Exclusive Interview

NMP Live Meets Zoe Lyons

Award-winning stand-up comedian Zoe Lyons joined us at NMP Live where she shared how she uses comedy in a corporate environment and the gig she wished she'd said no to.

Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.

 

In conversation with Zoe Lyons

How did you get into performing?

I started performing at University. I did Psychology and it was mostly the English department that were doing plays and dramas and that sort of thing, I was quite unusual in that I wasn't studying English and I still saw myself as a bit of a twirly.

I started doing plays there. I say started doing plays, I pretty much made the props for a lot of shows because I’d audition but wouldn't get the part, but I was still desperate to be part of the thing, so I made a lot of props for things. And then slowly but surely, I got given little parts; I was usually the sort of shuffling maid, that sort of thing. And then when I left University, the thing I'd enjoyed most about being at University was taking part in these shows and I thought I really want to pursue it and I applied for Drama School.

I did a two-year course at Drama School after that where I learned the invaluable skills of being able to be a piece of corn in a field swaying in the wind.

People do ask me what I learnt at Drama School, but I really struggle to remember; it cost an awful lot of money and very few of my peers went on to do anything at all. And again when I was at Drama School I played the comedic roles, that's where I just naturally went to and once I left I realized you're very much at other people's whim and control if you want to be an actor or an actress you really are. You are relying on people going ‘your face, that role.’

I thought if I could take a bit of control over what I do maybe I could create work for myself, so I started going watching lots of stand-up and thought maybe I could do that.

I saw a lot of bad stand-up which made me think I could do it. I saw a lot of dodgy open mic nights above stinky pubs in London that gave me the confidence to go ‘I think I could be that bad.’

Can you remember your first paid stand-up gig?

I can remember my first ever gig as a stand-up and I'm in blind panic, absolute terror and fear mixed with excitement.

It was an open mic night in London in a pub called the King's Head in Crouch End, it’s still going. Open mic night was I think a Tuesday night, there was maybe 14 of us on the bill, maybe two extra members in the audience so it was mostly open mic’ers watching open mic'ers and I had some really dodgy, very badly put together material about weapons of mass destruction. I’m not even making that up, I don’t know what I was thinking!

It went surprisingly well. I mean I'm saying it went, but it went reasonably well. It went well enough for me to go, ‘I'm going to do that again’ and I did and then I just didn't stop.

I think the relief of starting to do something that I had admired for a long time was so great that I just thought nothing's going to stop me now. I had the confidence of ….do you ever watch a drunk person crossing the road and they do it with such blind confidence, that's how I approached my career. I had two good gigs and I though well this is it now, this is what I'm doing.

The other thing is I had no plan B, so that's a marvellous thing in life is to have very few options because you've got nowhere to fall back on.

As an observational comedian, have you always had an interest in people?

Yeah, I think I have always had an interest in people; I find people fascinating. I find watching people queuing fascinating, I could do it for hours. I could do that as a lab experiment. I find the dithering in supermarkets where people try to choose the shortest queue absolutely amazing. I love watching people getting on and off trains, I love watching people take ownership of things that isn't theirs, I know that sounds really weird. If you ever watch people on trains trying to keep a seat beside them empty with a bag, I find that fascinating, I really do.

I do routines about this now; in fact, I've started to incorporate psychology more and more back into my comedy because I do find it so very interesting. And of course, politically what's going on at the moment and it's all about being partisan and territorial and people being sort of very open to the idea of immigration. But they will be the people that will put a bag on a chair beside them going ‘I don't mind people as long as they're not sitting beside me on my journey to Slough’, it's fascinating.

How would you describe your style of comedy?

I suppose my stand-up style is…I perform routines as opposed to one-liners, predominantly. I animate it, I fill it, I like to bring characters into it. I'm quite physical onstage, I like to play act things out, it has almost a childish element to it but then I think you need to be confident in yourself as an adult to be able to portray your child's side.

There's a lot of stuff going on in the world at the moment and politics obviously features very heavily in comedy at the moment but there's a bit me that goes ‘I think we've reached peak politics.’ I try and find ways to describe things that are quite serious in a very non serious way.

In my last show, I managed to demonstrate the folly of Brexit by bringing in a Glaswegian drunken fly into a routine and it worked every time, so I don't know how I did that but that's what I do.

What skills do comedians need for corporate bookings?

I think being able to read a room is essential within a corporate environment. You can tell how far you can go and where you shouldn't go and so being able to make yourself slightly malleable within their environment, so they're getting the best of you but you're bringing the best of them out without going over those boundaries that are there. So being able to read a room and understand what the client really wants. 

Don't offend the CEO, you'll never get re-booked.

Have you performed at any unusual corporate events?

I think you learn as you go along in this career what you should and shouldn't take. I think being able to identify the ones where you should have said no.

The one I should have said no to was very early on in my career when I was asked to do, … I don't know whether you could describe this as a corporate booking, but it certainly wasn't a club environment. And I was asked to do 15 minutes of stand-up in a plumber's yard on the outskirts of Lewes to celebrate this plumbers yard branching out, I think they had some new sprockets or something. Which sounds bad enough and possibly you’d have gone ‘why did you say yes to that?’, I was very early in my career, it was also at 8 o'clock in the morning; you can imagine how well it went.

I was stood between a rack of high-vis vests and spanners and there were maybe 7 very confused looking plumbers just staring at me as I tried to do comedy at them really not to them, at them, I tried to do comedy at them at 8 o'clock in the morning to celebrate the launch of the new ballcocks or something.

It was memorable but then that's a very important lesson you learn in comedy, when you should say no as well.

What makes a great awards host?

I think comedians who have been working for a very long time have got used to working different rooms, different environments and I've got better at retaining people's attention. So, I find with corporate events it's about hitting all of those optimum's of being entertaining, of being professional but of keeping the night moving as well and getting the best out of the event and the attention in the room and celebrating people's achievements as well, its their big night.

Having fun with them, having fun with them and recognising that it's quite an exciting event for them, it's a big event for them, it's an exciting experience. And I guess as well as a comedian who's been doing it for many years, you get used to things not maybe going to plan and being able to deal with those aspects. You're often joined on stage by sponsors or presenters who are less familiar with the art of performing, so encouraging them.

You're the fun glue that keeps things together and to keep it moving.

If you're interested in booking Zoe Lyons you can enquire onlineemail us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our booking agents. For further information on Zoe, testimonials and video clips view her profile.

 

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I was very pleased with the service I received from NMP Live, the agent was very helpful and professional. I will definitely look to NMP Live in the future.
Nicole Hardaker, EAIE Conference Programme Coordinator
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