Dapper Laughs, Misogyny and Me

In Commentary, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

My name is Ed Cooke. I am a straight, white, young male living in the U.K. I am, or should I say was, Dapper Laughs catchment audience – a comedian who until recently had his own ITV2 show: On The Pull.

On The Pull originated as Dapper Laughs’ Vine persona. He used it to show men how to pick up women using at best creepy, and at worst outright harassing, techniques. This proved popular among a certain demographic and was soon transferred to television. It adopted a format in which Laughs teaches a different hapless young chap each week how to overcome his inability to attract women by essentially becoming a Dapper Laughs clone: spray-tanned and thick-skinned with an extra helping of misogyny.

Critics were quick to point out, however, that the show would likely encourage male viewers to copy Dapper’s harmful and potentially illegal behaviour towards women, normalising and trivialising rape culture. A petition was started and after gaining more than 50,000 signatures, ITV announced that they would not be commissioning a second series. Prior to the cancellation of On The Pull, Dapper Laughs (or Daniel O’Reilly, as his mother probably calls him), remained bullish in the face of criticism. In fact he appeared to incite his fans to take to Twitter to lash out at those who took offense to his unique brand of ‘comedy’.

However, once the decision was taken by ITV to cancel his show, his tune changed beyond all recognition. Appearing on Newsnight to discuss the issue, he cut a somewhat ridiculous figure. He’d adopted what he probably perceives as the uniform of the misunderstood artist: a black turtleneck and suit. It looked nothing if not Yokoesque. ‘Dapper Laughs has ruined my life’, he claimed; this was the last stand of a man who knew the battle was lost, but wasn’t going to accept responsibility.

In his defence he claimed that his ‘banter’ form of comedy was always intended as satire. But what he seemed to fail to understand is that if tropes are to be satirised they must be mocked, not glorified; his ‘pulling tactics’ (vom) were portrayed as wildly successful, and when they were not, he dismissed the women in question as ‘lesbians’. This was not satire; it was misogyny dressed as comedy.

I didn’t find any of Dapper Laughs humour funny – just offensive – but many boys my age and ones I respect did, my 18-year-old brother included. And I wonder, actually, if pre-university Ed would have found it funny. The teenage me, for example, was an ardent fan of The Inbetweeners.

In case The Inbetweeners passed you by, it involved the trials and tribulations of a group of male sixth-formers: posh, articulate Will; awkward, lovelorn Simon; loveable idiot Neil; and compulsive liar and self-described ladies’ man Jay. The only characteristic they shared was their somewhat wanting social standing, and the show revolved around their disastrous attempts to climb their school’s social ladder.

Mop-headed, foul-mouthed Jay embodied many of the same values as Dapper Laughs, with lines like ‘I’ll be up to my nuts in some guts!’ the two might not seem too far apart. The difference was, however, that Jay was always the butt of the joke. We laughed at his pathetic, misogynistic attempts to big himself up and his misguided impression that he was God’s gift to women; they were far from the truth.

But Dapper wants (or at least wanted) us to laugh with him, preferably at the unsuspecting women – not actors, remember – whose safety he violated.

In hindsight, The Inbetweeners is problematic in areas, but I have fond memories of it nonetheless. Like many other adolescent males, I saw something of myself in the perpetually uncool, socially awkward protagonists, and it provided my friends and I with an endless supply of quotes with which to supplement what my girlfriend still calls the ‘circular abuse’ which characterised my male friendship group.

We all took the piss out of each other, providing a perfect storm of hilarious, foul-mouthed invective in which everyone gave as good as they got. The aim was to be the one who came up with the funniest insults. There was never malice in it; this was a tight-knit group of friends, and to be mocked was to be accepted.

Manoeing, as we called it, on Loch Ness. A great opportunity to hone our circular abuse skills.

This was what being male meant to our group of close friends; we weren’t realistically popular enough to talk to girls in the socially stratified environment of school, so by and large our masculinity wasn’t defined, as many of our peers’ was, by our success with women. I’m not going to pretend that some of our banter wasn’t misogynistic though. We were immature and, being in an all boys’ house at an only recently co-ed private school, there was really no conduit through which more enlightened ideas could have reached us.

Feminism was something no one understood, much less thought worthy of serious consideration. I’m glad though that I’ve escaped that kind of thinking at uni – I came perilously close in Freshers’ week to joining the university rugby team, and often wonder what I would have been like now if that had happened. Would I have been one of these guys chanting rape jokes on buses? Would I think Dapper Laughs was hilarious?

The one time we actually won a game. Felt pretty great.

I’d like to think I wouldn’t. I loved rugby, but I never enjoyed hanging out with the team particularly; I wanted to play the game, and then socialise with people who talked about something else instead of constantly flicking between rugby and misogyny. The necessity of going on exhausting, alcohol-heavy socials with a uni rugby team might have driven me away.

But again, it might not. So much of my current opinion has been formed by spending time with a more diverse group (student radio – FreshAir – holler) and my freedom to decide for myself what it means to be a man, rather than having that defined by peer pressure in a male sports team. It’s impossible to say what my thoughts would be now if I’d gone down the rugby route.

Just a few of the great people Ive met at FreshAir. This was at a run we did for Waverley Care, an HIV charity.

Chances are, having to fit in with a bunch of conscious/subconscious misogynists as my primary social group might have led me to share such views.

This, then, is yet another problem with lad culture, particularly when it is normalised and glorified à la Dapper Laughs’ TV show. It homogenises masculinity into a sexually aggressive, uncaring hive mind in which if you don’t play along, you are accused of having ‘shit chat’ and shunned. Different ideas – particularly those of liberation politics – are enough to see a person ostracised.

This hive mind is the reason why lad culture is so resilient in the face of criticism; no one within a group is willing to speak out against harmful behaviour, even if they think peers are going too far. To misquote JFK, the only thing necessary for the triumph of lad culture is for good men (and they must be men – women critics are simply branded ‘Feminazis’ and ignored) to do nothing.

Ed Cooke

Ed studies Ancient History and Latin at Edinburgh University. He likes Mexican food (probably too much) but any carbs will do, really. If someone worked out a way you could play Xbox and paddle a canoe at the same time, he would probably never leave the river. He also loves surreal meta-comedy to the dangerous degree of owning a T-shirt printed with his own face.

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