“There’s something very addictive about being righteous and saying ‘I’m right and I’m going to show these baddies they’re wrong,’” says Joe Lycett, who has made a name for himself as the comedian that stands up for the little man to make a positive change in people’s lives, all while making people laugh.
As the host of comedy consumer affairs series Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, the comedian has campaigned on the behalf of many viewers, taking on big corporations and small-time fraudsters. “For me, it’s as much about the adrenaline rush of being like ‘I’ve got the bastards’ as opposed to any altruistic motivation,” he admits.
Reflecting on the show’s conception, Lycett explains, “it sort of happened by accident and came out of the email correspondence I was doing in my stand up.”
“I really miss the power of it, knowing that it can put people on the ropes a little bit,” he laughs. However, outing people for their wrongdoings isn’t without risks.
“When I’m taking on rogue traders, you don’t know who you’re pissing off and I do worry about that sometimes. But I also get very excited, I’m an idiot, I follow the excitement over the rational thing of, ‘Joe you might die here or be jailed.’”
Lycett laughs when he admits that although he’d obviously hate to be jailed, it would be rather amazing; “for the right story, it would be extraordinary."
While avoiding any run-ins, Lycett juggles his hectic TV schedule with his stand up career. Last year, he took home two RTS Programme Awards for Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back and presenting the craft competition series The Great British Sewing Bee, which he has now stepped down from.
The awards now take pride of place on the mantelpiece in the kitchen, which he fondly calls the Mosquito wing after convincing the Birmingham Lord Mayor Yvonne Mosquito to officially open his kitchen extension.
This year, Lycett is quick to express his admiration of fellow Presenter award nominee Munya Chawawa, who he praises for his talent and tenacity to make himself a success in his own way.
“It’s proof that if you let people be creative and explore without too much interference you end up with amazing work.”
Lycett has also produced amazing work that has led him down the unexpected path of being a champion of consumer rights.
“My parents have always been very moral people and instilled in me a sense of right and wrong and treating people fairly and with dignity,” Lycett explains.
Through his work, he recognises and accepts that people will see him as a political comedian, although he wouldn’t give himself that title. “I’m not out on marches the whole time or holding placards, I’m an activist in very specific and stupid ways.”
Lycett relies on the power of social media to get the attention of corporations to help instigate change, which he describes as his “only weapon”. He adds, “it’s not a guaranteed way of generating noise about something, but when used effectively, it can be very powerful.”
Earlier this year, Lycett went viral for his spoof of the Sue Gray report regarding Downing Street parties, which caused mass panic within the government.
The spoof report included mentions of dances called ‘Pass the Arsehole’ and cabinet ministers performing Pure and Simple by Hear’Say.
The report was signed off with the clearly fake email ItsAllSueGravyBaby@aol.com, however, some members of the government failed to realise it was a joke. “It’s hilarious because it’s so appalling,” says Lycett. “These are the people in control of people’s universal credit, pensions, the health care system and they’re scuttling around like it is actually The Thick Of It.”
Not content with just taking on the government, Lycett has turned his attention to multinational oil company Shell. He investigated if the oil giant is as eco-friendly as its advertising would make people believe for his recent documentary Joe Lycett vs The Oil Giant.
As a fuel consumer who readily admits he is guilty of log burning and driving a car, Lycett knew he didn’t have the moral high ground, so was careful not to make the documentary all about climate change. Instead, he wanted to focus on Shell’s hypocrisy and shine a light on their issues with greenwashing.
In a bid to stop people from tuning out, Lycett wanted to make it more fun than the average “doomsday doc”.
"...Which resulted in me shitting out my mouth,” laughs Lycett, referencing the advert he created for the documentary.
Lycett recognises that there are plenty of oil companies that are also guilty of greenwashing but focused on Shell because they were the most prolific and seemed like “a ripe target for a bit of fun”.
Having got a taste for taking part in a deeper dive format, Lycett is keen to do more.
“It’s riskier because you could potentially spend a lot of time on something and not get any results, but it’s worth it because you get to really understand a story and get fired up by it.”
Lycett recalls one review that described the documentary as “adult” and relishes the opportunity to do projects that he says are “more grown up and has more gravitas....a bit less silly, but still has good comedy in it.”
Next, Lycett wants to channel his energy into another important topic close to his heart.
“I want to do more things in the queer space, I think there’s still a problem in the British media with the way we talk about trans rights. Giving a platform to LGBT people that you might not otherwise see elsewhere is something I’d like to do.”
He believes once added, diversity can only grow and flourish and allows people to hear different, interesting stories and perspectives which only enrich culture and life.
“Bringing diversity to the screen is something that can never go backwards,” affirms Lycett.
Looking back, Lycett realises that one of the reasons he got into comedy was because of his sexual identity. Growing up, he saw that the traditional 9-5 working world wasn’t going to embrace people like him who were more ostentatious and did things differently.
“I have resented authority and the authority of big corporations from a young age,” laughs Lycett. "There are various routes to how I got to be the irritant I am today.”
Politics and consumer campaigning aside, Lycett has stepped into his new role as Channel 4's Travel Man, taking over from fellow comedian Richard Ayoade.
Taking on the presenting job was a no-brainer for Lycett as it gives him the opportunity to hang out with comedians more, something he misses since doing more TV work. With the production team based in Lycett’s hometown of Birmingham, he considers them a little family.
When talking about travel, Lycett believes it is essential to open up people’s horizons.
“Travel shows you different cultures and can inspire you, and I think it’s important to keep in touch with our neighbours.”
As for his ultimate guest and destination, “I would love to spend some time with Stephen Fry and pick his brain, get him to tell me everything he knows.”
He also recently met Ant and Dec, who he described as being very generous with their time, "so, I’d also like to go to Brazil with Ant and Dec!”