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  • Amy Norton

Joe Lycett asks us: how valuable are our values?

Amy Norton discusses the political stunts pulled off by comedian Joe Lycett, in particular his recent ultimatum for David Beckham during the controversy surrounding the World Cup:

Artwork by Mariam Tovmasian (IG: @tomwunderbar).

Until recently I didn’t think I could possibly love comedian Joe Lycett more. I was wrong. Reducing him to the title of ‘comedian’ does not do justice to the power this man holds: he is, in my eyes, a national treasure and an all-round genius.

From his first viral moment back in 2015 (in which he used his talents of internet trolling to piss off parking fine “pricks”) until now, Joe’s increasingly elaborate stunts have proven his ability to use his wit and mischievous admin skills as a force for good in the world. Joe is incredibly modest, but it’s clear that he takes pride in his status as a ‘nuisance’ to the companies and people that deserve to be wound up.

Before discussing his most recent exploit, let us marvel at just some of Joe’s latest achievements. As featured in his consumer affairs programme Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back last year, yoghurt company Yop pledged to stop using non-recyclable, white PET plastic in their products, as a result of Joe drawing attention to the issue by ‘storming off’ a daytime Channel 4 show (this was of course staged). In January, “Mummy catfished the Government” by tweeting a parody, “leaked” Sue Gray report addressing the Downing Street lockdown parties (including fake details like a WhatsApp group chat named “Down It Street”). In response, an official source verified that Joe had Tory MPs running around Parliament in panic because it was seen as an “actual serious leak”. This summer, he co-hosted the Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony donned in a pink frilly tracksuit, during which he declared, “I’m going to do something now that the British government doesn’t always do, and welcome some foreigners!” He then tweeted: “Soz @pritipatel just a bit of banter tehehe.”

In September, Joe appeared on the panel of the BBC politics show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg; in yet another viral moment, he sarcastically cheered on Liz Truss as she spoke, and when asked about Truss’ interview he stated, “I’m actually very right-wing, and I loved it”. Despite efforts from Kuennsberg to get him to be serious, the panel was floored by his persistence and couldn’t retaliate because Joe’s actual words were completely supportive. On his recent tour (which I had the pleasure of attending), Joe revealed his biggest stunt yet: his secret project, helping the LGBTQ+ community of his home of Kings Heath, took four years to complete. Joe described it as “the best thing I have done with my life”, but I’m not going to spoil it — you’ll have to watch the show to find out!

The common theme with Joe’s stunts, no matter their scale, is that he always manages to aggravate his targets. The people that get it, get it, and the people that don’t, get annoyed. Whether people support or disagree with his actions, he triggers mass media discussions, and this caper was no different: Joe’s latest stunt has been situated amidst the intense, worldwide backlash over the World Cup currently being held in Qatar. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and can even be punishable by death; this month, former Qatari international Khalid Salman described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”. Awarding a country with this awful mindset the privilege of hosting this global event firmly casts the safety of members of the LGBTQ+ community as an afterthought (if they were even considered at all), and pumps an unthinkable amount of money into homophobic institutions. One person getting a share of this cash is former professional footballer David Beckham, who signed a reported £10 million deal to be a World Cup Ambassador.

On 13th November Joe Lycett uploaded a short video, an ultimatum addressed to Beckham. In summary, Joe recognised Beckham’s status in the past as a “gay icon” and ally to the LGBTQ+ community but sternly announced, “I’m giving you a choice: if you end your relationship with Qatar I’ll donate this £10,000 of my own money to charities that support queer people in football. However, if you do not, I will throw this money into a shredder… not just the money, but your status as a gay icon will be shredded. The choice is yours”.

Unfortunately, despite the immense publicity surrounding Joe’s video, there was nothing but radio silence from Beckham and his team. Being a man of his word, Joe was left with no choice. At midday on Sunday 20th November, just hours before the tournament began, Joe — wearing a huge, rainbow ruffled top —threw the stack of cash into a large shredder, curtsied, and walked off camera without saying a word to the thousands watching live. I sat and waited for the internet’s reaction to the video and, just as expected, it was mixed. A lot of people were angry at Joe, insisting what he did was unfair, and that he should have donated the money regardless of whether Beckham pulled out of his ambassador role. Many found the video upsetting and uncomfortable to watch especially given the current cost of living crisis.

And so, Joe Lycett strikes again, and asks us the question: how valuable are our values? It’s not about the money, or at least it isn’t for Joe. You cannot be an ally to a community if there is a sum massive enough to make you sell out, and to put money over morals: the fact remains that Beckham is profiting handsomely from Qatar’s oppression of the queer community.

If watching Joe shred the money made you feel uncomfortable, then your reaction is correct. Acts of protest are supposed to be shocking and uncomfortable. Nothing about this whole situation is comfortable. Whether people are speaking supportively or critically of Joe’s actions, the point is that people are talking about it. The attention that Joe drew to this massive issue is worth a lot more than £10,000.

What followed from the media attention Joe’s shredder video received on the Sunday was a follow up video uploaded 24 hours later. I knew there was going to be a twist. Joe explained that while the money that went into the shredder was real, the bits that came out were fake. He stated that he’d already donated ten grand of his own money before he made the original threat, so it was empty all along. Beckham said recently he wanted the football pitch to be a “platform for progress”, but his silence on this matter puts his morals into question. I think this stunt has been Joe’s best yet. He has used his platform online combined with his wit, wisdom, camp and caring nature to get a huge amount of people talking about this important issue, donated money to the cause and exposed Beckham in one move.

David might have been deemed a legend in September for standing in a queue for a few hours, but I think he’ll be waiting longer than that for his reputation to recover from this.


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