‘I have a villain’s face’ declares Zoe Lyons, searching for the coffee hidden under the foam of her cappuccino. ‘I know in twenty years from now I’ll make a very good Cruella de Vil,’ she continues. I can’t imagine Zoe as a villain. She seems so happy, so amiable.
You’d be wrong to think that this award-winning comedian lacks guts, however. As I learn from talking with Zoe, in the jungle that is the comedy circuit, sometimes you’ve got to bear your teeth and fight for what you want.
So, where did this comedienne’s love of comedy start? She looks down into her coffee and smiles as she tells me of watching Billy Connolly videos as a child. ‘I just always loved stand-up as a kid,’ she says. ‘We were allowed to stay up late and watch it as a family.’
Lyons’ obsession with comedy soon triggered her to make her own gags. ‘It sounds really naff, but I would meet the parents outside school and it was my challenge to make them laugh.’ Those first laughs that Zoe got from the bewildered parents of her primary school were to set her on a path to become one of Britain’s favourite female comediennes.
The path she took was, however, full of detours and dead-ends. On leaving university, Zoe remembers she found herself ‘generally a bit lost… I got to a point where I was like “This isn’t my life!”’.
Despite these doubts, Zoe began to do open-mic slots at London comedy clubs and was eventually spotted by a comedy promoter. Through hard work and determination she finally realised her dream career.
Despite Lyons having become a fixture on the comedy circuit, she is still very much aware of the need to stay ahead of the game. Last week she starred on ‘Mock The Week’, which served as a harsh reminder that the comedy world has a ruthless edge.
‘It’s so competitive,’ she tells me. ‘People just bite each other’s heads off, but you have to just laugh and smile through it.’ Zoe bites the last of her panini and then smiles.
As a female comedian, Lyons has had to smile through a lot. The backward thinking that ‘women can’t be funny’ is still very much prevalent in the industry.
And it isn’t just the guys who believe women don’t have a funny bone: ‘Female members of the audience come up to you and say “I never knew women could be funny!”’ says Zoe, rolling her eyes. ‘You just want to say “you’re stupid, you obviously have a level of thinking that you’re happy with and you don’t want to take it further.”’
It’s clear to me by now that the Brighton-based comedienne knows how to form a good put-down. I ask her about the dreaded heckler, a fearsome beast to all comedians.
‘I have had cutting heckles,’ she says rather seriously, then a twinkle forms in her eye. ‘Someone shouted “show us your tits” – it wasn’t so much cutting as it was a bit retro really and I was like “Really?! They aren’t that great…”’ Zoe lets out a roaring, infectious laugh.
It’s time for Zoe to leave the café and brave the cold winds of the North Laines. Before she leaves I ask her if there is anything else she would like to achieve in her career, ‘I would like to get to the point where I have my own tour’ she replies ‘That would be very nice.’ With Zoe Lyons’ feisty charm and disarming wit I wouldn’t doubt her realising her ambitions.
Zoe performs at Bent Double, a gay-friendly comedy night at Komedia once a month.
Go to zoelyons.co.uk for up-to-date gig information.