stick pans, anoraks, cosmetics and they don’t go away. They’re constantly building up and theres a petition, Stop Ocean Poison to get governments to put more restrictions on them and ban their use.
Finally, do you have a favourite joke?
Mine tend to be long drawn out routines but an old Tommy Copper joke will make me laugh; like ‘last week I cleaned out the attic with the wife and now I cant get the cobwebs out of her hair.’ Or, ‘I called the doctor to make an appointment because I’ve got a bad back, he said how flexible are you? I said I can’t do Wednesday.’ That sort of joke just makes me laugh.
Zoe will be at The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury on with the Bald Ambition Tour on 22 February. For further information and tickets, visit themillartscentre.co.uk