Dapper Laughs isn’t the problem, the issue of rape runs far deeper into the murky depths of stand-up comedy

14 Nov 2014


You’ve probably heard about a “comic” called Daniel O’Reilly who makes jokes about rape who goes by the name of Dapper Laughs. This week, he had his show pulled by ITV after a number of complaints. 180, to be exact. More than 60,000 people signed a petition calling for his show to be cancelled, yet just 180 people complained to the station. Why is this?


Well, for one thing, it’s a whole lot easier to quickly sign a petition than to go to the trouble of making a formal complaint. But why did ITV think it was a good idea to give airtime to a man who thinks that sexual assault is a subject worthy of humour? That they thought, in the words of their spokesman, that Dapper Laughs’ ‘Dapper On The Pull’ show was suitable content tells you a whole lot more about the issue at hand than anything Dapper Laughs says or thinks.


As does the fact that ITV thought that releasing a statement assuring viewers that Dapper Laughs’ content was “carefully considered and compiled” would make the situation better, not worse. But let’s sit back and analyse this for a second.


Far be it for me or anyone else to try and get into the head of a man who thinks that rape is a laughing matter. But this is not the first show that Dapper Laughs has done where he has attempted to make light of sexual assault.


If, the first time he had done his act, he had been met with a stunned silence before being booed and heckled to the point at which he had been forced to leave the stage and abandon his show, and if he had had the brass neck to try the performance at further shows and had received the same reaction, he would have had to accept that people do not find rape funny and find new material. However, this has not been the case.


During his most recent show, the audience laughed vociferously throughout, and when Dapper Laughs went through his act, the audience played up to him. As he stated through fits of laughter ‘you can’t rape women,’ an audience member shouted out ‘yes you can!’ Dapper Laughs’ show may have had relatively low viewing figures, but the theatre was full. He pursues this grotesquely scummy line of ‘comedy’ because it gets results. Rape jokes sell.


We, as a society, have to look at ourselves and be honest about how we normalise rape on a daily basis. If you change your mate’s Facebook status to ‘I love cock,’ you call it a ‘frape’. Rape jokes such as ‘it’s not rape if you shout ‘surprise’, punctuate the everyday conversation of otherwise perfectly nice, and charming people. Rape has been normalised within our culture and society to the extent that we don’t even think about it; rape is just another colour on the humour spectrum.


ITV apologised for Dapper Laughs’ show because they regretted “that any of our viewers were offended”. Not, sorry, hands up - we made a horrific error of judgment and we’ll think very carefully before putting viewing figures above basic human decency in future. We’re sorry that you didn’t find a raving misogynist threatening to rape an audience member side-splittingly hilarious.


Which brings me on to this. Dapper Laughs is far from the first stand-up in this country to make a joke about rape - Jimmy Carr does a fine line in misogynistic banter. Stand-up comedy in the UK is overwhelmingly a man’s sport. In particularly, there appears to be something about male comedians when they get together which brings out the worst in all of them.


"The open-mic circuit has basically turned into a rape circle," Irish comedian Mary Bourke said last year. "There are a lot of comics and not much audience, so the comics play to each other... and to get a laugh out of a comedian, you've got to shock."


That is not to say that all male comics are sub-human men-children who see rape jokes as just another way of getting a laugh; 16 male comedians were among the 44 who signed an open letter to Dapper Laughs cordially informing him that they did not believe that ‘the harassment of women or that misogyny dressed up as 'banter' is pushing any kind of boundary whatsoever.’


However, the pack culture which blights British universities, as lad culture dominates campus and the degradation of women is seen as an ongoing scouts’ collector book of badges, permeates the British stand-up comedy industry also.


Men like Daniel O’Reilly behave like they do for the same reason that 19 year old ‘lads’ at university do; they are deeply insecure about their own ability, their own talent, their own status and deeply uncomfortable within their own personalities. The fact that O’Reilly and other British stand-ups have to resort to rape jokes to impress each other (and indeed, that their focus is on impressing each other rather than winning their audience over) shows you how far British comedy has fallen. You can’t help but laugh, watching a Mock The Week panel of five men and one solitary, token woman mock UKIP for a lack of diversity.


Dara Ó Briain earlier this year hit out at the BBC for their ban on all-male panel shows, claiming that it would lead to female comedians being seen as ‘token’ women and made his point lucidly and thoughtfully. Maybe he’s right. But what the story of Dapper Laughs shows us is that we think about rape in grotesquely trivial terms, to the end that it has become a subject of humour. It’s not. Our stand-up comedians are boorish, dull, misogynistic and overwhelmingly male. Until both of these things change, Dapper Laughs will merely be the tip of the iceberg.


By Alex Shilling


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