Returning for her 13th year, Zoe Lyons knows the Fringe inside and out, from the pressure to the penguins

If we overlook the 1989 student play she appeared in, Zoe Lyons has been coming to the Fringe since 2005. This year, the award-winning comic returns to Edinburgh with her new show Entry Level Human. We talk failure, success and organic eggs with Zoe.

What would today’s Zoe have told first-time-at-Edinburgh-Fringe Zoe?

Don’t lose sight of what you’re doing and don’t be too bothered about how well other people are doing. Or, rather, how well they say they are doing. Don’t get bogged down in the ridiculous competitiveness of it all. On the circuit comics are usually very supportive. We’re a relatively small number of people doing a strange job dotted around the country.
And then you get us all concentrated at the Fringe and you are looking at each other’s faces and each other’s queues for a month. That’s when all supportiveness goes out the window and it’s every man for himself.

Do you have any sort of pre-performance Edinburgh ritual?

I like a good fifteen-minute walk to my show. That clears my head. I hate having to rush to get to the show. I used to have little lucky trinkets but I kept losing them and that made me anxious.
I figured that if I got rid of them then the potential source of anxiety would not be there in the first place.

Fringe accommodation: heaven or hell?

For the last three years I have stayed in a granny flat under a lovely house in Newington. The owners go away sailing and I look after their chickens. It’s like having a smallholding. I have bribed people with organic eggs for tickets to shows before. Apparently, the hens have stopped laying this year. But at least there will be four decent Sunday lunches.

Can you still rock the late party nights?

I used to go hell for leather. There was one Fringe when there was not one day I got home without the sun being up. At the end of it, you’re a scurvy-riddled wreck. These days, I tend to be very good for the first couple of weeks and don’t drink. Then I slowly unravel. When I started, I also used to do all of the gigs. All of them; including the pointless 3am concerts where you go on stage and the front row have just been sick on themselves. Now I know that I don’t have to do that.

If you could be anyone else at the Fringe for a day, who would you be?

I would be one of the penguins at the zoo. I remember seeing a penguin parade and thought it was better than anything I’ve seen at the Fringe. It has physical theatre, clowning and they get a nice lunch at the end of it. And they get a huge audience. Much bigger than my audience.

What is your most humbling Fringe memory?

The first solo show I did took a while to find its audience. At one show, I think I had five people in. As I left my basement venue I found myself at the end of the queue for Simon Amstell. His 800-strong queue snaked the whole way around the Pleasance Courtyard. It was pissing with rain and I just had that feeling of complete and utter failure. That same year, I was nominated for Best Newcomer so I had my lowest point and my highest point that year.

WHERE & WHEN

Zoe Lyons: Entry Level Human, Gilded Balloon, 1-26 August, 5.45pm, from £6

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