Things are looking up for actress — and former High Pointer — Jenn Lyon
For the daughter of a preacher, actress Jenn Lyon doesn’t exactly meet the church’s definition of holy.
The former High Pointer has an undeniably irreverent sense of humor and a sometimes salty vocabulary, and in her best-known role on TV — the one that gave her acting career a much-needed foothold — she played a sexy barmaid who appeared, shall we say, scantily clad in a number of scenes.
“I think my dad would have preferred I wore more clothing,” Lyon says with a chuckle, “but you can’t have it all.”
So is she holy? No.
But is she wholly devoted to this thing called acting? Absolutely. It’s been a part of her since her days in High Point, where she performed in church plays, school productions and with High Point Community Theatre.
“I remember when I did my first theater in High Point, with High Point Community Theatre,” Lyon says during a telephone interview from New York City, where she now lives. “We did ‘Godspell.’ I was only 15 — I looked older, though — and I played Mary Magdalene, the prostitute role. They had to call and ask my dad if it was OK, since I was only 15. It’s always been sort of a dicey thing with me. My poor father.”
Lyon’s “poor father” is the Rev. Ken Lyon, former pastor of First United Methodist Church in High Point, who now pastors a church in Matthews. The Lyons lived in High Point during the 1990s, and Jenn attended Ferndale Middle School and High Point Central High School before her father was transferred to a church in Charlotte.
After graduating from high school, she ended up at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she graduated in 2003. Then it was off to New York to launch her acting career.
“(UNCSA) is such a fantastic program, because after you graduate they take you to New York and have you audition for agents and casting directors,” Lyon explains. “Based on that audition, people call you in and say, ‘I want to represent you,’ or ‘We want you to audition further.’ So I did that and got an agent, and slowly but surely I’ve made my way.”
For the better part of a decade, Lyon worked in theater and formed her own comedy troupe — while working odd jobs to help pay the bills — but within the past couple of years she has broken into television, landing a couple of high-exposure roles on the FX network.
First came the role of Lindsey Salazar, a shotgun-wielding bartender on the network’s award-winning series “Justified,” which revolves around the life and career of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant). During seasons three and four, Lindsey was the Kentucky lawman’s love interest, a role that gave Lyon a lot of screen time and catapulted her career to a new level.
“It was a big deal,” the actress says. “It was the first time I had done a recurring role on TV, and that sort of exposure is a really big deal. A guest starring role is just one shot, but for people to see you develop over time, and to be in a show people love so much is just invaluable.”
As Lyon mentioned, her father — and her mom, Lydia, whose father was a preacher — probably didn’t care for her love scenes, but they understand such scenes sometimes come with the territory.
“They’ve seen me play everything from a 1940s lounge singer to a contemporary rich doctor — it just runs the gamut — and they’ve always been very supportive,” Lyon says.
The role on “Justified” led to Lyon’s role on another FX show, the new sitcom “Saint George” (Thursdays, 9 p.m.). She stars opposite the show’s creator and executive producer, popular comedian George Lopez.
Lyon plays Mackenzie, the all-American ex-wife of Lopez’s character, with whom she has a son. According to Lyon, the show’s humor stems from Lopez’s struggle to balance the two cultures in his life — the parenting demands of his country-club-type ex-wife and the cultural expectations of his overbearing Mexican-American mother.
“It’s such a great show,” Lyon says. “...You’ve never seen this kind of mixed family on TV before. I think it’s really inventive and funny — the writing is so sharp. It’s also heartwarming, just an interesting mix of culture and situation.”
The show, which debuted last month, has been getting mixed reviews.
“We’re building an audience, and we’re hoping people will stay tuned and give the show a chance to develop and grow,” Lyon says.
Meanwhile, Lyon can also been seen playing Cheryl Hines’ sister, Georgia, in the current season of ABC’s hit series “Suburgatory,” and has appeared in “Army Wives,” the Emmy Award-winning comedy “Louie,” and HBO’s acclaimed telepic, “Phil Spector.”
Lyon has one other iron in the fire, too — her comedy sketch troupe, called Poykpac, which produces original online humor and has received national attention from the likes of “The Today Show” on NBC, MTV and IFC.
“I’ve always loved making people laugh,” Lyon says. “My brother was very math- and science-oriented, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t the brains of the operation. But I always loved making my mom laugh or acting up in church, much to the chagrin of my father. Anything I could do to get a laugh really excited me from an early age.”
Poykpac, which was founded about seven years ago, has produced humor content for leading online comedy sites such as Funny Or Die and College Humor, and its YouTube channel has racked up an impressive 80 million views and counting.
“It’s been great,” Lyon says. “For the first time in my life, I can pay my bills acting and writing, and that’s a real good feeling. People call us now, and that’s been great. We’ve made an empire of fart jokes, and I just can’t believe it — yet another thing for my dad to be proud of.”
All kidding aside, Lyon says she’s very happy with where her career is right now, and where she thinks it’s headed. She hopes to transition to the big screen at some point, too.
“I audition for stuff — I just haven’t gotten anything yet,” she says. “But I’d love to do movies if they’ll have me. I just want to be a working actress, and maybe even pay my parents back for all the grief I’ve caused them over the years. That would be wonderful.”
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Want to watch?
“Saint George,” featuring George Lopez and former High Pointer Jenn Lyon, airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on FX.