Well, as the kids on the internet say: that escalated quickly. A week ago, comedy sexist Dapper Laughs was merrily flogging his awesomely bad Christmas album and looking forward to his 2015 live tour. His face, flanked by the lacy backsides of two models, smirked contentedly on the poster for his Christmas gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. His ITV2 series, Dapper Laughs on the Pull, had just finished. Life was sweet.
By last night, Dapper Laughs was dead. Or at least, the man who played him, Daniel O’Reilly, was on Newsnight – Newsnight! – retiring the character. The interview, in which O’Reilly was destroyed by a coldly furious Emily Maitlis and almost ended up crying on air, is a grimly compelling example of someone who knows they’ve been caught out, trying to minimise the damage but finding they’ve got nowhere to run.
O’Reilly argued that Dapper Laughs was a comedy creation that was misunderstood. He didn’t believe what Dapper was saying. He was satirising those attitudes. O’Reilly underlined this by presenting a new image for the interview: head to toe in Nigella-in-court beleaguered black, his quiff gone limp, Dapper’s trademark cheeky beard shaved off. See? A totally different person.
Nobody’s buying it. Dapper Laughs was a stage name, not a comedy character. It’s far too late for O’Reilly to try to distance himself.
A quick recap for the uninitiated: Dapper Laughs rose to fame on Facebook and the video-sharing network Vine, peddling breathtakingly crude jokes about women and how to have sex with them. Dapper, with his large penis that he often mentioned, was the king of “banter”, anonymous one-night stands and the idea that women who don’t respond to quite aggressive propositioning are frigid, lesbians or both. Men who don’t want to treat women in this way, including gay men, were targets too. Think of the worst preening, Lynx-doused sexist bore in the pub/office. (This might help: O’Reilly was formerly a lettings agent in Clapham.)
Apart from being godawful comedy of a kind that would have looked creaky and old-fashioned in the 1970s, the serious side of Dapper Laughs was that his “comedy” fed a segment of society who are still, in 2014, viciously misogynist. Much of what Dapper said and did would constitute intimidation and harassment if repeated in the presence of women in real life. The phrase “rape culture” is not too strong, and Dapper Laughs was a part of it.
O’Reilly’s claim to be mocking those attitudes doesn’t stand up. There simply wasn’t any irony or satire. At no point was Dapper made the butt of the joke, instead of women and people who treat them respectfully. O’Reilly could not fail to see all along that the fans were laughing with Dapper, not at him. It’s not even as if O’Reilly is some kind of Bernard Manning or Roy “Chubby” Brown figure: a skilled comic who can work a stage and construct a solid gag, but who uses those powers to say despicable things. His comedy was laughably poor. The leering hate was all there was.
As someone on Twitter said: if this was his Alan Partridge, I don’t want to see his Tony Ferrino.
Towards the end of the Maitlis dismemberment, the mask slips and O’Reilly starts talking about “the media” and how the past week’s bad headlines have “ruined everything”. Angry as his fans might be at the news that Dapper has been taking them for a ride the whole time, O’Reilly is not really sorry for what he did. He’s sorry he got found out.
O’Reilly himself isn’t the problem any more, since his 15 minutes is surely up. Which is fine, by the way: he’s merely had his platform taken away. He’s not been castrated or executed. He’s not even been censored. Free speech doesn’t extend as far as a divine right to a media career.
But the mouth-breathers who followed him, and who have hurled the most rancid abuse at Dapper’s critics in the past seven days, are still out there: fearful of women and gay men, tearfully furious at not getting enough sex, spewing bile at feminism and trying to convince themselves that women who don’t want to sleep with them are just playing a malicious game, rather than wanting to get away from the angry moron. Those people need slow, compassionate education, not loud encouragement.
This is where ITV2 comes in. ITV is in part a public broadcaster, with all the duties and responsibilities that status entails – that it chose to give Dapper Laughs a voice is what’s really worrying here. The people who commissioned Dapper Laughs on the Pull knew who they were hiring. When I wrote about those Vines back in August, I didn’t cherry-pick ten that made Dapper Laughs look bad. There were plenty that were much worse that I didn’t want to share.
Racism on TV has long since been radioactive, but it seems sexism is still not such a big deal. ITV2 stuck with Dapper Laughs for as long as it possibly could. It had actually got away with showing Dapper Laughs on the Pull, in which our hero gave shy men lessons on how to be more lecherous. The storm only came when Dapper publicly took exception to a review of his Christmas record on the Daily Mirror online offshoot UsVsTh3m, claiming the album had been made to raise money for the homeless (his record company confirmed that none of your £5.99 on iTunes actually went direct to any charity; Shelter stated that it wouldn’t accept any donation Dapper might choose to make) before copying two UsVsTh3m journalists into a tweet, with the completely foreseeable result that they were deluged with vitriol – particularly the female one, Abi Wilkinson.
What had happened was that people who never watch ITV2 and hadn’t come across Dapper Laughs before had seen the hoo-hah on Twitter and started speaking up. Before then, ITV had quietly been using Dapper’s mouth-breathers as a source of revenue.
Initially, the channel batted away complaints. Then when footage emerged of rape jokes at a Dapper Laughs gig, the bad PR was stinking too much and ITV2 announced that there wouldn’t be a second series of On the Pull. Its spokesperson trotted out the bogus “character” defence and carefully noted that the criticisms were about Dapper’s behaviour outside his ITV2 show.
This is true – actually, On the Pull was Dapper toned down slightly, and was more dull and tiresome than offensive –but it’s just not good enough. You can’t commission someone explicitly on the back of their online presence and then say that their online presence is not your concern. Giving someone a TV show is giving them approval.
There’s no hint of apology or contrition in anything ITV2 has said about the whole drab saga. Chasing the lowest common youth denominator has exploded in their faces this time. Whether they’ve really learned any lesson is still to be seen.