The comedian and artist and TV presenter and (somewhat reluctant) social justice warrior closed the year in even more spectacular fashion than the vivacious ensembles he is accustomed to wearing when he called out David Beckham. The former England football captain had spent the past two decades courting the gays, then sold his ally status for a hefty pay cheque (rumoured to be in the tens of millions) to be the face of Qatar — where same-sex relations are illegal.
The stunt began with Joe threatening to shred £10,000 that would otherwise be going to charity if David Beckham did not address his endorsement deal of the country that punishes gay relations with the death sentence. Beckham remained silent, and the money — along with his Attitude cover and Beckham’s gay icon status — was shredded. Of course, the money wasn’t actually destroyed. “I would never be so irresponsible,” Joe said in a video that went viral, revealing the money had indeed been donated to two LGBTQ+ charities.
This is not the first time Joe has become a champion for good. Through his Channel 4 TV show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, he has taken on big business when it has trampled over the public’s rights, challenging companies like Hugo Boss and Shell, among others.
Of course, the government has not escaped a lashing from the comedian’s razor-sharp tongue, with Liz Truss and the Home Office’s immigration policy all falling under Joe’s scrutiny. Needless to say, Joe Lycett has more than earned his place in this year’s Attitude 101 Media & Broadcast category.
Presenter, comedian, artist… how would you describe your career to a stranger you’ve just met who, for some bizarre reason, has no idea who Joe Lycett is?
I’d make some sort of shit joke about Julian Clary and then ultimately refuse to answer any more questions, directing them to my website/Wikipedia page.
You’re probably the most prominent openly bisexual/pansexual person in media and broadcasting in the UK. Was it a difficult choice to come out publicly? The world was quite a different place when you did so some ten years ago.
When I came out as bisexual, most of the biphobia came from within the gay community. I understand that to some degree — if you fought for most of your life to create safe spaces for gay people, someone who is a bit gay and a bit not gay coming into that environment is perhaps suspicious. Thankfully, I’ve noticed less and less of that as the years have gone by. When I started using the word ‘pansexual’, things got more complicated. I have to explain it to most people, which prompts a discussion about how many letters there are in LGBTQIA+ and gender and all sorts of other stuff. I’m happy to just say bisexual most of the time or just ‘gay’ (despite being a ferocious pounder of sweet puss). My sexuality is no one else’s business, so essentially, I don’t care how I’m labelled.
“I may have invented this story…”
When was the last time you experienced biphobia? Both in public and in a work environment…
Last Thursday, Alison Hammond came round for a Sunday roast — she can’t have a Sunday roast on a Sunday for reasons I can’t disclose. I mentioned the word ‘bisexual’ and she became violent and aggressive, throwing a priceless Charles and Diana commemorative plate across the room, which hit my cat and now he only has three legs. I may have invented this story; you will have to speak to my lawyers.
And ours! We love you, Alison. Alongside comedy, you’ve forged a career for yourself as a champion for social injustice. Surely it would be less hassle to simply stay on stage and tell jokes? Why did you decide it was important to use your platform to help drive positive change?
This wasn’t really a decision in so much as it was a natural progression from the material I was writing as a new comic. If I’m honest, I don’t really see myself as an activist or a champion of social injustice, I’m just a comedian who’s got a bit too big for his boots. It would definitely have been easier to not follow this path and I intend to rectify that in the coming years.
Why do you find comedy an effective way of spotlighting serious issues?
Everyone hates being laughed at, including CEOs of big companies, celebrities, and comedians. We all want people to laugh with us. Aren’t we a strange bunch?
“A disgraced former newspaper editor described me as ‘pathetic’. I will be adding that to my LinkedIn”
Peculiar at best. Your biggest campaign yet was without doubt your recent one calling out David Beckham for courting gay icon status over the past 20 years, before then taking a multi-million-pound payout to become the face of Qatar during the World Cup. Did you expect the campaign to become as big as it did?
I had been working on this campaign for months and deliberately designed it to generate headlines, hence focussing it on the destruction of money, which is what a lot of people care about above all else. I knew British people would find it interesting because I’m the camp man off the sewing programme but was surprised to see news outlets worldwide running with the story.
What sort of negativity did you face from the campaign?
I got a lot of anger, which of course I had deliberately courted. Much of it was from football people, but I’m used to that as any hate I get on Twitter has always been from someone with a football shirt as their profile picture. At one point, a disgraced former newspaper editor described me as “pathetic”. I will be adding that to my LinkedIn.
David Beckham’s office eventually responded. How did their lacklustre reply — not even attributed to David — make you feel?
The reply, which I presume was not written by David, was disappointing for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because it seemed to suggest that human rights are up for debate. It was pointed out to me by my friend Sarah Churchwell, the great writer on American literature, that it is cut from a very similar cloth to Donald Trump and his use of the idea of there being good people “on both sides”. I am very much open to diversity of culture and opinion, but personally, I draw the line when you start killing people simply for who they are. But that’s just me being a crazy, elitist, media wanker!
Is it time we stop calling straight, cisgendered people gay icons, or LGBTQ+ icons?
No! We need more! We need everyone! It’s time we stopped killing gays! I’m crazy! Where are my meds!
“We need everyone!”
You also caused a ruckus when you joked about outing yourself as right-wing during the Tories’ last leadership contest. Did you get any messages from people that missed the joke and thought you were being serious?
Lots of stupid people thought I was joking, but of course, I’m incredibly right-wing and would never make a joke about that, or anything. I am very proudly right-wing and had a very frank discussion with the BBC chairman about this after the show. I also asked him what to do with my recent influx in cash, thanks to my very popular stand-up tour, and he suggested I invest some of it in crypto and then any leftover should be donated to the Tory party, who he said would “take good care of you, old boy”.
Liz Truss went on to crash the economy, plunging the UK into even greater financial hardship. What are your thoughts on her receiving the prime minister’s pension of £115,000 a year for life?
As long as she donates it to the Tory party, I have no qualms.
What’s your take on Sunak’s coronation as Prime Minister and his performance so far?
“You need to be smarter, funnier, and more thoughtful about what you do”
During the Commonwealth Games, you called the government out for its immigration policies. Why is it important for you to highlight this issue?
All I said is that the British government doesn’t ‘always’ welcome foreigners. That is not a critique of the current government, necessarily. If the current government feel that that is an attack, that’s up to them.
Closer to home: the police investigated you in 2022 after you made a joke in Belfast about a donkey. Is that the most extreme reaction you’ve had to telling a joke?
It’s up there! The joke doesn’t even feature in the filmed version of my show because lawyers couldn’t agree on whether it was illegal or not, so I will spare the Attitude lawyers the hassle by not repeating it here. But trust me, it was a fucking good joke.
“Eat out to help out, honey”
Has comedy become more challenging in recent years now with the world being in such a volatile state, both culturally and politically?
I think it’s become more challenging because people are getting better at it, so you need to be smarter, funnier, and more thoughtful about what you do. Thankfully, I’ve made my cash and I’m out.
What’s off the table for comedians?
What do you have to say to comedians like Dave Chappelle who use a small and vulnerable minority like trans people to further their career and spread intolerance?
I’m not sure Dave Chappelle is ‘furthering’ his career by taking on trans people. He can do what he likes, and I can’t and would never attempt to try and stop him, but I do think it’s just a bit weird when extraordinarily talented people use their resources against minority groups.
If you could pull the ultimate prank, who would you do it to and what would you do?
Well, if I could go back to any time and be whoever I want, I’d go back to the morning of the day of Boris’s conception, as a stunning supermodel, and suck him straight out of Stanley with the most intense and brilliant gobjob of his entire life. Eat out to help out, honey.
The rest of the Attitude 101 Media and Broadcast list
Suzi Ruffell, Comedian
Raven Smith, Columnist, and author
Travis Alabanza, Writer, and performer
Juno Dawson, Author, journalist, and screenwriter
Adam Kay, Author
Mike White, Writer, actor, producer, and director
Jack Rooke, Comedian, and writer
Jerrod Carmichael, Comedian, and actor
Sharan Dhaliwal, Author and editor