Laura Waddell: Joe Lycett laughed at Britain’s stiff and brittle political discourse – that’s all

Joe Lycett isn’t the one making a mockery of politics. He’s merely laughing at it.

In response to Lycett’s appearance on Laura Kuenssberg’s new Sunday politics show, in which he sarcastically applauded Liz Truss, some in the politico and media classes have gone utterly bananas. Are we meant to believe a politely delivered, completely inoffensive, mild bit of bantering sending up the party of government is beyond the pale?

Lycett has many media commentators in a frothing tizzy. Aside from making headline news on the next day’s Daily Mail with ‘Now BBC Comic Mocks Liz Truss’, Brendan O’Neill in the Spectator grumped he couldn’t think of anything ‘less amusing’ than Lycett’s performance. “Comics once bristled at the establishment,” he complains. Lycett’s target was the newly minted Prime Minister.

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Comedian Joe Lycett arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London, to appear on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Sunday September 4, 2022. Picture: Press Association
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Tory MP Steve Brine brought up Lycett in Westminster’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in front of BBC Director General Tim Davie, saying, “How about a conversation that goes on before output where somebody says – You know what, new show, new start, new term – let’s not book Joe, because we know what Joe’s going to deliver.” Any authoritarian regime would be pleased with a minister suggesting those critical of the government not be invited onto a current affairs show.

Ex-editor of BBC live political programming, Rob Burley, weighed in too. He said: “…the panel needs an urgent rethink and someone senior at the BBC should have seen Lycett’s lame hijack coming.” The man who had far right Marine Le Pen (and no other French leadership candidate of 2016) on the Andrew Marr show takes umbrage with a comic’s mild sarcasm.

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As for the accusation comedian Lycett wasn’t ‘serious’ enough, is sarcasm any less communicative of the speaker’s genuine opinion? The response has made quite clear it’s widely understood Lycett is not, as he jested, ‘very right wing’ and doesn’t think highly of the new Prime Minister. His comments were no less intelligible than the politicians who appear on current affairs panel shows regurgitating party soundbites or obfuscating hard truths with rhetorical distractions and bad faith.

iNews reported Kuenssberg’s brand new current affairs show will be ‘reset’ to prevent the same thing happening again. How stiff and brittle is British political discourse if the whole thing can come crashing down because one television guest briefly employed sarcasm against the government?

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Despite the overheated, disproportionate responses from right leaning media, what Lycett did was enjoyable, but not groundbreaking. But he did defy the British custom of falling into line and playing the game as instructed. He didn’t go along with the charade that contemporary British politics is anything other than a parlour game sewn up by the upper classes. Instead, he laughed at it.

In his banana yellow jacket, Lycett was the canary in the coalmine. Britain is on such a mad, self-destructive, right-wing political path that incredulity at the absurdity of it all is truly a proportionate and authentic response. His refusal to play along with custom and convention might scare the right-wing media, but it resonated with the watching, fed-up, approaching breaking point public who just might take inspiration from his insubordination.

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