Dapper Laughs believes that a big part of his perception problem is that he’s “working class”.
The controversial comedian – real name Daniel O’Reilly - whose comeback continues with a new agony uncle column in the Daily Star, tells HuffPostUK: “A certain part of me thinks, if I was Oxbridge-educated and I’d created this character, everyone would think, ‘This guy’s a genius,’ instead of it being me just basing this character on blokes I met when I was younger.”
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“I don’t think people thought I was intelligent enough to satire the comedy I was creating. They’d hear my accent, see I was working class and think, that’s not a character, that’s him.”
Dapper Laughs also thinks his South London background has led to some aspects of the media being guilty of underestimating the intelligence of his fans in recognising that it’s a persona he’s portraying in his routines, not his true self.
“I just think that specially a lot of the broadsheets, the way certain articles would condemn my fans,” he continues. “I’d think, have some respect for my fans, these are intelligent people.
Dapper Laughs complains the broadsheets underestimate the intelligence of his fans
“My fans range from 16 year olds to 45-year-old couples and these journalists are writing as though people can’t go to a comedy club and distinguish between what’s true and what’s funny. People were laughing at the vines, in the same way you’d laugh at Ali G. The audiences at my show are predominantly women, they laugh, knowing I’m saying, ‘that’s a twat.’
"It’s all right for Jimmy Carr to go on stage and crack a joke about rape, or Frankie Boyle to talk about Jordan’s kid, but that’s funny because it’s clear he’s a comedian.” I point out they’ve had their share of criticism, and Dapper Laughs agrees. “But not to the extent they were branded UK’s pro-rape comedian.”
It is strange meeting Dapper Laughs who, in person, is pleasant and polite, even while he remains thoroughly non-plussed about how his meteoric career, surfing happily on a wave of social media encouragement and a growing fan base, a year ago hit a wall of disapproval. It followed his off-the-cuff comment at a show about an audience member “gagging for rape” and suddenly found himself deafened by a roar of media criticism, enraged feminist bloggers, cancelled gigs and being slammed by Emily Maitlis on ‘Newsnight’. How does he view all that now?
“I feel that my world was comedy and fun and happy go lucky,” he admits. “Then when I became mainstream, I found this other world where everybody is upset about everything and you need to be careful, and all of a sudden our worlds come together and that’s when everything went wrong.
“So now, I’ve got to start learning that people get upset about everything, and you need to be more conscious and aware of what you’re saying. I guess I grew up through it. It’s like meeting your girlfriend’s parents. The media are my in-laws.”
Therein lies a pretty basic lesson, that increased popularity brings with it increased accountability, but Dapper Laughs’ career to date also serves as a salutary tale of how the pursuit of popularity can lead to a blossoming star compromising his integrity. As he explains, “When you’re raised into the limelight through social media and everything is about how many views you’re getting, how many likes, it’s easy to get swept up in that and forget about the content.
Daniel O'Reilly reveals he's learned that for his comedy to evolve, Dapper has to lose, not win
“Dapper Laughs started by walking down the street with his girlfriend, saying ‘Shall we eat in this restaurant?’ and then being upset because she’d eaten there before. He basically grew out of all my insecurities.
“Then, before I knew it, it grew into ‘all blokes say they’ve got a big dick’. As the fan base grew, I was chasing likes. Then we move forward six months, the TV show appears, people google him and the first thing they see is that later material, or me going up to a girl in a street and saying something. That’s an actress, but I filmed it on my phone, so I can see how people made the mistake.
“The more popular I became, especially with my last management, the more it became ‘look at me, I pull all the women, this is my TV show,’ when really the key to comedy is ‘look at how pathetic I am, and can’t you relate it to something equally pathetic in yourself and you’ll laugh at it?’ Dapper Laughs should lose at the end of the gag, not win.
“It definitely went to my head. Don’t get me wrong, there was a hell of a lot of hard work, a lot of writing, that went into that show, those tours, you don’t amass a couple of million followers on Facebook by winging it.
“It does get to a point where you think, ‘I’ve got a couple of million followers and you write an article, you think I should be portraying a better message, fuck off.’ I’m not a role model, but looking back on it now…
And there is a lot of looking back on it now. It’s clear when I sit down with him that Daniel O’Reilly is checking himself with every statement, clearing it first in his head, that Dapper - or at least his new manager – is aware he has to take some responsibility for the furore surrounding what went on if he is to have a second bite at the pie.
“I stand by that “rape” comment being completely taken out of context by the media, but in the lead up to that, some of my content in the vines, etc. looking back on it now,” he starts. “I used to get frustrated by it, and say I’m a comedian not a role model, but looking back on it now, when you’ve got millions of young lads watching your comedy, I can see why certain people got infuriated with what I was doing.
“So now, I just want to try and come across as more intelligent with my humour, staying funny but more intelligent. And also have a little more conscience about how things are portrayed by young lads and see if there’s anything, even more positive, that I could put across.”
"It's my manager's voice in my head"
But how can a comedian who likes to bat to the boundary of good taste, and whose talent is in spontaneously riffing off his audience, enjoy the same energy if he is constantly policing himself like a politician?
Dapper nods in agreement. “It’s difficult, it’s just taking more time with it. It’s just slowing it down. It’s my manager’s voice in my head.
“He’s saying, and I’m agreeing, it’s time to be more mature, let’s get some longevity in this, let’s not get my head kicked in. Especially if I want to keep my female fans because they’re more intelligent than my male ones, I’m going to have to go in a new direction, be more self-deprecating.”
Would he now consider himself a role model, if a reluctant one?
“I do now feel a sense of responsibility,” he affirms. “I used to do a lot of stuff about pulling women on the street, and I wouldn’t touch that stuff again now. On the question of sexual harassment and sexism, I learned a lot.”
During a recent Times interview, Daniel intimated he’d be a useful conduit for discussion on these topics, and he’s freshly furious no one seems to find him a fitting ambassador for such a project (apart from the Daily Star employing him as an agony uncle).
“No one wants to go on that journey with me,” he says, his frustration clear. “I might have got a lot of things wrong, but I can cross-pollinate my social media and talk to my fans, and I know I could find a way to speak to uni lads.
“There’s a struggle at the moment not just with men thinking it’s okay to have sex with women when they’re intoxicated, but men are being weary because it’s so easy to offend, so there is a melting pot of difficult things. I’d love to make a documentary, exploring all of this… Is it okay to go up to a woman in Tescos? Stuff like that.
“I did an interview in The Times, saying ‘Educate me’ and all the same journalists popped up saying ‘Dapper Laughs needs education that it’s not okay to rape’, so then I thought, stick it up your fucking arse.
“Once I calmed down after a couple of weeks, I thought, ‘I’ll do it in my own time and in my own way.”
It seems there are lessons learnt here, and lessons still to be learnt, and Daniel O’Reilly is aware of them both…
“With the level of exposure I’ve got, I have to take some responsibility for the consequences of my actions,” is how he sums it up.
“There was a certain amount of bad luck, a lot of arguments I had with journalists, and campaigning by news outlets to end my stuff. But I’ve got to take a certain amount of responsibility with some of the vines. It was heartbreaking, really.”
Is his heart repaired? “Yes, I guess. I’m enjoying myself now, but there have been months and months of no one wanting to get involved.”
He grins. “But you never know what the future holds. This all might have happened for a reason. It might just flip on its head. I could end up being the head of an international feminist group.”
And with that Dapper throws back his head and laughs loudly and long.
'Dapper Laughs: The Res-Erection Live' is available now on DVD.