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COMEDY: Joe Lycett on ‘cancelling’ himself, plastic waste and his love of puns

COMEDY: Joe Lycett on ‘cancelling’ himself, plastic waste and his love of puns

PA Features Archive/Press Association Images

As comedian Joe Lycett returns to fight the public’s battles as part of Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, Danielle de Wolfe discovers more about the series.
Legally changing your name to Hugo Boss in order to highlight the plight of the everyman is not exactly a run-of-the-mill occurrence.Comedian Joe Lycett carried out just such a stunt in March 2020, using his platform (he has almost two million followers on Twitter and Instagram combined) to draw attention to what can only be described as a David versus Goliath battle.

It followed a wave of intimidating cease and desist letters Lycett says the international fashion giant sent to charities and small businesses which were using the word “boss” in their title. “It’s the lawyers really, that I don’t respect,” reflects the 33-year-old of his fight for justice, “because I think, if you’re a lawyer, you’ve got to be pretty smart.

“You probably went to a decent university, you’ve got something about you. And it’s a power, I suppose, being smart – and with great power comes great responsibility.”

“If you get to the pearly gates, and God looks back and says, ‘What did you do with your time on Earth?’… ‘Well, I just sort of bullied small companies, on behalf of a behemoth’,” Lycett muses, predicting the likely response would be: “I’m not sure you’re coming in.”

Needless to say, with his comedy-meets-consumer show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, returning to Channel 4 for a third series, the comedian eventually “decided to go back to the Lycetts” and reverted to his family name.

What began as a stand-up set involving a “parking fine on Christmas Eve” has rapidly evolved into a show whose success, Lycett believes, stems from the fact “people enjoy the comedic anger” which is “relatable”. With past series featuring the comic being kicked out of receptions on a regular basis, Lycett says he attempted to be more “creative” and “adventurous” this time round.

The new show is far more studio-centric (due to Covid), but don’t be fooled, as he is quick to note that the risks taken this series are no less daunting than the last. “Things like Hugo Boss went bigger than we expected – and that’s great,” explains Lycett. “But then there’s a story on this show where I had to consult with a security firm about my safety afterwards and whether I needed extra security at my house and all this stuff.”

Admitting there are people who might want to resort to “fisticuffs”, he notes that “sometimes you do get surprised by people’s aggression”. “But I’m still going, I’m still alive,” he says defiantly. “They haven’t got me yet!”

The comedian says Covid has noticeably changed the demands of British audiences. “There’s an appetite for more positive stuff in the country, and I think we hoped to ride that,” he says. “We decided it would be nice to – as well as taking on naughty companies – champion other issues. So it’s not necessarily about one company doing a bad thing, it’s a ‘we can all do this good thing’.

“We’ve got a [segment] to do with plastic bottles – white and coloured PET plastic specifically – and how it doesn’t really contribute to the circular economy of recycling plastic, which involves me storming off a chat show,” he grins in reference to another recent stunt which made headlines.

When he appeared on daytime Channel 4 chat show Steph’s Packed Lunch in July, host Steph McGovern pointed out the hypocrisy of one such item of plastic being pictured next to the comedian in a photo. Declaring: “I didn’t realise I was on Newsnight,” before unclipping his microphone and storming off set, Lycett fooled the nation into thinking the spectacular tantrum was the real deal. “I sort of essentially cancelled myself,” he says. “I was watching people really jump on me. And it was quite a scary experience I suppose because you realise people are really looking to go, ‘Ah! We’ve got him! We’ve caught him out!’

“Lots of people still don’t believe it was a stunt,” he smiles, referring to the saga as a “very strange experience”. “I get that. I mean, I think that’s in all of us in some regard; we want to destroy things or watch things fall.” Describing the headlines and exposure surrounding the walkout as “wild”, Lycett says “obviously we weren’t giving any statements because we wanted to keep the thing rolling”.

The new series also looks at plastic waste more broadly, as Lycett takes to Britain’s seaside towns in a bid to raise awareness of ocean pollution. “A lot of coastal towns have a problem with these cheap body boards that are made of polystyrene,” says Lycett, explaining how many of them disintegrate in the ocean, leading people to abandon them on beaches. “I went to Bude and I met some lovely people there who are plastics campaigners, and opened my own rental shop for body boards called Rent Boy, which I was very happy with.

“I love a pun,” he says proudly. “We gave the boards names as well, like Craig Wavid. I mean, that just makes me very happy.” It’s clearly a subject close to the comedian’s heart, as he begins to share a flurry of pun-heavy advertising campaigns over his screen.

Pointing out a gripe that currently surpasses all others, Lycett says “companies that use really bad puns to advertise stuff” are a sure-fire way to rile him. “It started happening around Christmas – I clocked it about 10 years ago,” he says. “I’ve got loads of examples.” Pausing on one jewellery brand to voice his distaste for the catchphrase ‘Hello? Is it rings you’re looking for?’ the comedian gesticulates in mock outrage, saying, “It’s not even a pun!”

As for whether he’d ever willingly change his name again should the right brand come along, Lycett says he’s leaving the door open. “I’ll tell you who I definitely would change my name to – someone like Vidal Sassoon.

“Even if he’s not done anything bad, I’d just do that because I think that’s a better name than Joe Lycett.”

Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back returns to Channel 4 on Thursday, August 19.


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