In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned in passing that I met comedian and writer Elf Lyons at Soho Theatre in London. She ate pizza.
“I came up with this world…” she told me. “This sitcom idea. I got really excited, then realised all the tangents and all the character layers couldn’t really exist in a one hour play, so I’ve written lots of different episodes. And I’m doing the first 45-minute pilot, as it were, next Thursday for three nights at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.
“It’s based around me and my sister – two siblings stuck in a country farm. There’s this flu – Duck Flu – which turns people into ducks, but human-sized ducks. The only way you can tell if you have not got it is to drink tea. If your body can cope with tea, then you clearly have not got it. If you don’t want tea, then you have got the infection and you are going to have to be killed.”
“Can’t you,” I suggested, “just look in a mirror to see if you are a duck?”
“No,” said Elf, “because it starts with a sneeze, then a cough, then a quack…”
“Not a waddle or a quack, but a glide and a whistle and a snowy white back?” I suggested.
“Basically,” said Elf, “the two sisters are together and they’re slightly psychopathic. They are going to kill their mum. They have killed their dad – not because they had to, but because they needed to, because they would turn into ducks.”
“So it’s written as social realism,” I suggested.
“Yes,” said Elf, “Me and my family have this conversation all the time about what we would do in an apocalypse if someone died. On my computer, I have saved everyone’s funeral songs and what readings we would want. I want to make sure, if anything did happen, I would have it already organised. That may be a bit perverse, but in a nice way.”
“Where do you come from?” I asked.
“Crookham Hill in Kent. We have lots of horses and sheep and we were thinking: Oh no! If there were an apocalypse, who would look after the horses? And the sheep? And we’ve got dogs. Where would we move everybody? And what weapons would you use? Duck Flu spawned from that. And there are also some evil vegans in it.”
“Why evil vegans?” I asked.
“I don’t trust vegans,” explained Elf. “I remember when I joined my Vegan Society at Bristol University they were lovely but I sort-of expected the Tales of The Unexpected music to play any second.”
“Tales of The Unexpected is before your time,” I said.
“My mum,” explained Elf, “when she was little, used to watch Tales of The Unexpected on TV and you know the woman who dances in the titles? My Granddad Squeak, who’s my mum’s dad, told my mum that it was her mum dancing – that it was Nanny Squeak.”
“You have a granddad called Squeak?” I asked.
“Yes. Because they had a cat called Squeak and my Nanny and Granddad Station – my dad’s mum and dad, they…”
“Station?” I asked.
“Yes. They always came down to visit us by train.”
“So we have a family here,” I said, “who have a daughter called Elf, and grandparents called Squeak and Station. What does your dad do?”
“He’s an economist – He’s the Economic Advisor to Boris Johnson.”
“But he’s not attached to Boris as such?” I asked. “He’s attached to whoever the Mayor of London happens to be?”
“Yes. He’s politically neutral.”
“But mildly eccentric?” I asked.
“My family are quite eccentric,” said Elf. “Well, they ARE eccentric.”
“Siblings?” I asked.
“I have a little sister called Lulu. Her real name is Marie-Louise Kezia, but everyone calls her Lulu. She used to be a horse rider.”
“Yes. She was always away horse-riding but she had an epiphany after she had an accident and realised she wanted to help people. So now she is 21 and at university doing bio-medicine. My brother Gerard is 17 and at school doing his A-levels. He looks like a young George Michael from Wham.”
“Gerard seems to be a very normal name for your family,” I said.
“Well, he likes to be nick-named Chat.”
“Because he’s so witty.”
“Interesting family,” I said. “You were called Elf as a child?”
“No. I was just Emily-Anne but, when I went to university – when I first went to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, when I was 18 – I was volunteering at the Forest Fringe as an usher and loads of the guys who would come and buy tickets would say: Oh, you’re very elf-like.”
“Loads of them?” I asked.
“Loads,” replied Elf. “Because I had very short hair and I was sitting down. People always assume I’m going to be really short when they meet me.
“The Fringe was mind-blowing and I was staying on my own. I remember sitting in the Underbelly garden and then going up to somebody and saying: I’m really sorry, but do you want to be my friend? I don’t know anyone and I don’t know where to start.
“Then I met this really lovely Australian comic called Daniel Walmsley who was working on Mark Watson’s 24-Hour Show, so I got to sneak in and watch that and I met all these people and you know all those films where the kid gets the job at the Amusement Park and he meets all these kookie characters?”
“Your hair is slightly red,” I observed.
“I’m naturally a brighter ginger, because my dad is Irish. But I like dying my hair every now-and-again just to… to do something exciting.”
“And you have another show you are preparing…?” I said.
“Being Barbarella. My new solo show.”
“But you are going to need a blonde wig for that?” I suggested.
“Yeah, you know the opening of the film? She takes off all her clothes. She takes off her spacesuit and her helmet and her hair just flows everywhere and I’m going to re-create that. I will take off my spacesuit quite slowly.”
“Still my beating heart,” I said.
“The whole show,” explained Elf, “is about me trying to be sexy, but getting it wrong. And I talk a lot about sharks.”
“Because I love sharks. The first book I ever read was about sharks. I think they’re amazing.”
“But you wouldn’t want one for a pet,” I suggested.
“My family adopted a bluetip reef shark for me for Christmas.”
“Where does it live?” I asked.
“In the sea.”
“I don’t know. I have a certificate on my wall. I need to re-adopt it. I have got a pen pal and we have been swapping advice and she has told me I should adopt a donkey and I told her to adopt a shark.”
“Do you like donkeys?” I asked.
“I think you can’t be too judgmental,” said Elf.
“So…” I said, “Being Barbarella…”
“It’s basically about me trying to be my own idol and trying to be a sexy comedian.”
“Was Barbarella your main teenage fantasy?” I asked.
“No. My fantasy was Jane Eyre. Nanny Squeak took me to see a 4-hour production of Jane Eyre: The Musical – at the Bob Hope Theatre in Eltham. Mr Rochester’s dog was a man dressed as a gimp. In a gimp suit. It had nothing to do with the show. I’m pretty sure it was Jane Eyre: The Musical. It might have been a really weird pantomime. Do you want a bit of pizza?”
“You don’t like the crusts?” I asked.
“They’re not fun. If they gave me butter I would eat them, but it’s too late now.”
“You met up with Joz Norris the other day,” I said.
“We went back to my flat and just sat in my room and we ate Magnum ice creams and drank non-alcoholic beer and talked about Socrates. I’ve been reading about Socrates in The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton. It’s really good.”
“You should do a show with Joz,” I suggested.
“I like Joz’s comedy,” said Elf, “because he allows himself to be vulnerable. There is that thin layer that’s so fragile between… You know when people talk about something that’s slightly dark? If you put too much pressure on it, it turns away from being funny to putting the audience in a difficult position.
“We were talking about the difference between comics who write specifically to get a laugh and those whose by-product of what they are talking about is the laugh. Because, when I write, my objective isn’t always that there is the laugh at the end, but the laugh will come because the things I’m interested in talking about are funny in themselves.”
I will be going to see Elf’s shows.