R.I.P Dapper Laughs
"Dapper Laughs was not a character comedian. He was a vile, disgusting, money grabbing shit operating under the banner of character comedy."
As I stand above the open grave, I look down into the black abyss. Tears welling up in my eyes like dew on the morning grass. A lump in my throat constricts the tiny noises trying to break out. I stand, staring. Sadness weighing down on me like a rucksack full of rocks – big, black rocks of despair. I run the soil through my fingers; it breaks up and hides in the crevasses of my palm. How did it come to this?
Eventually time and responsibility bear down with increasing insistence, it forces my hand. I hurl the crumbs of dirt down onto the casket, an empty prayer on my tongue. I look up at the tombstone – a solid grey slab of clarity, a reminder of all that’s lost. The engravings are deep, as deep as the hole I stand above. I turn and see a woman next to me. She is crying into her coat sleeve. She flashes a glance at me and then turns away just as quick, a new torrent of tears appearing. I look at her closely, the grief in those eyes. ‘She knows’, I think. ‘She knows’.
I’m sure many people feel like me this week; mourning the loss of another great comedy character. Dapper Laughs isn’t the first true figure of social satire to fall by the wayside. Think of Spike Milligan’s character from Curry and Chips, Kelvin Mackenzie or that woman who threw a cat in a bin. They are all gone but not forgotten. Their impact on how we perceive the world remains, like the arse-impression Katie Hopkins leaves in the This Morning couch. Deep, dank and long lasting.
I used to be a character comedian. A lot of people think it’s easy, it’s not. You tread a fine line between being a well-observed creation and just a bloke in a hat. Many times I have fallen into the latter category and I believe it’s because I didn’t have the determination to push boundaries, the will to go that bit further, the – heck, I’ll say it – the testes of a character like Dapper Laughs.
But now Dapper Laughs is gone, killed off in his prime. Yes, he’s still balls deep, but this isn’t what he wanted. Was it old Dap’s desire to find the line and cross it, that saw to his untimely end? Was it down to the hordes of people that automatically sign up to online petitions without reading the headline – restoring the NHS, making more bees, re-commissioning Ripper Street? Or was it to do with the endless stream of misogyny, aggression and blatant sexual harassment that was rife in his work? Comedy historians (if there are such things) will be debating this one for a long, long time.
But what is there to debate? After all, it was just a character. The jokes, the jibes, the sheer magnitude of sexual violence were all part of the Dapper Laughs character – a finely honed deconstruction of lad culture. At least that’s what his creator, Daniel O’Reilly, stated. And he has a point; it was just a character, so therefore it shouldn’t be taken seriously. After all, character comedy is the lowest form of wit (despite popular belief) so if you’re expecting attention to detail and a clear moral underpinning to your comedy, you’re going to be sadly mistaken.
Maybe that’s where I went wrong with my character comedy? Maybe I was so fixated on being clear about what my intentions were, that my jokes were too self-conscious to be funny?
I used to play a protest singer (and still will, for the right price) and I spent a lot of time clarifying where the joke was. By the nature of who the character was, I knew I would have to tackle controversial topics like racism, sexism, politics, charities etc, and part of the difficulty in making the character work was finding the right way to attack those topics.
For a long time I toyed with doing material about sexism and feminism. I found I wanted to say something about the aggressive and dismissive attitude towards women that seems frighteningly common. I could never get my material to work. I kept falling into the trap of writing sexist comments that were played for irony. In the end I decided if I couldn’t do it properly, I wouldn’t do it at all.
I should have been more like Dapper Laughs, I should have ploughed on regardless. After all, I could say whatever I liked because I have the Character Card in my back pocket. Only, I didn’t want to do it that way. I didn’t want that to be my excuse because it’s not an excuse. Character comedy doesn’t give you free reign to say what you like and get away with it. Like all comedy – and I mean all – it has to justify its reasoning beyond it being a joke. A joke about black people, gypos and poofs are all jokes, but that doesn’t mean they’re jokes worth telling.
Alan Partridge, Al Murray, John Shuttleworth, Kevin Eldon, Victoria Wood, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Whitehouse, Harry Enfield, Stewart Lee, Basil Fawlty, Captain Mainwaring, Tony Hancock – character comedy isn’t bad comedy. It’s a chance to play with audiences’ perceptions, challenge what they find funny and bring new outlooks to a circuit that has a lot of familiarity.
I miss doing character comedy. Really miss it. Dapper Laughs was not a character comedian. He was a vile, disgusting, money grabbing shit operating under the banner of character comedy and I won’t stand for it. Or any moron who thinks that they can spout hatred and pass it off as irony.
If you want to create a comedy character then be prepared to work at it, to constantly refine and re-affirm who they are, taking cues from your audience and making your targets clear. If you want to shout obscenities and promote a culture of sexual aggression and fear then have the fucking decency to do it under your own name. Leave character comedy to those of us who want to do it properly.
Daniel O’Reilly, you should know better.