Ding dong merrily on high street - a Christmas afternoon with Joe Lycett
Comedian Joe Lycett shares his tips for surviving and flourishing this Christmas
Joe Lycett is a magpie. We are about to order drinks at a King’s Cross café and he’s distracted by the rings on the waitress’s hands. They are many, they are big, and he loves them to bits. “I’m obsessed with her,” he says, when she goes to fetch a menu. Around his neck is a gold necklace, one of many trinkets with which he adorns himself. I ask him what the pendant is. “It’s a unicorn fucking a panda,” he says.
It’s late November, and Christmas is beginning to wrap its big furry arms around London. Before long, Lycett will return home to Birmingham, where, until he bought his own place last October, he was living with his parents. The days will pass in a happy haze of school friends, alcohol and food comas. “Last year it got the point where I was thinking, ‘I’ve been consistently drunk for about 10 days,’” he says. So smashed was he that he asked the question on many people’s lips over the festive period: “Am I now an alcoholic?”
Lycett embraces the Christmas spirit but there’s a modicum of reluctance in his voice – the sense that it’s all come around a little too soon. “I love a lot about it,” he says, sipping a deep-pink drink containing berries, acai, chia powder, banana and coconut milk. “I do find buying gifts and the admin of all that horrible.” Every year he plans to do it earlier. Every year he fails.
There is one Christmas that he remembers in particularly high-definition. It was 17 years ago; he was 13. He wanted a PlayStation 2 and Grand Theft Auto III. Little Joe woke up and ran downstairs: what had his parents bought him? Had they picked up on his hints? Unwrapping an envelope, he discovered a cheque made out to him, for slightly less money than it would cost to buy a PlayStation 2. His dad told him that if he saved up for a few weeks he could afford one, and that maybe by the end of the year he might also be able to buy the game he wanted. He was underwhelmed but old enough not to throw a tantrum. Then, after a while, his mum said, “Oh, there’s something in the back room I didn’t spot…” He followed her and there, waiting for him, was Grand Theft Auto III and a PlayStation 2. “I remember the joy of going, ‘Oh, it actually came!’ I remember loving the game as well.” He tried to keep the cheque. “Gimme that cheque back,” his mum said.
In Birmingham even more so than in London, Lycett is a legitimate celebrity, having become a regular face on programmes such as Live At The Apollo and 8 Out Of 10 Cats. This means that returning to his home city isn’t without its difficulties. If at Christmas he goes back to a pub he used to visit with friends, the anonymity he prizes is unlikely to last long. “It’s very rarely negative,” he says of the attention. “Ninety-nine per cent of people will come up and ask for a picture and then disappear. But it’s when you get the ones who are p*ssed and wanna be your mate. You kinda go, ‘I don’t really know how to get rid of this person…’”
From a young age, Lycett felt confident that he would be famous. “I don’t know where that comes from,” he says. “I can’t deny that there are aspects of my personality that probably want to be famous in some ways. But that was never the intention. It’s not something that the brain is built to deal with, really.”
“If the goal is being able to make people who are shitting next to a toilet laugh, maybe find something else to do”
And the problem of being accosted by fans – if it is one – is only likely to get worse. In 2019 he will be fronting his own Channel 4 show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, a vehicle for him to complain to companies on behalf of the British public. At this point, he supposes, it will be harder for him to take a trip to Asda without being papped.
Despite his fame, his new homeowner status and his penchant for holding court, when Lycett goes home for Christmas he always assumes the same role: that of a child, overawed by grown-ups. Around 10 people tend to descend on his parents’ house: Uncle Terry, who’s mad for a cracker joke; his mum, dad, sister and possibly her boyfriend; and a gaggle of other aunts and uncles. He might be put on drinks duty, but he does absolutely none of the cooking. He is, however, able to offer one turkey tip: “Shove it in a bucket of water overnight with some lemon and a few herbs. It makes the turkey really moist and succulent. I love that word – ‘succulent’. A lovely succulent, moist turkey.”
“Being famous was never the intention. it’s not something the brain is built to deal with, really”
There are people he knows who go for a curry on Christmas Day, but the Lycetts’ culinary tastes are relatively traditional. “My auntie would bring around a fish sometimes,” he says. Two things about Christmas food send Lycett into a frenzy of salivation: the sandwiches of leftovers cobbled together in the days after Christmas Day, and the prospect of eating Weetabix. Lycett is a Weetabix fiend, and will (although I am sceptical about this claim) eat six in one go, smothered in a pint of milk – with cream on top.
Given how loud and funny his extended family are, in front of them he never tries to be The Comedian Joe Lycett Off The Telly. “It’s a day off for me,” he says, claiming that his relatives were always baffled by his becoming a comic. As a child he always sat in the corner, not saying a lot – “just quite a weird little camp boy that didn’t seem to do much”.
One Christmas tradition with which comedians don’t tend to be enamoured is the number of terrible festive gigs, as companies book stand-ups to perform to wildly inebriated crowds of distracted employees. He remembers one that offered a ‘buffet bar’: a wristband let you into the show, but it also allowed you as much drink as you could pour into your body
before the show started. Lycett was on with Katherine Ryan, both booked to do 20 minutes, and neither got further than five minutes into their set. “They found a poo next to the toilet,” he says. “A woman vomited into the air. That’s the kind of thing you’re dealing with.” He is glad those sorts of gigs are behind him: “If that’s the goal, to be able to make people who are sh*tting next to the toilet laugh, then maybe find something else to do.”
But he loves a bit of madness, and feeding off the energy of a Christmas crowd can be thrilling if it’s not a total lost cause. “It’s amazing when you see solid club comics smash rooms like that. But it’s creatively not what excites me any more.” Now, he says, he gets excited at the prospect of making nuanced comic points and writing about complex ideas. (It is worth pointing out that this is someone who, in the past two months, has posted six Instagram captions about shagging either your mum or your dad.) And, luckily, when I ask about Christmas presents, he’s not above making a joke about giving and receiving.
“I find receiving quite awkward – receiving presents,” he says, changing gear to embrace the Clary-esque side of his character that’s made him beloved by middle England. “If it’s not done properly, it can go horribly wrong.” It sounds as though he might be a better present-giver than a present-receiver. Last year, for example, he was very happy with the plugs he presented to his sister’s gadget-happy boyfriend. His philosophy on giving is that one shouldn’t overthink it, and that people like receiving a spectrum of little things. “I don’t really put my eggs in one basket,” he says. He also likes to create his own gifts – he made truffles last year and posted them out to people. He loves sending mildly inappropriate cards, but on the subject of the Christmas letters in which people give detailed updates about their year, he is adamant: “Just get Twitter.”
When it comes to receiving presents, he always looks forward to unwrapping those from one person in particular: the 12-year-old girl to whom he is a non-religious godfather, or ‘promised guardian’. Recently she has bought him cool T-shirts, an elephant head that you grow plants in and a jug in the shape of a tiger. He always buys her something to create with – even if she doesn’t like it, at least he can say he’s trying to educate her. With other people, things can be more uncomfortable: he is bad at a) saying he likes something he doesn’t like, and b) telling people the truth without ruining their friendship. “Maybe I’m not close enough to any of my friends or family,” he says cheerfully.
Looking into 2019, I wonder if Lycett is the kind of man to make new year’s resolutions. “I don’t know what I’m going to want to achieve, really,” he says. “I’ve never been someone to plan.”
Contradicting himself immediately, he reels off a list of very specific ambitions: he wants to write a new 20-minute stand-up routine, do more graphic design, write a sitcom, for which he has three ideas, direct a music video, write a comedy-horror novel, which he’s begun, and, now that he has his own garden, grow a vegetable plot to be proud of. (He recently found slugs on his cabbages: “Fucking pricks.”)
And, though he admits that his restless mind might rather be active over Christmas than suffer the effects of pudding and port, he is looking forward to having the time to take stock – “before the next adventure”. This year was good to him. Among other achievements, he can now claim to be something not many of us can: friends with Paul Chuckle. This time next year the cabbages should be in good shape, his Christmas shopping still won’t have been started, and Joe Lycett will be sitting somewhere warm, writing another caption about shagging your dad.
I’m About To Lose Control And I Think Joe Lycett Live is out now on DVD
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