I have blogged about the Dapper Laughs controversy before. It is too complicated to explain again, but you can pick up the gist on Wikipedia if you have to.
There is also a compilation video of Dapper Laughs material on YouTube
Comedian Lewis Schaffer – an American based in the UK – once got a review at the Edinburgh Fringe from a young, inexperienced reviewer. It said his act was ‘mildly racist’. Lewis Schaffer has always said this review was one of the worst he has ever received because of the use of that horrible, horrible word – ‘mildly’.
“Who wants to be mildly anything?” he says.
Yesterday afternoon I went to see Lewis Schaffer perform at The Establishment Club in London and, in the evening, saw him perform at his regular weekly show at the Leicester Square Theatre.
At The Establishment, gay acts Scott Capurro and Dickie Beau were on the bill and stayed around to watch him. Lewis Schaffer’s act was relentlessly about gay people. In the evening, almost everyone in the audience got ‘picked on’ for being gay or Scottish or (in one case) coming from the Indian sub-continent – which translated as being a Palestinian Islamic extremist, despite the fact the guy said he was a ‘Christian atheist’.
Both shows were very funny.
After the Leicester Square show, I had a chat with Lewis Schaffer.
“The attitude of people in this country at the moment,” he said, “reminds me of America during the Vietnam War – how excited everyone was about everything. There was a heightened level of awareness and movement.”
“I think we’re just as lethargic as ever,” I said.
“No, I think there’s a big difference,” said Lewis Schaffer, “between now and even five years ago. People now get into arguments over the slightest possible thing.”
“That is just you being argumentative,” I said.
“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “it’s other people being argumentative – like what they did to Dapper Laughs. Whether what Dapper Laughs said was good or bad, I think the reason other comedians picked on him was because they were jealous of him: that he had not worked his way up through the ranks, that he called himself a comedian.”
“Well,” I said, “he needed a manager to control what happened.”
“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he needed someone to take the flak for him. He rose too high and he fell too fast.”
“But he was a one-off,” I said. “He was just not experienced enough to deal with it.”
“He had a TV series, a tour, an album,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He had everything. The question is What does he do now?”
“He’s dead in the water,” I said.
“Do you think he ever has a chance making it back in the comedy business?”
“Not for five or six years,” I said, “by which time he will be perceived as being from a previous generation of performers.”
“And,” said Lewis Schaffer, “at that point, he’s not going to be interesting to anybody.”
“Yup,” I said. “He tried the best he could by going on Newsnight and saying Oh, I’ve killed off the character – to make it seem like there’s a distinction between him and Dapper Laughs. But it was too little too late.”
“It’s similar to what happened to Andrew Dice Clay in America,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“He just seemed to disappear from the radar,” I said.
“Well,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he rose very fast as well. He was on MTV and making movies and things and then people heard what he was saying. He saw himself as a joke but his audience was taking him seriously. He was a skinny Jewish guy from Brooklyn and he was playing it as a tough Italian.
“And,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “he was on the Arsenio Hall TV show, (there is a clip on YouTube) explaining everything and he starts crying. He destroyed his own career by crying on TV.”
“Why was he crying?” I asked.
“He was under a lot of pressure with people hating him. He didn’t want people to hate him. He was a comedian. As soon as he cried – forget it – he lost his core audience. They didn’t want to see some supposedly tough guy crying.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“He still performs but he’s never reached the level of success he had. He’s done some acting – I think he was in a Woody Allen movie.”
I laughed out loud.
“He also did a DVD of a comedian basically being unprepared and self-destructing on stage.”
“He’s stolen your act,” I said.
“With me, hopefully,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there’s some kind of ending where it all comes together and we all have a good time. I think he was told at the time You can’t release this DVD and he released it anyway.
“It’s fascinating in this business what happens when people turn on you – what happens in life when people turn on you. It’s like The Bonfire of The Vanities scenario where the guy is a Master of The Universe one day and the next day he’s running for his life.”
“Michael Barrymore was Fatty Arbuckle,” I said. “As far as I understand it, Fatty Arbuckle had three trials, was found innocent of rape and manslaughter – he didn’t do it, but his entire career was destroyed. He had just organised a party. And, as far as I’m aware, no-one has ever said Barrymore was in any way directly responsible for the death of the guy in the swimming pool. He just hosted a party in a rambling house where something happened. But his career was destroyed.”
“What interests me,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is how do people deal with being idolised one day and being persona non grata the next? I find that really fascinating. The question is What is going to happen to Dapper Laughs?”
“He won’t have made that much money,” I said. “One series on ITV2 and a first tour.”
“The point is,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he’s the kind of person who’s doing anything for a laugh. He’s not political; he’s not motivated; he’s not a misogynist or racist; he just wants to be famous and he picked the wrong thing to be famous over. Now he’s thinking: Holy shit! I made a mistake here! It’s not that I agree with what he did or said – I don’t even know exactly what he did or said.”
“I don’t think it was the TV series that did for him,” I said. “It was the comedy club show. Telling a woman in the front row that she was ‘gagging for a rape’. That was way over the top. That was way beyond acceptable.”
“It’s too extreme,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I imagine he meant it as a joke.”
“I think maybe,” I said, “he just lost control of the character. He was thinking through the character’s mind and lost objective control of what he was doing.”
“He wasn’t experienced enough,” said Lewis Schaffer. “After a while you know what you can and cannot say. He didn’t have that experience and the other comedians turned on him. Well, they don’t even consider him a comedian because he hadn’t done open mic spots or been on a road trip for some agency.”
I told Lewis Schaffer: “When I staged a five hour Malcolm Hardee show at the Hackney Empire in 2006, I had three comperes for the three parts and, because of their availability, I had to have Jimmy Carr and one of the hosts in the first part. I scheduled Jimmy Carr as the last act in Part 1. Then the compere of Part 1 – who wasn’t available for Part 2 – said he would not introduce Jimmy Carr because he had just done that joke about gypsy moths which had got him a lot of flak. So I had to move Jimmy Carr to the first act of Part 2 because he wasn’t available later.”
“What was the gypsy moth joke again?” asked Lewis Schaffer.
“The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word moth. Which is a clever joke.”
“No it isn’t,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s not nice to the gypsies.”
I laughed: “Your entire act is based on insulting people. That gypsy moth joke is very well-crafted and, said, in Jimmy Carr’s cynical, throwaway persona I’m sure it was very funny. I never actually heard him tell it, so I don’t know.”
“It IS a well-crafted joke,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but the problem is it’s not making fun of the audience or making fun of the audience for believing that gypsies smell. The point is you can’t tell that joke to an audience of non-gypsies. I think Jimmy Carr is hysterically funny but that joke is inappropriate.”
“But you’re always insulting your audience,” I said.
“If he had an audience of gypsies and he made that joke right to their faces,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that’s OK… In my gig at The Establishment Club this afternoon, I didn’t do any race material. I never do black material unless there are black people there.”
“You’re right,” I admitted. “I suppose I could tell an anti-Semitic joke to you because you’re Jewish and that would be OK, but it would not be acceptable to tell it to…”
“…a room full of Nazis,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“Though I might make good money.” I said.
“You might make some money,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but you shouldn’t do it. That’s the point.”