Zoe Lyons: Clownbusting at the Brighton Comedy Festival

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Performing a home-town festival gig ahead of a full tour next year, Zoe Lyons finds herself in storytelling mode. Following some bubbly banter with the audience, she eases back into a small handful of extended anecdotes, reclaiming embarrassing incidents from her past in the name of comedy.

Although a lively and affable performer, Lyons’s default position is one of irritated negativity at this world full of idiots, yet she finds herself too awkward and middle-class to do anything more than mutter under her breath – or harrumph at a room full of strangers.

Her gripes will be familiar: she hates late-night infomercials, gets irritated at traffic jams with no apparent cause and is bewildered how a cheap tourist trinket can ever hope to capture the majesty of the world’s great natural monuments.

She’s entertainingly dismissive on her chosen topics, occasionally emerging with a gem of a line. But what is harder to discern is a unique attitude. Exactly what is a defining Zoe Lyons jokes or routine? Her stilted, over-deliberate posturing as she delivers the material adds to the impression this is a triumph of technique over inspiration.

The tone is mostly workmanlike, rather like an irascible newspaper columnist being wittily grumpy on cue. The monologue is fluid, the writing light and the topics universal, but it lacks distinction.

Even her personal stories can fall into the same trap. A trip to Amsterdam starts with her pondering whether she should sample the cultural delights of the Rijksmuseum before – surprise, surprise – she decides to get high. The ensuing anecdote unfolds engagingly, but doesn’t stand out. It’s also weakened by her treating an obviously exaggerated incident of hotel-room theft as true, which undermines the integrity of the rest of the story.

More dope-related shenanigans come with her teenage trip to Glastonbury, and her discovery of ‘magic’ fudge. Again, she proves herself a safe pair of hands: reliably smile-worthy, if not a stand-out.

But the tale that does set her apart – the one that could be the distinctive calling-card she needs – is a hilariously humiliating encounter on Brighton’s nudist beach. The scene is vividly, and amusingly set, her indignity is real, and there’s a very funny postscript about the annual naked bike ride through the city.

It’s a cracking story – which, crucially, feels like it could only have happened to her – and is entertainingly told, with several great gags emerging from the events. This is definitely the sort of hilarious personal yarn which, if she can repeat, will make her name.

Review date: 23 Oct 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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