Joe Lycett: the anti-lad of stand up comedy

Student Life

As a stand up comedian whose tours have been named with the campest of puns ‘Some Lycett Hot’ and ‘If Joe Lycett Then You Shoulda Put A Ring On It’, I wasn’t expecting to talk to Joe Lycett, 25, about the human condition. Where Russell Brand  on Newsnight was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and outlined his desire for revolution and a discussion of his politics, Joe Lycett takes a more considered philosophy. Asked whether comedy can be a platform for serious issues or if it should stick to entertainment, Lycett is unresounding in its ability to do both. “That’s one thing that frustrates me about politics and how people view comedy as completely distinct from serious life when comedy is often the only way to really touch on the truth. In order to resonate with people and to make them laugh you need to nail a truth to it.” Getting philosophical on the false dichotomy created between comedy and politics, he ponders that “comedy is condemned as flippant about serious issues when actually that’s the best way to deal with it, I think; to take the piss out of it and find humour in it because that’s essential part of what it is to be human.”

The human desire to laugh is not mutually exclusive with providing the service of information as well as entertainment and it’s this platform which Russell Brand taps. Lycett cites Alain de Botton’s Twitter account as outlining “the genius of Russell Brand is the fact he has turned himself into a joke and then makes a serious point.” He uses the antithesis example of Noam Chomsky and “how the media cruelly turned him into a joke so people didn’t listen to Noam Chomsky’s views, whereas Russell Brand turned himself into a joke then put his views across, so he’s made himself invulnerable.”

Lycett doesn’t agree with the method of Brand’s political diatribe against the current government – “Although it’s a very clever way of making political points, some of the points are erroneous and he errs on the side of idealism too much when you need realism when talking about politics. Not everyone will share his enthusiasm for not voting so if he wants to make a change he needs to be more subtle” – he makes his own loud opinions. Particularly controversial to all the budding thespians out there, Lycett suggests that stereotypically more serious performance arts would be improved by humour as “The problem with earnest theatre you get so bored. If you’re laughing, you’re listening, you’re engaged, you’re in the moment. That’s what Russell Brand is very good at; you want to see him because you want to hear what he has to say and what he has to say you’re willing it to resonate with you.”His own personal experience of erring of theatre in favour of comedy began when he was at university. With the assertion “Performing gives me a chance to show off”, Lycett, who studied drama at Manchester University, initially wanted to become an actor but then came to the realisation “I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like being told what to do by directors so the natural progression from that is to become a jester where you’ve got complete control.” The lack of censorship in writing and performing a stand up show, so you only have yourself to blame if it fails but the entire credit and sense of exhilaration of when it succeeds provides an undeniable pressure.

As a stand up who began at nineteen, Lycett has little life experience to draw on in terms of “proper jobs”, finding comedy in the gigs that he has done already. However, this doesn’t place him at a disadvantage. With guest slots on ITV and BBC Radio 1, Lycett seems to be coming into at a time which appears to be promoting youth. Where pop music as an industry seems to commodify youth, comedy is a young person’s game but they get to have complete control over it. According to Lycett, comedy is less about what people call “life experience” (whatever that means) and “more about your own unique view on things”, he then puts on a facetious tone, “which I wouldn’t have if I was a tired old person.” (he later adds that he would want Ricky Gervais to be his hype man so “he could bring him down a peg.”)

Despite his difficulties in writing and this seeming lack of life experience, his career as an established stand up allows him to talk about his own gigs, which is more niche, Lycett has found a crystal-clear comedic voice of camp. Where I see him as an impossible to dislike puppy dog, following you around, providing a confidence boost but also telling you his absolute honest opinion, Lycett prefers a different image. “The type of camp I want to be is like a little nanna with an everything’s-gonna-be-alright sort of attitude.”

Part of Joe’s widespread appeal, which is one of the reasons the BBC are courting him, is this absolute lack of desire to be part of the laddish, aggressive testosterone filled style of comedy which can be seen on certain panel shows (cough, Frankie Boyle) who want their audience to gasp with shock before they look around and see if they’re allowed to laugh. He’s also against the self deprecation of his comedy beyond his understanding of social awkwardness, saying that “I can’t say, oh my life is so shit because that would be dishonest if anything else.”

It’s not just the laddish culture of offensive jokes which Lycett sets himself apart from, but as someone who describes themselves as a “relentless optimist” he tries to set himself apart from the certain bitchiness associated with camp acts.  it makes absolute sense when he attests that “I try to rally against the caustic camp thing as its quite damaging to the gay community.” Aside from the formulated nature of the camp comedian making bitchy remarks on a stage, which Joe calls a  “pre-packed identity to use celebrity culture to slag off people’s outfits. I don’t berate anyone for doing it but it doesn’t sit right with me.” Lycett, who uses the line in his stand up “yeah, I’m bisexual. Double threat, no one’s safe from this!” presents his bisexuality in a frank and funny way, in a platform which rarely discusses it. His desire is to be camp, his own person with his own voice, is a facet of the “camp” label. He doesn’t use bitchiness as an easy, cheap laugh and instead his persona is the kind which you could have a pint with after his set and know he’d be exactly the same as he was onstage.

But then there’s the trolls. Essentially, Joe states that “it’s a number game. You put yourself in front of so many people and it doesn’t matter who you are, some one will think you’re a cunt.” With a policy of ignoring-not-feeding-the-troll he admits that “occasionally it taps into your internal monologue that will occasionally go ‘you’re shit’ and ‘you’re not worth anything’ and all of that stuff which everybody has, you just have to let it wash over you but if you think about it too much you’d end up throwing yourself off a bridge.” He cackles, to stop me from aww-ing at him.

Every comedians nightmare is a heckler. Putting you down in front of an entire room full of people, where, unlike Twitter, you can’t just delete the tweet and instead you have to address the one liner used against you, whether it’s as poorly worded as a drunk punter bellowing, unfortunately as loud as Brian Blessed, ‘YOU’RE SHIT!’ Yet Joe’s response to hecklers is as inoffensive as possible “I wanted to say something that wasn’t blokey and aggressive, like “that’s what I said when I was shagging your mum last night” and I found one which was pretty much perfect.” He pauses, then, like a Chesire Cat the words “are you flirting with me?” escape from his mouth. Usually, they must get so awkward they quietly leave. I’d feel tempted to wink and say yes.

With the clichêd mantra that confidence improves with age, and that as he gets older Lycett realises that other people’s opinions are irrelevant, I wonder that he needs Ricky Gervais, or any hype man at all. By the time he is 40, a seasoned veteran on the comedy circuit (and I’m heading to Paddy Power to place a bet that he has a sitcom in him) his confidence will be gloriously impenetrable. He puts on his Grandma Looking Out For You persona and his relentless optimism is epitomised in one sentence: “The more you do, the more you know the show will be alright.”

Joe Lycett is playing The Glee Club, Oxford on Friday the 22nd of November and Saturday the 23rd of November