Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Listening to Dapper Laughs

I arrived at the Battle of Ideas at lunchtime on Saturday and found there was a debate on comedy and offence starting shortly in one of the Barbican's cinemas.

It sounded my sort of thing, so I went along.

When I got there I found Dapper Laughs was one of the speakers.

If it had been any other event there would have pickets or I would have been called "Tory Scum" or spat on by Guardian columnists. Because it was the Battle of Ideas I just wandered in and found him there.

I got the memo. I have written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. I know I am meant to hate Dapper Laughs.

It's just that I have never heard him perform.

I did not rush back to listen to him either. I have reached an age where I don't like many comedians.

When you are younger, comedy matters immensely. It helps form your own sense of humour and even your view of the world. When I was in the sixth form (that's years 12 and 13 by my calculation) we conversed using lines from Fawlty Towers and Reginald Perrin in the way Victorian schoolboys are supposed to have swapped Latin tags.

Today I will admit to liking Alexei Sayle and Stewart Lee, and that is about it.

So I shall review the Dapper Laughs I saw on Saturday.

The first thing to say is that he was intensely irritating. When you look at local papers from the 1950s, you see that if a well-known comedian was in town he felt compelled to pull a face when he was photographed to prove how funny he was.

That approach has crept back in (think Mel and Sue saying "Bake!" in a range of achingly funny voices) and Dapper Laughs has certainly bought in to it. He spent the whole debate mugging to the audience and punched the air if someone agreed with him.

And for those who worry about manspreading - personally, I grew up in an era when radical politics involved something more than telling people to sit up straight - he contrived to take up three chairs.

But his arguments were better,

Because, he told us, he is not Dapper Laughs, His name is Daniel O'Reilly. Dapper Laughs is a character he plays. He is making fun of men's sexism, not celebrating it.

And before you dismiss that, remember how annoyed you get if some right-wing commentator fails to appreciate all the layers of irony in Stewart Lee's act - Will Self wrote well about him the other day - and assumes that something he says in his act is his real view.

As the other panelist, Tom Slater, pointed out, we middle-class liberals celebrate our ability to navigate Lee's shifting meanings but assume that a working-class man who hears a joke about rape will assume rape is just fine.

Well, maybe. But I find arguments that rely on affecting outrage on behalf of some other group inherently unconvincing. Too much education debate today takes place between people pretending to be outraged on behalf of teachers and people pretending to be outraged on behalf of parents. The real issues never get discussed.

So that was Dapper Laughs. Or "Dapper Laughs".

I did not rush to watch his videos when I got home. I expect I would hate him. But then I hate most comedians these days.

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