A police enquiry into a joke made by British comedian Joe Lycett has been shelved, The Belfast Telegraph reports. The gag involved Lycett saying he wanted to show himself as an infant au naturel with oversized genitalia, which had rubbed an audience member the wrong way.
The 33-year-old stand-up comic, known from his appearances at Live at the Apollo, was reported after a Waterfront Hall performance on June 8th, an investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland confirms. It concluded not to pursue the matter any further since “no offences were detected after the context of the joke was explained.”
Having been cleared of any wrongdoing, Lycett said on Instagram that “to be fair to them the fuzz [police] were very nice about it all but felt they had a duty to investigate,” while promising that “the joke—which I consider to be one of the best I’ve ever written—remains firmly and proudly in the show,” and that the tour “continues until September, unless I am jailed.”
The comedian promptly proceeded to make deft use of the controversy to market his show:
Relating his experience on BBC’s The One Show, Lycett considered the police being called “quite extreme” as well as “so funny” since the joke was “not offensive” but “just silly,” and “not offensive to any group of people.”
While some—Lycett included—might want to brush it off as a humorous episode, how it reflects the current state of free speech in the UK is decidedly not. Police allocating their resources to investigate a private citizen whose job it is to attempt to entertain people (with the risk of failing in this, as well as possibly causing offence), is yet another symptom of a larger trend of UK lawmakers’ growing discomfort with free speech.
It recalls the infamous case of British YouTuber Count Dankula (real name Mark Meechan) who in 2018 was found guilty under the Communications Act and fined £800 over showing his girlfriend’s pug raising its paw in response to statements including “sieg heil” and calls to murder Jewish people.
Meechan defended the joke as being centred around the “juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar,” he then told reporters outside of court. His defence lawyer, Ross Brown, argued the case could have an impact on comedians, while saying about Meechan that “his difficulty, it seems, was that he was someone who enjoyed shock humour, both giving and receiving it, and went about his life under the impression that he lived in a jurisdiction which permitted its citizens the right to freely express themselves.”