Dapper Laughs: 'Being Deemed The "Pro-Rape Comedian' Was Heartbreaking'
The Debrief: Daniel O'Reilly - AKA Dapper Laughs - is back. But has he cleaned up his act? Rosamund Urwin finds out...
Dapper Laughs is showing me a photo of a recent gig. 'It's all female at the front - the first four or five rows.' The comedian - real name Daniel O'Reilly - is trying to convince me that not all women find his act offensive; some are 'in' on the joke. Dapper, he says, reminds those female fans of men they know: that's what they find funny.
That he feels the need to do this reflects the low public opinion of him. Last autumn, Dapper went from being a rising star to a pariah. The ITV2 series he'd made after winning a large fan base with his Vine clips was dubbed 'a rapist's almanac'. A petition to axe it attracted 68,000 signatures. Eventually, O'Reilly went on Newsnight where he was grilled by Emily Maitlis and announced Dapper's 'death'. That was a year ago; by Christmas Day, he'd resurrected him.
The Dapper act was crass, lewd and sprinkled with casual sexism and homophobia ('gay' is used as an insult) - an extreme form of laddism. 'Alright, babe, do you like my face?' he asks in one Vine. 'You want to fucking sit on it?' Sometimes, the joke was explicitly on him. 'Got anal last night,' he says, winking at the camera. Then it cuts to him waddling, legs splayed.
But the biggest charge against Dapper was that he incited harassment and violence against women, and condoned rape. In one Vine, he's seen telling a girlfriend (who's offscreen) that her skirt is a 'little bit short'. Seconds later, he's telling her to 'change it' - and pointing a gun. The killer blow for Dapper, though, was a video recorded at a gig where he uses the phrase 'gagging for a rape' about a woman in the audience.
He sighs when I bring that up. 'My family has been affected by sexual violence, so being deemed the "pro-rape comedian" was offensive not just to me, but to them. It was heart-breaking.' The 'gagging' remark, he says, was simply him parroting a female fan: 'I didn’t say she was gagging for a rape. The piece was that I was frustrated people were saying my show was an almanac for rape. A woman shouted: "Don’t worry, my friend Lucy loves you and she’s gagging for a rape." And I said: "What did you say; she’s gagging for a rape?"'
O'Reilly goes on: 'I don’t write jokes about rape. I didn’t go on and say: "badum tish" about rape.' Here I should mention that another Dapper epigram was: 'Just show her your penis. If she cries, she’s playing hard to get.' Badum tish?
O'Reilly's defence is that Dapper Laughs is a persona - not him. He also insists that the jokes always mock Dapper, not women. 'If I make jokes about something derogatory a man says to a woman, I’m taking the piss out of how pathetic the man's attitude is.' The problem with that, I say, is that some people may not understand who's the punchline. 'Yeah,' he nods. 'If you're going to create satire, it certainly needs to be more obvious, which I think is where the problem was.'
The comedian Stewart Lee suggested in a recent interview that part of the problem for O'Reilly was that he'd made his name doing six-second Vines, and was thrown into doing the ITV2 series too quickly. Does O'Reilly agree? 'Yeah. 100 per cent. You see 30 million views on a video and you think to yourself: "If my fans are enjoying it…" You don’t think about the responsibility. The speed of it can affect you. I know I’ve still got the fans but I wish I could turn back time and be a little bit more intelligent with the media.'
It's difficult to know how reformed O'Reilly really is. He tells me he's a feminist '110 per cent', acknowledges that past Dapper behaviour could perpetuate objectification of women, and says he now knows how big an issue sexual violence is. He also says there are sketches he would never do again: 'I need to take a certain amount of responsibility for some of the content I was putting out; some of the Vines were offensive.'
One of those showed him approaching a woman (an actress), asking to smell her 'fanny'. When she refused, he'd say 'well, it must be your feet then'. 'It's a funny joke, right?' Well, one of us thinks so at least. 'But I can imagine lads going "if he can do that..." It would break my heart if I actually saw a lad go over and say that to a girl. That's sexual harassment.'
But I keep wondering if he’s saying this more for my benefit than because he’s had a true change of heart. As much as O'Reilly shows hints of trying to be the modern man, he's also very defensive: 'It was embarrassing to see how easily manipulated the UK are by the media,' he says of the causes of Dapper's temporary demise. 'For one comment like that to be taken out of context and used as ammunition to destroy my career… Looking back on it now, I’m really surprised that I managed to get through it.'
By 'it', he's talking about both the news stories about him, and then the resulting online backlash he suffered. For four days, he was trending worldwide of Twitter as a 'pro-rape' comedian: 'There are certainly millions of people who that’s the only thing they’ve ever heard about me.'
Some of the abuse was horrendous (though so were the threats some of his followers hurled at his critics). O'Reilly was told 'I hope your Dad dies of cancer' (his father had just been diagnosed) and 'I hope your Mum and sisters get raped'. It got so nasty, he took Twitter off his phone. The media, he says, was also hounding his family. He'd lost the TV show and a fortune by cancelling his tour. When his stepmother told O'Reilly that his father wouldn't discuss his illness because he could see his son was 'falling apart at the seams', he realised he had to pull the plug on Dapper.
Why - when it's caused him so much misery - bring the character back, then? O'Reilly says that decision came partly because his father is now in remission and urged his son to restart, partly because fans were petitioning him.
And why on Christmas Day? 'I hoped all the journalists would be having their Christmas dinner. I thought maybe they’d fucking forget. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Everyone put down their knives and forks and got straight on it, wanting [to write] the first piece to come out.'
So how will his material differ now? 'I’m more cautious with what I say and how things can be taken out of context.' He claims his new DVD, the Res-Erection, is even Mum-safe despite its title: Mama O'Reilly watched it on Saturday. 'She was in hysterics the whole way through, crying her eyes out. Afterwards, she was quite emotional and was like "I’m so proud" because she’s seen me sneaking into comedy clubs when I was under-age.'
I’ve watched it too – and it doesn’t seem to tally with what he’s been telling me. The DVD is filmed at a stand-up gig in Clapham. At one point, a woman is heckling him, and Dapper says [presumably to a man standing next to her, though we can’t see him]: ‘Fella – stick a cock in it. Giving it all that, like it’s a first Tinder date. She’s going to get it.’ He talks about his Newsnight interview too: ‘It’s the only time I’ve actually ever played a character’. Then – mistakenly calling Maitlis ‘Maitland’ - he proclaims: ‘I would. The whole way through it I was just thinking: “you fucking want it, don’t ya?”’
So has Dapper Laughs really changed? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Dapper Laughs: The Res-Erection Live is available on DVD and Digital from 16th November.
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Follow Rosamund on Twitter: @rosamundurwin
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