‘A happy society needs the arts – Expression is vital to being human’: 5 minutes with Zoe Lyons

Zoe Lyons is currently touring her critically acclaimed solo show, Mustard Cutter, direct from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It’s packed full of her trademark high energy, brilliantly observed routines and sharply written material. We grabbed five minutes with the award-winning comic to chat about how she got started in London, and how important it is to keep the arts accessible.

I attended The Poor School in London. It was the only way I could afford to go on and take a two-year course in Drama. I had already been to university and got a degree in psychology.

The Poor School course was designed so that you could hold down a job and train at the same time. It meant there were no real days off because we also trained at the weekends, and I was exhausted by the end of the two years.

The School was vital my development as an artist. Being able to go to drama school meant that by the end of it I really knew that I did want to try and make a living from being a performer.

I had done a lot of plays at university and began to toy with the idea of being an actress. I really like being on stage, I am – I guess – a show off plain and simple. I did play a lot of the more comedic roles at drama school and that’s when I began to think about doing stand up.

Affordable, accessible training is essential for the good of the nation. We’re an incredibly creative country and we have produced world-class talent across the arts. We have to invest in the future and let the next generation’s natural talent have the time and space it needs to grow and mature and become world class.

A healthy happy society needs the arts and the stimulation it provides.

Austerity measures around the arts could impact on young people and communities. Of course austerity is biting across the board and many more people will feel the unpleasant pinch on their budgets in the next five years. Places like local libraries, theatre and galleries – which are having their budgets cut – don’t just allow younger people to engage with culture, but they also help add so much to communities.

Expression is a vital part of being human. Since we first crawled out of caves we have wanted to sing, dance paint and capture what it is to be human being. Kids get so much from learning about the arts at a young age and making it harder and more expensive to take part hurts society as a whole I think.

I’m not exactly a ‘political’ comedian. I see my job first and foremost to make people laugh: my material isn’t going to attempt to change the world.

Comedy is a perfect place to highlight inequalities in society, if that is the sort of comedian you are – but we’re not all like that or that way inclined onstage. Knowing what you want to be on stage and being true to yourself are important factors. Doing material just because you think you ought to is wrong.

I don’t think I have the right skills set to do political material justice. My stuff occasionally skirts around the topic, but I do always put my own spin on things.

Zoe is performing her new show Mustard Cutter, tonight, 25 June, at the St James Theatre

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