You’ve done something extraordinary – you’ve made a consumer affairs show that’s actually funny. Explain about the show.
I would describe it as Watchdog with jokes, or Sexy Watchdog, as I think we refer to it at one point during the show. It takes all of the normal tropes of a consumer show, and just tries to make them funny. But not in a parody way, we’re not trying to undermine the format.
Why did you want to take such unpromising material and make a show like this?
I’ve been doing it on a much smaller scale anyway. But it’s always just been at the email level, it’s never gone beyond that. It’s never become something where I’ve taken to the streets. The whole thing came out of the fact that I once told a story about a parking fine I’d got in York. I challenged it over email, and went back with increasing levels of ridiculousness, and managed to get the fine reversed. I told that story on Cats Does Countdown, and it ended up going viral. It’s become known as my calling card, that parking fine and how I dealt with it, and this show is entirely based on the fact that being arsey and being silly can get results. I didn’t know whether it would work with other people’s issues, but thankfully in some of the cases – obviously you can’t win every time – we’ve got money back or changed policy at companies.
Is it more about making people laugh or righting wrongs? Do they come into conflict?
You have to keep an eye on it at all times, making a show like this, because it’s real people’s real issues, and some of the people have lost a lot of money or had a really distressing thing happen to them. It’s at those points when we generally don’t try and be funny. We might throw in a little light gag here and there, but it’s not the time to be flippant, so we’re quite sensitive to that. But also, these people have got in touch with our show, and it is me hosting it, so they know that the approach that we’re going to take isn’t going to be the most serious.
They’re not getting Anne Robinson.
They’re not getting Anne Robinson, although there are lot of comparisons to draw between me and her. They’re getting me. Often it’s people who have tried loads of other routes – they’ve tried the official routes, they’ve tried going to ombudsmen and things that are available to them, and they’ve got nowhere and no-one’s listening to them. So they’ve come to us, and I’m happy to be that last resort.
You’ve got a special guest on every week. What’s their role, and who have you got lined up?
I’ve got an assistant and a sidekick who’s on the show every week – he’s called Mark Silcox, and he’s one of my favourite people in the world. He’s so funny, and very, very dry. He goes off and does special reports and tests out customer policies and promises – so he does Burger King in episode one. But then the celebrity guest comes on and helps as an extra member of the team, so they help with some of the facts, we get their opinions on stuff, and what they think about whatever the story of the day is. So they provide a human element to it, I suppose. They’ve all been amazing. We’ve got Kathy Burke on show one, then Richard Madeley, Shirley Ballas, Stacey Dooley, Prue Leith and Liza Tarbuck.
What kind of cases do you tackle in this series?
The case in episode one is a meaty one, because we’re taking on a massive bank, and they generally don’t respond to anyone. So that felt like a really mammoth task. And we were dealing with a lot of money that had been stolen from a lovely young woman. She’d gone down all of the routes to get the money back and she wasn’t getting anywhere. So we took on this case. That was obviously a big one for us.
There’s been some really fun ones – serious stories, but fun for me! We looked into how easy it is to steal keyless cars. If you have the right equipment – which is available on the black market – it’s so easy to steal a keyless car, and something like 97 per cent of the cars that were made keyless in the last few years are basically vulnerable to being stolen. So I went out and stole a car, which was fun. If people don’t find it funny, which I think they will, at least learn some ways to protect themselves and their property.
You must have been keeping Channel 4’s lawyers exceptionally busy?
Oh my God, they hate me! Although I tried to get them very drunk on the last night of the shoot. The lawyers were kept very busy on this show, because there are so many things to juggle. I come up with so many ridiculous ideas – like the keyless car thing! I was like “Why don’t we just go and steal loads of cars and drive them off.” And they would say “Yeah, that would be a crime, Joe, you’re not allowed to actually steal people’s property.” So they had to essentially deal with an idiot who was trying to come up with ideas of how to make my programme funny. Their concern is less humour and more making sure nobody goes to jail. Which is so boring, isn’t it?
Does it feel like quite a responsibility? For example, trying to get someone’s life savings back…
Yeah, definitely. Particularly with that case, because I interviewed her, and she was so lovely, and it was clearly so distressing for her. You hear the footage of her receiving a phone call saying she’d lost her life savings, and them saying they’re sorry but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to get it back, and the shock and the horror of her reaction – it’s really upsetting. So you do think “Oh God, I hope we can do this.”
Do you get nervous before the big confrontations?
So nervous! I got better as I went along, but because I wasn’t used to it, I had such a new appreciation for people like Matt Allwright, who turn up to people’s houses and confront them. It’s so unnatural, and I’m not great with any form of confrontation. I really shy away from it. We did a pilot, and I had to doorstep a company, and I was so nervous. But by the end of the series I was loving it, really up for it. By then I’d got angry on behalf of other people, and I was up for it. Like anything that’s frightening, it was so worth it in the end. I remember we did a rave outside a company head office for one of the stunts, it was at 9am, and we all came away at 9am on a Tuesday having had a massive rave in the street, and we were all buzzing, and felt so good.
So the lesson is, we should all start every Tuesday with a rave?
Are you quite dogged about this sort of thing if it happens in your own life?
Yes. I knew this would happen with the show, I now have to deal with the many complaints of friends and family.
Is there anything particular from modern life that you would like to rail against and get overturned?
Lots of people hate waiting on hold for ages. I get frustrated with companies that present themselves as your mates. They use emojis in the messages they send you, and they’re very casual with their back-and-forth. That doesn’t work if they’ve rinsed you of all your money. I don’t want someone to be nice and friendly while telling me my bill’s gone up by 10 per cent because they’ve just decided that. So I get frustrated with the faux pally-ness these places tend to adopt.