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The Agony of a Misfired Joke

13/11/2014 17:21 GMT | Updated 13/01/2015 10:59 GMT

When I was about 10, my friend was in the kitchen, and he found one of those pie-chimney things:

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He held it upside-down and said to me 'Look, an Irish wine glass'.

I launched into a long tirade about the oppressed people of Ireland, and how racist it was to say a thing like that, until, in the end, he broke down in tears. 'I'm sorry' he said, the tears rolling down his cheeks. 'All I ever wanted to do was make people laugh'.

And I sort of feel the same way now, about Daniel O'Reilly. On Tuesday he appeared on Newsnight, to announce the permanent retirement of Dapper Laughs:

I believe his contrition. I have written before about Dapper Laughs (here and here, if you're interested) and I always felt there was more intelligence to Daniel O'Reilly than there was to Dapper Laughs. And what I saw confirmed to me that he is someone who got swept away on a tsunami of success, before finally being pulled up, and forced to realise the horror of the monster he had spawned.

No comedian in decades has caused so much debate. An open letter was sent to him, signed by 44 comedians, decrying his misogynistic material. And now they have won. Dapper is no more.

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I didn't sign the letter (I wasn't asked to either, mind you, I mean, I don't want to go making assumptions or anything) but if I had been asked, I don't know if I would have signed it. I am not quite so eager to cast the first stone. I can't pretend I have never made an error of judgment when trying to make people laugh. I did, spectacularly, a couple of years ago when I put a piece on YouTube. I had been doing various sketches where I was pretending to be the only person in the UK who was excited about the Olympics (no-one was, before they started). I was sick of the marketing and the PR spin around it all, and this homage to the mascot Wenlock was its climax.

It's just that I'd momentarily forgotten that at the time, I was working on BBC Local Radio. As a (pseudo) journalist.

I was summoned to the office the next morning, was told I was in breach of contract, that I had brought the BBC into disrepute, was asked if I had some self-destructive streak or something.

I cried. No, no, I said. None of those. I just saw an opportunity to do something I thought was funny. And it was funny. It was just that at that moment in time, I had the wrong audience. Betty in Halifax would *not* have enjoyed it. (I bet she would, secretly).

Daniel O'Reilly was not performing as 'Daniel O'Reilly'. It was a character. It was a character that had attracted the wrong audience. An ugly audience. In a clip from his live show, Dapper says "You can't rape women", to which a man in the audience yells "Yes, you can!" to hoots of laughter. I don't think O'Reilly's reply of "Geezer" was an endorsement. I think it was the way I, a 41-year-old British man, say "Dude..." It was a desperate attempt to say "seriously, come off it".

It would have been highly commendable for Dapper to have said "That is a wholly unacceptable attitude, and I will not continue this show until you retract that statement and apologise". It also would have been the end of the show, and, given the demographic of the audience, quite possibly the beginning of the glass-hurling.

I don't know what else he could possibly have done in that situation. I don't know what I would have done. In fact, he followed the advice given by @Natt, and went further, trying to turn the awfulness into an overblown pantomime, saying "This one's dying for a rape".

No-one can take this remark seriously. And if we have reached a point in society where the audience *is* taking that seriously, we can't blame O'Reilly for single-handedly bringing us to that point.

We know Doug Stanhope doesn't mean it when he's asking to hear the story about the time his friend "kick-fucked a girl with cerebral palsy". Is it, then, fair to judge O'Reilly by the response from his audience, rather than what he himself is saying? I don't know.

I know that Dapper Laughs' online messages and videos have gone beyond the pale. I am not going to pretend for a second that they were acceptable. I think O'Reilly was drunk on the character's success.

I think he is sober now.

Bill Hicks talked about his parents lamenting his use of cuss-words. His defence was that if Bob Hope played the same venues, he'd be every bit as foul-mouthed. I don't know where O'Reilly started out performing, but I can tell you that he almost certainly went down a damn sight better than I would have done doing, say, a well-observed distillation of Panorama in 90 seconds.

And on that parental note... It doesn't sound like O'Reilly's dad is quite the comedy mentor my father is. He's had to punch his way up through the ranks. And, as Dapper, it worked. For a while. He isn't a natural Guardian-reading, middle-class type. And perhaps that is why we didn't forgive him.

It's also partially because we don't know who Daniel O'Reilly is, and therefore we can't distinguish between the two.

He could immediately go on tour, with his too-dangerous-for-TV show. But he's chosen not to. I'm not trying to be an apologist for him. I understand why people were upset. But however angry his stuff has made you, I would suggest that we cut the guy some slack now. He has nothing. Nothing at all. Apart from some raw comedic talent. I still maintain he is a gifted performer. What he needs, really, is a mentor. And quite a lot of counselling. I'm happy to volunteer as the former.

Once I'd made my friend cry for his racist pie-crust chimney joke, I can't say I felt particularly great about myself. I felt like I'd crushed what was, however misguided, a perfectly commendable intention - to cheer somebody's day up a bit. Daniel O'Reilly had the same intention. He just failed on a spectacular scale. And if he's truly contrite, then maybe we could lay down the righteousness for a bit and show him some compassion.

Chin up, Daniel. It'll be ok.