Comedian Zoe Lyons on cancel culture and having a mid life crisis – PinkNews

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Zoe Lyons. (Supplied)
“I’ve always said that in the right hands and right intention you can make jokes about anything,” say the comedian Zoe Lyons, as she prepares to return to stand-up.
As a gay woman who’s been in comedy for two decades, Zoe Lyons has seen huge change.
“When I first started out just being a woman on stage was enough for some people. I often had audiences where blokes would just fold their arms or turn away or walk out. It was a constant battle,” she tells PinkNews
“People always assumed you were a gay woman anyway when you were a comedian and would think: ‘Well she’s obviously gay and probably quite angry’.”
“You would never have more than one woman on the bill, that was enough diversity. Now it is so different and as a result comedy is better. Now people can talk freely and openly about whatever they want.”
Arguably, certain comedians – those who are cis, straight men – have always been able to talk about whatever they want on stage.
As of late, many of these men have come under scrutiny for punching down on marginalised groups.
Comedians such as Ricky Gervais and Dave Chappelle have faced backlash for anti-trans jokes for years. Over the summer, discourse was sparked at Edinburgh Fringe Festival after controversial comedian Jerry Sadowitz had his show cancelled for “racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny.”
“Jerry has been going for years and years and years,” Lyons argues, “and he’s always had a particular style and to suddenly get a bit offended by what he’s doing is a bit odd. If you’ve chosen to go there you know what you are getting into.”
At the end of the day, Lyon thinks “nothing’s off the table, as long as the intent is right”. Although she does clarify “lazy punching down” is “distasteful” and “not funny”, she does sometimes think audiences “deliberately take offence.”
“I’ve witnessed audiences cherry picking words out of routines or not listening to the whole thing and then take offence and that’s lazy of the audience,” she says.
However, she gets “equally angry with comedians who pick a subject that they actually haven’t got the skills to deal with”.
“You can always feel intent and it takes responsibility from both parties,” she adds.
Lyon’s own material is much more focused on self-deprecation, anyway. Her new tour Bald Ambition is an honest look at the mid life crisis of a 50 year old gay woman, which included buying not one, but two sports cars.
That is until Lyons saw a middle aged man with a combover driving the same brand in a car park and decided enough was enough. 
It was during this stressful time that Lyons’ alopecia, which causes hair loss, made a reappearance in her life. It was insecurity around this condition that made the comedian consider whether she would ever return to the stage again. 
“There was a real feeling that I just didn’t want people to look at me. I didn’t want to be on stage and it took a long time for me to get over that feeling and use it as the main sell of my tour,” she says.
In fact, Lyons acknowledges that people’s understanding of alopecia transformed after the infamous Will Smith-Chris Rock slap.
Smith slapped Rock at the Oscars after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. 
“I watched that live and thought: ‘Oh this will be useful.’ I don’t have to explain to people anymore on stage what alopecia is because most people know what it is because of the news stories around that.”
As households across the country locked down in 2020, Lyons also decided to move away from her partner of 23 years, Sindy.
“The pandemic offered this time to have a look at our lives and I had a very classic midlife crisis,” Lyons admits, “hitting menopause, losing all of your work in one day. It was a very stressful time. 
“We separated for one year and I hadn’t lived on my own for years. It didn’t go well. Turns out I’m not great at living on my own.”
After some time apart, Lyons and her partner did reconcile and are “back together in a very different way.”
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“We sort of think of it as our gap year now,” Lyons jokes, “we are very grateful for the time apart and because we have been together for a long time shaking things up was valuable.”
Her tour covers the separation, and for Lyons it fills a much-needed ga. 
“I think because there is so much more queer representation in press and media, it does tend to be skewed towards younger people and them having confidence in themselves. [Older women] sort of get forgotten a little bit. We slide out the other side.
“It’s common to hear of husbands leaving wives and vice versa but it is less represented in the older queer community.”
Lyons hopes audiences realise it is OK to “laugh at even the darker periods of your life” believing there is such “strength and vulnerability” in sharing life experiences on stage. 
Zoe Lyons’ Bald Ambition tour kicks off in February 2023.
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