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Joe Lycett: ‘Brands don’t mind bad press, but they don’t like to look silly’

The comedian turned consumer champion on the return of his TV show Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, storm-offs, taking on major business – and why the quickstep won’t be his next challenge.

Joe Lycett is calling The Big Issue from his kitchen while lino-printing presents for his TV show’s crew (“It’s very therapeutic,” he says). But it’s not just any kitchen. It’s the Mosquito Wing, named after Yvonne Mosquito, a former lord mayor of Birmingham, who Joe harangued to officially open it. Of course, she initially refused.

But that’s the thing about Joe. If he wants to do something – whether that’s a kitchen inauguration, or fighting big business – he’s stubborn enough (and silly enough) to get it done…

The Big Issue: Your consumer-affairs show Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back has returned. What’s been your favourite victory?

Joe Lycett: The most exciting one for me was in series one when Claire Leslie had been scammed out of £8,000 and we managed to get it back for her. It was the first time we’d had a victory like that, and it felt like a real moment for us. I thought, “Ah, this could be effective, this show…”

You made headlines storming off Steph’s Packed Lunch and got people talking about coloured PET plastic bottles. Is it despairing doing big stunts just to engage people on issues?

Often with the things on this show, [you have to ask] why has it taken me changing my name or creating a media buzz for the company to understand what they’re doing is wrong? Why has it taken all this effort for them to do the right thing? It is possible to run a profitable business and not be a bastard. Lots of people do it and there are lots of good companies out there. It baffles me sometimes.

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There was a big fallout when people thought the walkout was real (it wasn’t – Steph McGovern knew). What was that like?

It was very interesting, not just the media, but how social media responded to me. There was that real sense of ‘we’ve got him’. I’m guilty of it to a certain degree, when you see a celebrity or a public figure like Matt Hancock get caught out, we bay for blood. My friend texted me and said it was a bit like watching your own funeral. Just people really going in for me, saying I’m a liar and a hypocrite.

The storm-off itself was fun, right?

I loved it. I recommend everyone storming off a chat show once in their life. It’s like going on a hot-air balloon or some crazy ride at Alton Towers. You get a real whoo-like feeling. The footage of me straight afterwards when I’ve come out of the studio is like I’ve taken some sort of recreational drug. I’m buzzing. It’s such an amazing thrill to humiliate yourself publicly.

Do you get nervous?

I do get very nervous before the stunts. It’s complicated psychologically, as someone so used to immediate feedback, and it goes against everything in my instinct to piss off the person in front of me. But if it’s for the right thing then I don’t mind feeling uncomfortable or making someone else feel uncomfortable.

Do you think comedy has a unique power to enrage businesses?

Brands don’t mind getting bad press, but they don’t like to look silly. Nobody likes to be made fun of, other than comics, weirdly, whereas brands like to portray these very serious, very pretentious exteriors and don’t have much of a sense of humour. Hugo Boss definitely didn’t…

Ah yes, when you legally changed your name to Hugo Boss in protest at the number of cease-and-desist letters they sent to small businesses…

I remember the statement they gave out. There was no humour in it. They were clearly pissed off about it. And good. That’s what I’m here to do.

‘I think Anne Robinson sees herself as the non-Brummie me’

Was it easier getting dinner reservations when you were called Hugo Boss?

I think so. There were a few weeks where there was a lot of goodwill towards me. When I went on the Victoria Derbyshire programme to talk about it, as I left the studio this white van with white van lads in it pulled up next to me and just shouted, “Hugo Boss!” and cheered at me. And I thought, “Ah, something’s happened there. I’ve created some sort of monster.”

Have you always wanted to stick it to ‘the Man’?

Somebody said I speak truth to power, and I disagree because that suggests power doesn’t know the truth. And it absolutely does – it’s just trying to get away with being naughty. I was always very aware of the working world when I was a kid. How it treated my parents, how often companies didn’t respect their workers and saw them as fodder – so, it came out of that. Companies operate to create profit, that’s their whole existence. When they operate on that basis, they won’t be thinking about the wellbeing of their customers or the people who work for them.

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People now stop you in the street to ask for consumer advice! What should we do when companies or organisations try to take advantage of us?
Complain. That’s the main thing you can do. Kick up a fuss. A lot of companies and institutions, local councils, all of those, are hoping to get away with the naughtiness because no one’s calling them out on it. I think the minute you start to call
them out on it, it starts to chip away at them and they can’t get away with it. And then there are lots of resources that people aren’t aware of like the ombudsman, the small claims courts, legal aid, those sorts of things. But the key thing is if you see
wrongdoing happening, talk about it.

Do you see yourself as the Brummie Anne Robinson?

I think Anne Robinson sees herself as the non-Brummie me. I worked with her once, actually. I really respond well to older women, particularly if they’re a bit rude to me. I love that energy. I love Kim Woodburn for the same reasons because she’s brilliantly vile to people.

You’re going back on tour next year. Are you excited?

There’s something pure and honest about stand-up. It’s a beautiful art form. So I’m chuffed to be back doing it and really enjoying the process of finessing the show. With the TV shows, teams of people check each joke because Channel 4 don’t want to get sued. Cowards!

Speaking of stand-up, comedians do well on Strictly. Would you?

No, thank you. They did actually ask, and I had to check with mum that she approved of me saying no and she gave her blessing. I’m not that interested in learning to dance but, if I was, I’d just go and learn to dance quietly somewhere. I already feel a little bit more famous than I’d like to be. I’ll leave it to the young ones. I’m happy doing linocuts in my kitchen.

We’ve all had time to think over the past year. What’s been on your mind?

I’ve been very worried about the state of my industry and the creative industries in general. There’s a sense it’s a frivolous thing. That we don’t need the arts, that we don’t need comedy or theatre. For me, the creative arts is the whole thing. The whole reason for being here is to make things. I’ve been very worried about that and a lot of people in my industry, which is full of people who are outcasts and misfits. Where do the misfits go, the people who are unusual, who don’t necessarily fit into the traditional working world? But then it was a more selfish things, like where am I going to get my wine from this evening.

You painted a portrait of a figure who summed up 2020 for our Christmas issue. You chose Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. How has his 2021 gone?

Well, I mean, he seems to be having a marvellous time going up in space. Why not? Yeah, he’s a weird one, isn’t he? There’s an amazing Twitter account which is called ‘HasBezosDecided’ and basically he – and I’m sure this is true – has enough money to end world poverty. And so each day it tweets saying Jeff Bezos has decided not to end world poverty today. It’s an active decision, which is really smart, really funny. AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], the brilliant American politician, said there are no good billionaires. I’m inclined to agree.

I think by the time you’re getting to those sorts of figures, somebody surely is losing out there. So yeah, not necessarily a huge Bezos fan, believe it or not. But I am a sucker for Amazon. God, it’s so convenient! Urgh!

You’re all over the internet as being a big West Brom fan, so do you have any predictions for the season ahead?

I mentioned that once, I’m now on their Wikipedia page as a notable fan, which shows you how essentially desperate they are for fans. As a West Brom fan, who’s been to one and a half games, I think we’re gonna win this series. This series? It’s
becoming clear that I don’t know anything about football.

You presumably don’t have any strong opinion on the Baggies’ arch-rivals Aston Villa selling Jack Grealish to Manchester City then?
Jack Grealish, he’s got lovely legs. And whatever he wants to do with those legs is up to him.

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back is on Channel 4 on Thursdays at 8pm and on All 4.

Tickets for his tour More, More, More! How Do You Lycett? How Do You Lycett? are available at joelycett.com/comedy

@simonjward

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