Joe Lycett is rising fast through the comedy ranks. Various people in the industry have tipped him for stardom, and he has the agency behind the likes of Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican and Jack Whitehall now guiding him in that direction. However, as he explains below, he's not rushing things...
Hi Joe. We first met in Edinburgh in 2010. You're career has jumped forward since then. Do you ever look back and reflect on how your life has changed in the last few years?
Ah, that was 'fat floppy haired Joe' you met. That's what Jason Cook calls my early days in comedy.
To answer your question: Every stage you go through, you're so focused on making the best of whatever task or challenge is coming up, you don't spend a lot of time looking back on what you've done.
However, when I do, I think 'actually, fucking hell, I've done all that!'. You sort of forget you've done these things because you're always focusing on ensuring your next show is really good.
Today [this interview was conducted in September] is a weird one because tonight I'm doing my first paid spot at The Comedy Store. When I first started out, the comics that were playing The Comedy Store were in my head, like, untouchable in their brilliance. So that's a big thing ticked off the list for me.
There are moments where the younger me - fat floppy haired Joe - would be in awe of what's going on. But I only allow myself to think about that a little bit, because otherwise you're caught up in all that 'believe your own hype'.
It's about working hard and focusing on making sure you're doing well at bits now, rather than going 'well I've done that, so I can relax now'. That's one thing I've realised - the more you do, the less relaxing you can do - because the better you need to get. Which is annoying. Nobody goes, 'he's fine now, we'll leave him be'. Everyone is like, "keep being funny". It's relentless!
How many gigs have you done now?
I used to measure them - I remember having a celebration after my 100th gig. I couldn't tell you how many I've done now though. Well, I could probably guestimate - er, let's see, I've done nearly 6 years now... so if I'm doing 200 a year... that's over 1000 gigs. Wow, 1000 gigs! I should be ok at this now shouldn't I?
Indeed. Presumably you've not died on stage for a while now though?
Oh no, it happened in Edinburgh! Well, it didn't actually happen in Edinburgh - it happened on a plane. It was a PR stunt. I think that was the worst gig of my career.
It wasn't well set up and I should have checked - I thought they [the other passengers] knew they were going to get a comedy gig, but it wasn't a comedy audience, it was just people getting on a plane. Loads of businessmen, and then it was "here's Joe Lycett to do 10 minutes of comedy". Obviously they didn't want it - they were polite about it, but they weren't going to laugh. It was humbling to say the least.
I came off and said "what did I do there, 7 or 8 minutes?" They actually contacted us later to say I did 2 minutes and 43 seconds, so you get an idea of how I was like "Abort! Abort! This is not working!"
Was it well paid?
The payment was two flights to anywhere in the world (except Sydney)... so I'm going to try and find the most expensive one!
It was an experience, and something I'm looking forward to writing some stand-up about, because I think it's very funny the level of disaster there. The cabin crew lady was really funny. She's really Scouse and went [Joe puts on the correct accent at this point] "I thought you were really funny... but that was a disaster". That was her critique of the experience - she probably shouldn't have said the word 'disaster' whilst on a plane though.
Will that experience make you consider how you might approach future 'corporate' work offers?
Yeah. I've not really done corporates - it definitely has given me a glimpse into the way things are run. I kind of always knew they weren't going to be fun.
I probably won't do many to be honest, if at all. I have no real desire to do corporates, it doesn't fulfil me artistically and I'm not really driven by money... so unless I've got a big tax bill to pay... I will probably regret saying all this now!
You're currently touring your show 'If Joe Lycett Then You Should've Put A Ring On It' - you've got to be happy with that title?
The problem with that is, I now need to get better or stop punning. Somebody suggested I should do lots of pun titles for my shows and then, when I get bored of it, call the next show I Don't Lycett Any More. I can't remember who told me that, but I thought that was really funny. But I am more than delighted with the title of the show, yes.
It's a themed show, which also contains a selection of random stuff and some audience interaction. It's themed around naughty and nice. It's about my inward tussle with the naughty side of me.
Who choses which venues you play?
I am advised by my management. Basically Chambers have been doing touring for years and they know touring so well. They give me loads of options and say things like 'this is a really nice venue and we think we can get this many people in', and all that kind of stuff.
The more touring I do, the more I'll get used to venues and places and where I work well and where I don't work quite so well and I can start to make more decisions - but at this point I just want to do a bit of everywhere; different styles of venues, different comedy festivals and that sort of thing - you've got to go out and try and it and find out.
What do you fill your days with, whilst waiting for the evening gigs?
I spend a lot of time writing. Particularly in the build-up to Edinburgh. Writing, writing, writing.
I do like a nap before I go on a long drive, I consider myself pretty good at napping. I've also really got into running in the last few years.
The days fill up though - lots of prepping for things. If I've got a TV show there's lots to be thinking about. However, this week it's mainly been playing GTA.
Could you talk more about your writing process...
Yeah, so I'm developing ideas in terms of seeing where they can go comedically. I'll make an observation when I'm out and about; I'll jot it down on my phone; then I'll go through those observations and think 'what scenario might this fit in?'. I draw spider diagrams. That becomes a comic routine possibly, or it doesn't. Those that do have potential, I try at new material gigs...
But, that said, a lot of stuff is written on stage, because you go into this weird zone where the panic of having to get a laugh forces something out of you, from somewhere. So it's a mixture of all things.
I love chatting to the audience too - it keeps it fresh for me, and you get to hear what people have to say about things. I want to build on that, to get really good at interacting with an audience, because I think that's one of my fortes.
I work hard at the writing, because it's not a natural skill, it doesn't come to me easily... but by doing it I've got something at the end of the year to show to people. On the last month before Edinburgh, I can't throw it together like some people can. It has to be a year's work.
I think sometimes people think the panic of it [leaving things to the last minute] will push a show out, and sometimes it does work, but it's a massive risk and sometimes you do see shows where you think 'if they'd just spend 6 months on it...'
That's the name of the game though - it's really hard to do an hour of comedy.
We're of the opinion that, in most cases, an hour of un-interrupted stand-up at the Edinburgh Festival is too much for an audience...
I agree. Jimmy Carr once said to me that the venues he plays - where it's air conditioned and comfortable seats - definitely over an hour is what people expect of him. However, in an Edinburgh space, it's hot, you've got no way out really - 50 minutes is about the maximum you should be doing really. People can't focus without an interval. My shows come in between 50 and 55 minutes for that reason.
I also think there should be an early-in-the-show 'amnesty', where after 10 or 15 minutes comedians could go 'if anyone feels like this isn't for them, you can go'. It's a long time to be in a room with someone who has taken a punt and isn't really enjoying it.
Isn't that hurtful to the soul, to see someone walk out?
Yeah, a little bit. But this Edinburgh I had a show where there was a walk out, but it made it my favourite show of the run. The couple were in their late 40s and they sat on the front row and didn't take their coats off, and then about 25 minutes in they got up and left as I started talking about being bisexual. I said to them, quite innocuously, 'oh you can't handle the bisexual stuff?', and the husband shot back 'well, it's shit isn't it? Give me a ring when you're funny', and then walked out. Because he'd been so unpleasant, everyone else was then really on side.
It created this really exciting atmosphere and it meant everyone stepped up their game. I stepped up my game and the audience were like 'no, we like it - we're going to prove it', so it because this amazing moment. So, sometimes, walkouts can actually be quite helpful.
We can think of many gay comedians, but not many who are bisexual. Has this label opened or closed any doors for you, in terms of performing gigs?
I don't think so. It's definitely given me an opportunity to talk about something that other people aren't, so that's a nice area of comedy that I can explore, and there will be a little bit more I'll do with it in years to come.
Actually, I think there's quite a lot more bisexual comics than you think, but they just don't talk about it on stage. I don't know if that's because they don't think there's anything in it, or they don't want to talk about it - I don't know - but there are more out there than you might think.
I enjoy taking about it, and I now find a lot of bisexual people come to my show because they feel like it is a safe environment to be bisexual, because it is an under-represented sexuality.
Mmm. You don't really read much about it in the press...
Even in LGBT press, bisexuals are rarely talked about - even though they say 'LGBT'.
People just don't get it really - people just don't understand it. There's a lot of confusion around it. 'Are you gay and just in denial?', all that kind of stuff.
In many ways it would be easier to be gay, because at least people then know which bracket you're in and they can deal with that... but because they can't really pin me down... they don't really know what you are, and they find that hard. Comedically, that's brilliant, because you can take people off in one direction and then throw them another away. So it's helpful for me, but if you're just a bisexual person living life, it must be really annoying.
What's next for you Joe? Are you heading towards doing more TV?
I'm in the development stages at the minute. I'm developing ideas with a few people. I can't really talk about the projects yet because they're not solidified.
A couple of years ago, it looked like you were on the cusp of being on regular prime-time TV thanks to Epic Win with Alexander Armstrong. In the end that only ran for the one series though. Are you looking for another big TV series?
At no point have I really been looking for that 'prime-time' thing. I think when you've got that amount of eyes on you, and that amount of pressure, it can kill a fledgling comic.
In the words of Thom Yorke, 'what will grow quickly you can't make straight'. I think it's about developing slowly.
Panel shows are a good thing to do - it's a level of profile-raising, but it's not going to make you a household name overnight. That's kind of the way forward for the next few years or so. Doing a few bits and bobs, getting better at it, learning the craft of doing those things... never with the goal of becoming super famous in the next 12 months. That would be foolish, and wouldn't be sustainable. I'm in it for the long haul.
Joe Lycett: If Joe Lycett Then You Should've Put A Ring On It is on tour now: www.joelycettcomedy.co.uk