Joe Lycett for PM! Politics is already a farce as it is

Lycett was so dry and deadpan in declaring himself ‘right wing’ and a Truss fan that I sort of bought it

Sean O'Grady
Monday 05 September 2022 17:46 BST
'You smashed it Liz!' Comedian Joe Lycett shouts appraisal during BBC interview with Truss

Though she may well president over thousands of needless “excess deaths”, this winter, it would seem that our brand new prime minister, Liz Truss, hasn’t yet killed satire – despite her best efforts. Indeed, she has inadvertently turned comedian Joe Lycett into some sort of national comedy institution.

He’s featured on the front page of the Daily Mail in a savage take-down normally reserved for Labour leaders, Supreme Court judges and Greta Thunberg:”NOW BBC COMIC MOCKS LIZ TRUSS”.

It’s absurd and unintentionally amusing, as if Truss, a workaday second-rate hack politician promoted way behind her abilities (and they know it), was a latter day Mother Theresa; or her late majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, or Joanna Lumley – beatified and unable to answer back.

For his part, Lycett carried on what we now know to have been an elaborate satirical exercise by telling his Twitter followers that he was going to get the Daily Mail front page framed. This was followed up by an enthusiastic (and presumably sarky) tweet after Truss’s wooden speech of acceptance at her coronation:

“Yes @trussliz absolutely smashed it babe!!!”

Quite an achievement for a comic (though freelance and not employed by, or the responsibility of, the BBC) to “shade” a new prime minister. Truss might well be tempted to tell Mail supremo Paul Dacre, “thanks a bunch, Paul”. Lycett seems almost obscenely pleased with the publicity – and well he might.

As someone who prides themself on their heightened sense of irony, I have to admit that, ironically enough, I was left mystified by Joe Lycett’s turn on Laura Kuenssberg’s new Sunday morning political knockabout show.

At the conclusion of Kuenssberg’s fairly inconsequential interview with Liz Truss (voting had, after all, already ended and Liz was being careful) Lycett could be heard whooping and squeaking in delight at the other end of the studio. Lycett was parked on a sofa-based panel with Labour’s Emily “Chav” Thornberry and someone who used to work for Boris Johnson who’s got a novel coming out.

Kuenssberg sauntered across the set (something presenters didn’t used to do) to the gang, plonked herself down, and tried to make some sense out of what Lycett was on about. Poor Laura seemed to share my bemusement. Lycett was so dry and deadpan in declaring himself “right wing” and a Truss fan that I sort of bought it.

I just thought him eccentric, maybe inconsistent, larking about, but not so very different from some other comedians, actors and the like who have broken the mould a bit in the past – casting themselves against type, so to speak.

The magnificent Kenneth Williams is an apt example. A staunch Labour supporter in his youth, by the 1970s inflation, strikes and the arrival of Margaret Thatcher had converted him into a proper Tory. He used to love to provoke outrage, famously, and he took delight in winding up the likes of Micheal Parkinson and Russell Harty when he went on their chat shows with his pungent opinions about greedy unions and the decline of Britain.

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With nostrils flaring, adenoids stretched, and perfect diction, Williams sounded like self-parody. But he wasn’t messing about. In his Diaries, he expressed delight after Mrs T became PM on 4th May 1979: “Saw the news on TV and found that Margaret Thatcher has got a good overall majority which is excellent. Maggie has seen the Queen and is now the first woman PM in Europe and it’s the first time since Macmillan that we’ve had a leader with style and dignity”.

Some inspiration for Lycett there, maybe.

Only later, thanks to the Mail, did I realise that Lycett wasn’t a latter day Kenny Williams, but, rather, engaged upon some sort of long-term spoof, with the honourable dual aims of satirising the process; and of shifting some tickets for his tour. In any case, it seems entirely appropriate that the Lycett Affair should have caused such a fuss.

Our politics has become such a farce that it is no wonder a comedian can become celebrated, or notorious, if you like, for subverting its media rituals, and calling the absurdities out. Thanks a bunch, Joe.

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