When stand-up comic and presenter Joe Lycett recently stormed off the set of a daytime TV show, his social media followers thought he had lost his sense of humour.
In fact, his apparent strop with presenter Steph McGovern was a publicity stunt designed to alert the public to the difficulties of recycling white PET plastics.
The clips went viral, eventually shaming the manufacturer of Yop yoghurt drinks into switching to easier-to-recycle clear plastic packaging.
“As consumers, we absolutely should be mindful of our impact on the environment. But, really, the change has to come from those companies,” Lycett tells the FT’s Money Clinic podcast this week.
“I do slightly resent the onus being on the consumer to make the right choice, because often it’s expensive to make the right choice, and not everyone has that option.”
An unconventional consumer champion, 33-year-old Lycett has taken comedic campaigning to a professional level and turned it into a hit Channel 4 show called Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back.
One of his most famous stunts was changing his name by deed poll to Hugo Boss to protest against the German fashion house pursing small businesses with the word “boss” in their names.
He also set up a fake Twitter account posing as Ross McEwan, then the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, to raise awareness of customers falling victim to “number-spoofing” scams who were denied compensation by their bank.
Now in its third season, Lycett describes the programme as a “camp, silly, daft entertainment show with a real grounding in solid journalism and consumer affairs”.
As well as protesting about plastic, this series sees him expose lockdown-related issues including fraudulent puppy sales and the misery of unreliable broadband. Communications regulator Ofcom has responded by making him a “broadband tsar”. “It’s an unpaid role, which I’m furious about,” he says.
On the podcast episode, presenter Claer Barrett quizzes Lycett about his upbringing in Birmingham and how this shaped his attitudes towards money, as well as his campaigning spirit.
A pivotal moment was when his mother, who had worked for Cadbury for many years, was made redundant following the 2010 takeover by Kraft.
“The way that corporations treat people has a real indignity to it sometimes,” he says. “Obviously, companies exist solely for profit. That’s what they do. And sometimes when they get massive, the kind of thirst for profit outweighs any kind of humanity, I suppose, and that, I think is wrong and makes me cross.”
Lycett says he has invested his “telly money” with the help of a financial adviser. He has focused on ESG investments, although he has some misgivings.
“All these ethical funds say that they’re ethical, but I’m not checking — I haven’t got time to go through what they’re all up to,” he says. Nevertheless, he is encouraged that this style of investing is becoming more prevalent: “That’s the power of money, isn’t it?”
He also bought into the GameStop phenomenon. “My financial adviser said “what are you doing?” I’m sure [the shares] are worth dust now, but it was fun to be part of sticking it up to the man for a little while.”
Other than buying his home in Birmingham, Lycett confesses that his thrifty and green tendencies mean he is not a big spender.
“I don’t really buy things. I bought a Lexus, and I feel like a prick for that,” he says, showing off his sunglasses which cost £7 from a charity shop in Bridgend.
When he started out in comedy, he managed financially by juggling different jobs while living with his parents.
“I am wildly privileged . . . I mean, mum and dad aren’t rich, but I always knew that I could go home,” he says.
“I had a little job in a theatre selling ice creams and then tiny gigs that would give me thirty quid here and there. I used to do graphic design as well, designing posters and logos, things like that. And so I was sort of making money from different places and scraping by.”
One money rule that Lycett still sticks to was inspired by fellow comic Sarah Millican. “A few people refer to it as Millican’s Law,” he says. “If you’ve had a bad gig, spend the money on something you really want.”
After a particularly gruelling gig in Wigan a few years ago, Lycett bought a “Blow your own trumpet” necklace by the jewellery designer Bert Gilbert.
He jokes that he could probably now afford to buy items featured on the pages of the FT’s How to Spend It. “Maybe I’ll buy a yacht — is that a good investment? How much is a yacht? OK, I’m not there yet.”
Listen to the interview via the link above, or search for Money Clinic wherever you get your podcasts. ‘Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back’ airs on Thursdays at 8pm on Channel 4.