Clapham's own Daniel "Dapper Laughs" O'Reilly
We all went to school with people who seemed to be endowed with an astonishing level of self-confidence. People who made up for what they lacked in shame with tons of annoying horseplay, shit jokes and a weirdly premature knowledge of sex that only made sense when you went round their house and they showed you their parents' VHS porn stash. They were people that everyone hated, but whose disruptive egos and attention seeking at least provided some respite from another late afternoon Maths class.
Most of the time, these qualities don't translate into adult life very well. They may have been the class clown, but they didn't have the brains or the graft to become an actual comedian and so these days the only audience for their in-your-face dickery are sighing bar staff and exhausted co-workers.
But what happens when one of these people, whose only talent is a particularly obnoxious form of noisy narcissism, actually finds an audience beyond the poor souls they encounter in their everyday lives? Well, they become Dapper Laughs – the creation of Daniel O'Reilly, who currently has 473,000 people following his Vine account, which just about makes him a bona fide new-media icon. Olly Riley for adults. Owen Jones for twats.
Dapper Laughs is a particularly modern phenomenon – a star without a show, a comedian without anything to say, an entertainer whose stage is merely his own social media accounts. He's an inherently normal bloke from South London whose antics, which you could find in any pub garden across the country, have somehow made him famous.
But not famous in the way that'll get him a Perrier Award, or a slot on QI, or even a seat on Tim Lovejoy's Sunday Brunch, but famous within the deeply proletarian, increasingly separated underworld of British culture. The universe of Soccer AM, Jamie Jones, Helen Flanagan, Tyson Fury, George Groves, Sam Supplier, Michelle Keegan, Tamer Hassan and, of course, Danny Dyer. The universe where Jodie Marsh is better known than Cate Blanchett – a universe that Vagenda seeks to destroy and Tommy Robinson hoped and failed to inspire: suburban white men with hairstyles and tattoos – these douchebags, basically.
To these people, Dapper Laughs is the boisterous, apolitical, unrefined voice of our time; the fact that he can amass 19,000 Facebook Likes for Vining himself telling a bad joke about small penises and fake orgasms says it all.
His schtick is strange and inconsistent. Sometimes he's an arch-womaniser, the Warren Beatty of Clapham High Street. In others, he's more like Buster Keaton, a hapless mess who struggles to pull at all. Sometimes his penis is enormous, sometimes it's small and a source of embarrassment. Sometimes he tells men in the gym that he likes the look of their testicles, in others he puts on a camp lisp and makes fun of gay people.
His laughs are as cheap as his production values; a few weeks ago he took the Science Museum's escalator into the earth's crust and Vined himself comparing it to the viewer's mother's vagina. One recurring motif includes shoving packets of Walker's into Gary Lineker's son's face. He pretends he's being chased by disabled people. He puts on quasi-racist minstrelsy rudeboy voices. He dabbles in crude slapstick. He approaches girls on the street and tells them that they're "proper moist". He makes fun of men for having long hair. He pretends to shit himself.
He is, in the simplest terms, an absolute tosser. The kind of man whose annual holidays in Spain are enough to make the rest of the planet hate Britain. The kind of man who'd get his face stamped on if he lived anywhere other than Clapham. The kind of man who'd be shot by his own unit in Vietnam. A tosser. A total fucking tosser. A total, total bag of shit tossing itself off all over the internet.
To scroll down his Vine page is to see shades of Benny Hill, Bernard Manning, Adam Sandler, Woody Allen and Andrew Dice Clay all in the same act. And, for me, it's the Dice-Man that his persona – and audience – has the most in common with.
When Dice Clay first burst onto the US comedy scene he was a total anathema. Despite being criminally unfunny, his crude nursery rhymes and aggressive sexism struck something of a nerve with the young, white, blue-collar, heterosexual American male of the time. He became the first comedian ever to sell out Madison Square Garden, but most people would tell you that he wasn't even a comedian. Rather, a caricature – an amalgamation of the worst parts of American culture and our own hidden desires to be the worst we possibly can.
Dapper – whose foray into live stand-up means he can now add the slightly-less-impressive feat of selling out two nights at the Scala to his résumé – is made of the same stuff. His comedy is aimed and marketed at a section of the population who probably find themselves alienated by the comedy cognoscenti, who, despite all their dumbing down and casual "isms", come from a resolutely liberal, Oxbridge background. There's a reluctance on TV these days to admit that not everyone wants to hear weak jokes about politicians all the time.
Dapper Laughs manages to fill this gap because he understands his audience. He didn't play the Edinburgh festival, but he is compering the premiere for Noel Clarke's new football hooligan parody film. He's never been on a panel show, but he's done meet and greets at satellite town nightclubs. He doesn't know Stephen Fry, but he does know Kirk Norcross. He's never done anything for Comment Is Free, but he did tweet at Katy Perry to let her know that he desperately wanted to "ruin her".
Whether you're offended by his routine or not, it's impossible to deny that there are people out there who like Dapper Laughs. He knows who these people are and manages to convey just the right balance of respect, arrogance and piss-taking towards them. So much so that he can thrive off their adoration alone.
By most modern measures, he's insanely popular. His Facebook updates rarely score less than 10,000 likes. He managed to get thrown out of Manchester's Arndale Centre for getting 200 people to mob him outside. He even had a single, "Proper Moist", that was in the top ten for a while, without any radio airplay or mainstream media attention and despite the fact it sounded like the B-side of that Richard Blackwood single that came out ages ago. In fact, besides this piece, only one big newspaper has ever even written about him. Dapper Laughs is somebody who doesn't need the establishment – which is a good, because the establishment doesn't want him.
But does Dapper want them? He's recently got himself an agent, a manager, merchandising and made the move into live shows. There are even whispers of a TV show. Right now, he's accidentally underground, unintentionally "cult". It's just that in modern Britain, where the newspapers are edited by ex-music writers and the TV stations run by recent redbrick graduates, the underground is what's left over after the mainstream's sucked out anything that is deemed to possess the right kind of politics, morality, taste and cultural value for mass middle-class audiences. The underground is no longer a bastion of taste and originality. In fact, it's the total opposite: an openly banal, crude and flagrantly offensive world.
Something like Viz used to operate under similar terms, but there was always a subversive, anti-establishment streak to all the vulgarity. There's nothing subversive going on with Dapper Laughs; he wants to be part of the establishment, it's just that he probably isn't really funny, interesting or likeable enough to make it there. Mind you, I'm sure it won't be too long before we see him asking Susan Sarandon if she's moist, or something. But it will be on Vine.
Over the last few months I've spent a lot of time looking over his body of work. I became fascinated by but never quite enamoured with him. Desperately looking for a glint of charm, or weakness, or honesty, or integrity, it was nowhere to be seen. Just six seconds after six seconds after another six seconds of him being a tosser.
His act is basically that he'll say anything about anyone, do anything for a laugh, and show up anywhere he's paid to be. I couldn't quite understand why a man with such negligible talent – and such a nasty persona – could have gained the kind of popularity he has. Is the success of Dapper Laughs a symptom of a society now getting its laughs from the kind of stuff that makes Balls of Steel look like I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue?
Then I realised: Dapper Laughs isn't a comedian or even a prankster, he's just a piss-taker. Part of the grand, very, very British tradition of taking the piss out of other people. In every school, every office, every pub and every book group in the country there'll be some amount of piss-taking going on. And we fucking love it.
Dapper – whose life seems to consist of wandering around Clapham taking the piss out of people – is perhaps the world's first professional piss-taker; his Vines merely a way of translating a stream of consciousness to the masses. His Vine account is basically Ulysses remade for people who get scrotal waxes – a day in the life of a cunt (a cunt that many of us would secretly quite like to be).
Dapper Laughs represents a missed opportunity. There is so much space out there for ashot of working class, non-conformist swagger in the tedious world of Converse-and-blazer British comedy. It's stuck in a conservative rut and we need someone to ignore Dave, Live at the Apollo and Dara O'Briain and force the public to turn their head from the"witty banter" of middle-aged white men. Unfortunately, Dapper is not this hero. He is not the better angel of the everyman,he's the man whose head the everyman would like to break a pool cue over.
His comedy picks on people and perpetuates nasty bullshit, rather than illuminating human truths. He's a cult act who wants to be on ITV2. He has no interest in his fans, really, just the Likes; no interest in the utilitarianism of Vine, just the exposure. He wants to be Lee Mack, not Limmy, and he probably won't even achieve that.
Dapper Laughs is a modern phenomenon – but not because he wants to be; because he can't be anything else.
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