Well-meaning Deception? Joe Lycett asks us to question what we’re told

On April 5th, Birmingham-bred comedian Joe Lycett left many shocked after he announced that for the past month, him and his team had been making up ridiculous fake news stories which had gained traction and been reported by media outlets throughout the UK. In the now viral social media video, Lycett states that “the world’s been turned upside down” by this fake news and urges his followers to speculate what these fake stories actually were by posting them under the hashtag ‘#IsThisJoe?’.

This could lead many to ask: “Why did Lycett do it?”, and while there is no simple answer, the significance of his actions can certainly be up for debate. First and foremost, Lycett claimed that the goal of his fake news stories was to “take up the space” that other “hateful or polarising” news might have occupied. The chaos which Lycett’s hoax created exposes a potential danger regarding the veracity of the news we are exposed to. As news outlets are often trusted to present the public with reliable sources and information, Lycett’s stunt leaves us wondering whether his actions have opened the floodgates for more inaccurate, fake and sensationalised news to be absorbed by the public and questioning whether we can fully trust the news that is being reported to us. 

UK media outlets thrive when reporting on outlandish and nonsensical stories

Additionally, it is important to recognise that Lycett’s announcement of his fake news accompanied his reveal of the second season of his Channel 4 show, Late Night Lycett. Lycett’s creation of fake news was a strategically calculated publicity stunt which not only got the nation talking about his intentions, but also built anticipation for his show. In the show’s announcement he revealed that the truth behind his antics would be unveiled during the first episode on Friday, 12th April. During the week running-up to the show, Lycett utilised his social media platform to explore the public’s speculations on his fake stories and hint at the stories he might have been responsible for.

Upon examining recent new stories, it is evident that UK media outlets thrive when reporting on outlandish and nonsensical stories. It is no wonder then that so many of Lycett’s fake stories were published nationally in the likes of BBC News, ITV News, The Metro and Independent (to name a few).

I had hoped after being haunted by ‘The Unknown’ from the Willy Wonka’s ‘Chocolate Experience’ in Glasgow, that it was Lycett’s doing – but somehow this was real news.  Other real news stories which some members of the public suspected were Lycett’s doing included the rescued baby hedgehog in Knutsford, Cheshire which turned out to be a pom-pom from a bobble hat, along with the incident where Alan Titchmarsh’s trousers were censored on North Korean TV.  These unbelievable but true stories certainly signify the not-so-serious side to the news which Lycett was able to exploit with his own insane, fake news. 

It is entertaining to witness the effort Lycett went to to curate such compelling fake stories…which were believed so eagerly by many

When it was time for Lycett to finally announce the truth to his antics on Late Night Lycett, he deservedly exuded a self-satisfied smugness. When introducing the news story regarding the mystery appearance of the ‘Banksy’ mural of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz in Birmingham, Lycett poked fun at the media and its gullibility, stating “Can you slap any old shit on a wall and have the papers think it’s a Banksy? Yes, you can, and we did.” Lycett also took the time to highlight the talent of Black Country artist Dion Kitson, who was behind the hoax mural.

Another fake story that he takes credit for is the commission for an 8ft statue of singer Ian ‘H’ Watkins, also known as ‘H from Steps’, to be constructed and unveiled in his hometown Cowbridge, Wales during their pride event in June. Watkins was clearly in on the stunt as he announced the truth to the story live on Late Night Lycett. It is entertaining to witness the effort Lycett went to to curate such compelling fake stories (some of which may still be unrevealed), which were believed so eagerly by many.

After seeing Lycett’s stand-up show during his More, More, More! tour in 2022, I was not so much surprised by his ingenuity in creating compelling and believable fake news stories, as I was by the media’s willingness to uncritically eat up and spread them. After all, this is the same comedian who claimed to be “extremely right wing” to troll both ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss and the Conservative Government and also legally changed his name to Hugo Boss in March 2020 as a form of solidarity with small businesses who were forced into legal battles through use of the term ‘BOSS’. 

For those who are struggling to comprehend the punchline to Lycett’s fake news, it is important to acknowledge that this incident is one of many in a line of boundary-pushing stunts from the comedian which also serve as acts of solidarity. As an openly pansexual man, Lycett’s allyship is most commendable with regards to his comedic gestures towards the LGBTQIA+ community. The comedian went undercover for 4 years, organising a pride event in his hometown of King’s Heath, Birmingham in a bid to create a “gayborhood”, jokingly renaming the area ‘Queen’s Heath’. 

Lycett blurs the line between what is perceived as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ to turn his comedic stunts into acts of protest

His acts of solidarity did not stop there. Lycett uses his comedy to bring awareness to the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community and normalise queer culture. In 2022 he issued David Beckham with an ultimatum, challenging him to suspend his status as an ambassador to the Football World Cup in Qatar. When the footballer failed to respond, Lycett livestreamed himself shredding £10,000, although he later revealed that the money was fake and that he had instead donated it to a number of LGBTQIA+ charities. Although the incident was somewhat long-winded, it led many to question football’s involvement in the Middle East, by bringing attention to the Middle East’s problematic laws which heavily criminalise LGBTQIA+ individuals for their existence.

Lycett blurs the line between what is perceived as ‘real’ or ‘fake’ to turn his comedic stunts into acts of protest which provoke his audience to query the world around them and, in the case of the fake news articles, question the media they consume. Although Lycett brought our attention to a funnier side of the news, does the believability of his light-hearted fake news highlight the potential for more serious fake news to circulate and gain traction in the future?

Even though I am familiar with Lycett’s satirical shenanigans, I do understand the potentially problematic nature of this latest stunt. However, I do believe that the aftermath of his fake news bonanza was entirely calculated on his part. He has importantly forced his audience and followers of the news to contemplate the media’s role in providing us with supposedly reliable information and demonstrated that the media is strategically selective in what it chooses to report.

His cleverly calculated collection of fake stories is a typical example of Lycett being Lycett. Not only did he heighten anticipation for his upcoming show, but he has also created a space for comedy that is light-hearted yet still acknowledges contemporary issues. Lycett successfully makes us contemplate: Can we really trust everything we are told?


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