Elf Lyons is a very busy woman. As the leggy 22-year-old bounds into the room, her hair awry from the wind, she smiles the kind of exhausted smile that conveys just as much as the following hour of conversation. The self-described ‘theatre practitioner’ co-runs the theatre company Oddflock and comperes boutique night The Secret Comedians Club, whilst performing her own stand-up two or three nights per week. I’m just lucky she could fit me in.
‘I can’t do a gig every night because I purely don’t have the time, I can only commit to two or three nights per week. The competition is just so intense too; for The Secret Comedians Club I have twenty people emailing me every day and we only have six slots per night, so twelve per month.’ Running the night has greatly developed Lyons’ compering skills, useful when called up for a five or ten minute set. ‘I have a fluid approach to it – I’ll talk about certain things then use my compering skills to see what gets the laughs. My confidence stems from communicating first then comedy second.’
Next month will see Oddflock present their first production, Sitting With Thistle. The play is ‘viciously sad and so dark,’ centring around a family reunion gone wrong when a brother and sister are stuck alone in their Grandma’s house, as their Grandma has just died in the living room. ‘The play happens whilst the body is decomposing in the centre, the looming presence of the crazy grandmother.’ Lyons is more excited than nervous in the run-up to the show, having co-directed and co-produced it: ‘I’m so proud of it, the two actors are incredibly talented. We’re not a pretentious company, we’re learning as the play goes along but it’s the kind of play where as long as you capture the naturalism of it, you can’t touch it too much.’
…I’ve always played Bottoms….
All of this for a recent graduate who decided to do comedy aged fifteen to stand out from a crowd of ‘Juliet types – I’ve always played Bottoms.’ Her first gig was aged seventeen: ‘I only did it once a month, but the moment you do one gig, you’re a comedian and that’s it.’ A challenging career choice indeed, but Lyons protests that ‘everyone (at school) wanted to do Art History at Durham and have a happy structured life and do well for themselves. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to be scared.’
One thing Lyons is apparently unafraid of is sharing her foibles and faults with her audience who are invited to be her very best friends. ‘I need to make sure the way I deliver is as intimate and sincere as how I chat to my friend Skippy in the pub. I think it’s very good to feel totally happy with your shame.’ So happy that you don’t mind the Mayor of London listening to your tube erotica? ‘I had Boris on the second row absolutely gassing away, he loved it, loved all the tube stuff.’
…very well received at Camden Fringe…
Her show ‘Elf Lyons is a Pervert’ was very well received at Camden Fringe, but also a valuable learning experience for Lyons. ‘I learnt that every night was different and you can’t compare nights because the energy is different. But overall I was so proud of my first fifty minutes,’ so much so that Lyons looks to develop and perfect the show before taking it to Edinburgh Fringe next year.
Among her inspirations, Lyons counts French and Saunders – ‘my Nan had the one VHS and I watched that over and over again’ – Victoria Wood and Billy Connolly – ‘he’s an absolute God’ – and attributes her funny mother and grandmother to erasing any notion of gender imbalance or sexual tension in comedy. ‘With women on stage, we’ve moved on so much from the days of Victoria (Wood) and Jo (Brand) doing it, I don’t think I have as much difficulty as they may have had at the time, even Joan Rivers doing it as a woman.’
…Lyons’ brand of comedy is uniquely hers, due to the plethora of inspirations she draws from everyday life…
Although picking favourite new comedians isn’t easy, some names mentioned are Lou Sanders, Lindsey Sharman – ‘she does a lot of crazy characters’ – and John Kearns, winner of the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer. Lyons’ brand of comedy is uniquely hers, due to the plethora of inspirations she draws from everyday life: a comedy journal, everyday journal, keeping life as social as possible and testing funny lines on her friends is her recipe for success. ‘You want to end up feeling like with the audience, you’ve just picked up a conversation from a week ago, rather than being on a bad date.’
Aside from directing, producing, compering, organising and gigging, Lyons has some impressive ambitions for the future. ‘The plan is a slow burn; keep the comedy going, a couple of Oscar nominations in my forties, but I never win until I’m 89 and I’ll win an honorary one. I’ll have Emmys, Baftas and Tonys, before setting up a school and passing on. Oh, and adopting lots of different children and becoming the Angelina Jolie of the comedy world.’ Sounds ambitious, but you get the impression, as Lyons and her green beret run off to yet another meeting, that she’s going to do this and a whole lot more.
Sitting with Thistle is on at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre from 1 October until 19 October. Check out more about Oddflock via their website and take a look at The Secret Comedians’ website here.
Parts of the interview were edited for brevity and clarity.