LONDON – Hours before the opening ceremony Qatar World CupComedian Joe Lycett put a lot of money in the shredder.
A few days earlier, he had posted a video in which he talks to footballer David Beckham. Lycett called him a “gay icon” for appearing on the cover of a British gay lifestyle magazine. But he also gave him a week to stop being a World Cup ambassador for Qatar, outlaw homosexuality and then allegedly paid Beckham £10 million (over $12 million) to promote the tournament.
After hearing nothing from Beckham, the British comedian, wearing a pair of goggles and a ruffled rainbow top, live streaming put 10,000 pounds of his own money into a wood chipper. He then was criticize in British newspapers and on social media to shred money at a time when many people in the country are struggling financially.
Except, in a next video, Lycett revealed that he didn’t actually destroy the cash, but instead donated a total of £10,000 to two LGBTQ charities. “Threatened to destroy money in one Cost of living crisis? It’s a terrible thing to do,” he said, referring to the rising inflation rate in the UK.
It was Lycett’s latest public act of protest, an approach he has previously used in response to the British Conservative Party and Shell, the energy company. In a recent interview at a London pub, Lycett, 34, said he views these efforts as stunts: “A game of war and intrigue.”
Lycett, a famous British stand-up comedian and television personality who identified himself as bisexual and as such was attracted to people regardless of their gender identity, recalls a visit to Qatar in 2012. 2015 as part of a comedy tour. “I didn’t feel safe there,” he said, adding that organizers advised him not to leave the hotel. In Qatar, same-sex relationships can be punished with up to 7 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch.
football fans around the world expressed concern about Qatar’s human rights record, and upon hearing that the World Cup was underway in the Arab country, Lycett aghast. He hopes pressuring Beckham “to say or do something” will have a “much larger knock-on effect” in actively improving LGBTQ rights in Qatar, he said.
Beckham declined to comment for this article, but during a Lycett TV special that aired Thursday in the UK, Beckham’s team released a statement that read: “We understand that there are divergent and strong views about participation in the Middle East but let’s see it as positive that the debate on key issues was directly stimulated by the first World Cup to be held in the region .”
In an email after the show aired, Lycett said he was shocked by the statement “doesn’t even mention LGBTQ+ people” and the use of the word “debate”. “Basically Beckham (or more likely his team) is saying that human rights are up for debate,” Lycett said.
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Lycett “puts people on task,” singer Melanie Brown said in an email interview. “He knows how to attract attention – he certainly drew attention with his opposition to the World Cup.” Brown, a former Spice Girl, is a fan of Lycett’s comedy and has attended his stand-up shows.
The comedian said he remembers texting Brown, “Go ahead, give me Beckham’s number,” in the run-up to the World Cup, thinking she might have the number because of her bandmates. ex Victoria was married to Beckham. (Brown responded with three question marks and politely declined, he said.)
Lycett has been a fixture of British comedy for a decade, but since his consumer justice TV show “Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back” premiered in 2019. His profile has surfaced. Earlier in his comedy career, Lycett said, he liked to make jokes that were “light and not harsh” “about cheese and the middle class.” The comedian describes his views as “center-left”, but said he understands and respects “cautious and conservative” as a political worldview.
Current and recent leaders of the Conservative Party, and their handling of the pandemic, have “turned me into a political comedian I don’t want to be,” he said. This frankness seems to be helping Lycett reach a wider audience, with Twitter his follower count skyrocketed to 1.3 million and his new indie live show,”More, more, more! How are you Lycett, how are you Lycett?,” filled arenas across England.
In January, Lycett tweeted a parody version of the investigative report on alcohol government party attended by the prime minister at the time, Boris Johnson, breached the lockdown rules and angered Britain. Lycett’s fake report joked about a WhatsApp group called “Down It Street” and that cabinet ministers were forced to “sit at the table” and sing.
Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament for the Labor Party of Birmingham Yardley and a close friend of Lycett, said: “I testify to the fact that it was believed by some in Westminster. The scandal, she said, is a news story about the country’s highest agency breaking the law, which has turned into ludicrous details. By highlighting the absurdity of the story, Lycett was able to misrepresent it.
In September, Lycett appeared on BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg’s news program alongside the new prime minister at the time, Liz Truss. One clip Scenes of Lycett mocking the evasive politician’s “obvious answers” went viral and appeared on the front page of The Daily Mail.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Lycett said he has witnessed the British government “lie, lie and lie”. At the same time, he said, “hundreds of thousands of people have died,” adding: “If that didn’t radicalize you, where would you be?”
Lycett has questioned authority since school days. He said he grew up in a “dramatic-free” middle-class family, and loved “Will & Grace,” as well as British TV personalities such as Graham Norton and Alan Carr. He remembers being described by one of his father’s friends as “an unusual boy”.
Others think so too. When he was 14 years old, during a football lesson at school, a teacher told Lycett “next time leave your bag at home,” he recalls. He reported the homophobic incident and received an embarrassing apology. It turns out that no power is absolute, and that day Lycett discovered that he could challenge it. Being weird means he has to, he said.
“My options are to wear a gray suit, play good rugby and pretend to be something I am not, or who I am,” he said.
His fickle comic personality both on stage and on screen – “Mother,” as he often calls himself – is generous, kind, and sincere in his relentless pursuit of justice. When storming the Shell office in the documentary “Joe Lycett vs. the Oil Giant” of Channel 4, he brought a potted plant as a gift for the CEO of the company.
The backdrop to Lycett’s ascent this year is a series of crises unfolding in Britain. On the top of The cost of living skyrocketedthe country has seen three various prime ministers, the death of a king and strike across a number of industries. “We are in turmoil,” Lycett said.
Phillips says the British public is tired. She said: “It was a really serious thing, but it became a joke about how bad it was.
“Sometimes, in those moments, you have to have someone make you smile about it,” she added.