#QuestionsToWhichTheAnswerIsNo On the other hand, Dapper Laughs is asking society to educate him about sexual violence. The comedian who famously had his show cancelled last year after footage emerged of him apparently telling a woman in the audience she was “gagging for a rape”, has given an interview in which he claims the footage was deliberately edited to make him look bad. However, he also says that he should have been offered education about sexism and sexual violence instead of being fired. “Not once was I invited to learn more about sexual violence, rape and sexism and the problem with the attitude of men”, he complained, suggesting that he could have then educated the “millions” of men who watch his material.
It’s an odd move, this. The cancellation of Dapper Laughs’ show produced an awful lot of indignation about free speech, the nanny state, feminists not being able to take a joke and similar defences. The “can’t you take a joke, love” brigade were out in force, along with the “stifling creative edginess will ruin British comedy” squad and the “when they came for Bernard Manning, I said nothing, for I was younger and had better TV prospects” detachment. (I even saw a certain amount of “they hate him because he’s working class and wasn’t in Footlights”, which once again proved the point Rhian E. Jones has long been making about middle-class laddism playing with stereotypes of working-class masculinity.) Newsnight ran an interview with Daniel O’Reilly, Dapper Laughs’ real name, in which he wore a black turtleneck and jacket, and leant over at a vaguely Tom Paulin angle whilst shifting in his seat to emphasize the extent to which all offence is a product of normative discourse. He also declared during that interview that he had stopped playing the character, only to declare he was starting again about a month later.
So the cycle of excuse and indignation has worked itself through. It’ll probably be familiar to a lot of people who notice sexism in the media. The objections that it was just a joke, the yelps of free speech and endangered creativity, the shallow postmodern musings on irony and the gap between character and performer, the declarations that they take this much more seriously than other men, and the outraged demands that society solve this problem by giving them more coverage. I forget where Danny Dyer is in this cycle right now. He and Ricky Gervais seem to be describing Ptolemaic orbits around it at any given moment these days.
But it wasn’t simply the joke, whether it was edited or not. There may have been a certain amount of jumping on the “gagging for a rape” incident because it was so blatant and indefensible, but that in itself would not have provoked the barrage of criticism which ensured his show was cancelled. People objected to Dapper Laughs’ comedy because it was vile, misogynistic and encouraged young men to sexually harass women. Not because he said an awkward thing in a live club setting once. This was a comedian whose shtick consisted in large part of street harassment: shouting sexual comments at young women and then enjoying their discomfort. Plenty of women reported his catchphrases being yelled at them on nights out, and whilst there’s no evidence to suggest that Dapper Laughs caused any notable street harassment, it’s telling that men who like to bellow sexual slurs to intimidate women thought he was a good act to copy.
And he has apparently accepted that he had a problem, without realising a fairly basic point about saying he needs teaching about “the problem with the attitude of men”. That if it is a lack of education to blame, then he’s the last person who should be on our screens. Someone who openly admits that he does not understand the dangers of sexual violence and misogyny in our society should not be performing comedy which is based on “laddish” humour and jokes which pit men against women. Presumably he cannot be trusted – I assume he does not trust himself – not to stray across lines which he has just said he is unaware of. He should surely not be marketing a show to men whom he believes enjoy toxic sexism if he doesn’t know what’s wrong with joking about rape or encouraging young men to sexually harass the women around them. If what young men need is education on these topics (and I’d agree they do), then a comedian who claims not to understand the problem with male attitudes to rape should definitely not be the person delivering it.
It reveals an extraordinary level of entitlement, which I’m afraid tends to display itself mostly in men. Having been told that his act was harmful to women, and apparently accepted that, he believes that it is his critics’ job to teach him how to perform better, and keep paying him in the meantime. Very few businesses would employ someone on the basis that having been so bad at their job that they were dangerous to other people, they had a moral right to be kept on the payroll whilst they learned better. The basic assumption beneath his demands seems to be that he has a right to be on television, and anyone who criticised what he does is responsible for making sure he does something different.
I wish I had his optimism that the Dapper Laughs audience would be fascinated by a lad-turned-VAWG campaigner teaching them about the perils of toxic masculinity and the need to respect women whilst yelling sexual suggestions in their direction. I don’t think it’s his magnetic personality or his impeccable comic timing that people tuned in for. I think it was his ability to channel a particularly vicious kind of sexism which covers its hatred of women with an “ironic” gloss. He made money because a lot of men like to watch someone abusing women and getting away with it. If he has finally understood that, then he’ll understand why his critics don’t owe him an education and don’t owe him a TV show either.