In a new op-ed for The Herald in Glasgow, Scotland, Doug Stanhope stands up for comedians everywhere by writing about the nature of offensive comedy, focused on a recent uproar across the pond about a joke Frankie Boyle had told that had offended a woman in the audience.
Stanhope defends the comedian, writing, in part:
How does the audience fall under the illusion that they have some right to not be offended? Certainly you have the right to not be harmed; but offended? Imagine the number of subjects that might offend any single individual and multiply that by the number of people in any given audience. Subtract all those topics from any given comic’s set list and what do you get? Mime. That’s what you get and possibly what you deserve. I’ve been booed for wearing the jersey of an offending sports team and then won the audience back with rape jokes. Who can tell?
So he points a finger back at the audience member, who in one instance, was a mother of a child with Down's Syndrome, and claims that she was fine with all of Boyle's other offensive material until he got to her particular subject. Why is one topic OK to joke about and not another? It's all subjective. In stand-up comedy, even more so. Stanhope continues:
The fact is that really no comedian sets out to offend you. Some comics enjoy the challenge of taking a subject that is likely to be found offensive and trying to make it funny – but the object is still to make you laugh. Offense is only a calculated risk. It’s highly unlikely that a comedian whose only goal was to repulse you would ever make it past an open-mic stage, far less build a long career of touring theatres and television appearances. The jokes in question didn’t ruin the show – you did.
But as long as the media plays up the idea of one person being offended by one joke, comedy will suffer. Especially, he writes, if nobody complains about the banal, hacky, and tired comedy that's being performed night-in, night-out, in clubs around the world.
Do yourselves a favor and read his whole essay. Do you think Stanhope made a compelling case?
Roadrunner Records announced today it's launching a comedy imprint called Roadrunner Comedy, with its first artist signing: Doug Stanhope.
They even let Stanhope make a short video about it. Will there be profanities? What do you think? Roll the clip!
Stanhope's first Roadrunner Comedy release is slated for 2011.
The label says signing Stanhope fits the spirit of the original record label, representing provocative hard rock and metal acts. "We look forward to welcoming a variety of like-minded comedians to the Roadrunner family—new artists with dynamic talents—that will be making us laugh for years to come," said Roadrunner's CEO, Cees Wessels.
Stanhope’s manager, Brian Henningan, added via press release: “We needed to find a supportive partner who would let Doug Stanhope be Doug Stanhope. There are millions of people all over the world that Doug hasn't offended and with Roadrunner's help we should be able to reach them all.”
Roadrunner Comedy joins an increasingly crowded field of record labels putting out stand-up comedy albums. Comedy Central Records has increased its output significantly over the past two years, signing many acts and releasing some albums as digital-only downloads, reflecting the global trend toward buying records online. Other labels producing comedy records include Warner Bros., Relapse, Sub-Pop, Stand Up!, Uproar, Rooftop Comedy, A Special Thing, and multiple independent imprints.
With all of the talk at Sundance and everywhere else in the past year about how Louis CK is such a great stand-up comedian who is able to make us laugh while sometimes delving into dark and offensive territory, I thought it's about time you all took another look at comedian Doug Stanhope. Stanhope is making you confront your miserable lives and the most offensive things, too, but from the fringes of the comedy world. Why is that? And how can we change that?
How about by opening your ears and eyes to what he's doing lately. I talked to Doug Stanhope in November about where he feels his career has led him, but since then, he has started contributing regular comedy correspondent pieces for the BBC Four satire program, Newswipe. Here is his recent piece about America's late-night news and where we get our news these days, and also why he hates the topical comedy prevalent in late-night TV:
His report from last week's episode looked at how modern media turns freak shows into celebrities.
And on his new CD on Stand Up! records, "From Across The Street," Stanhope opens his 58-minute set from North Carolina's Cape Fear with a joke about how child pornography suffers, relatively speaking, from a lack of appreciation within show business, notes immediately afterward how he's not for everyone, and within a minute, is recounting how he once drowned his sorrows by mixing vodka with blueberry yogurt while reading blogger criticism of him from a hotel room in Copenhagen. Welcome to Stanhope's world. You're already living in it. You just didn't know it yet.
The last time I saw Doug Stanhope, he was running up to me to give me a sloppy drunken hug and kiss at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival in July. No, Stanhope wasn't in the fest. He was booking his own "Just For Spite" shows down the street. So imagine my surprise (and also lack thereof) when I saw Stanhope listed on the bill this weekend at Comix comedy club here in New York City. I called him at his Arizona home near the Mexican border to talk about that, his use of Twitter, and whether he's as satisfied with his career as Jeff Dunham is right now. Are you imagining the fun times yet? Read on, my friends! It's my new interview with Doug Stanhope...
This seems like a rare treat, seeing you in a mainstream comedy club, since you've been booking yourself in dive bars and rock clubs mostly the past few years. What's the scoop? "I'm trying do some more comedy clubs, just because it stops my audience people from inbreeding. People who would never walk into the Highline Ballroom would never step into Comix," he said. "And doing that many shows in a row keeps me fresh."
Speaking of which, how about that YouTube promo you shot for Comix?! Roll the clip! (Of course there will be plenty of profanity contained therein, so it's NSFW -- just look at the label!)
"A lot of this stuff is sprung on me last-minute by my manager," Stanhope says, laughing. "He knows I'll go along with whatever the stupid idea is. I can be somewhat difficult to manage. Things I think are fantastically funny and things to do at night are reprehensible to people the next day. If comedy clubs switched to morning radio shows, I would be a different comic altogether. I would be more of a Richard Lewis -- all manic and terrified, all annoying and sullen."
Really? "That morning radio. That's something you could hide behind. I could do morning radio without drinking. It allows you to talk. It doesn't demand you to give punchlines every couple of minutes. My audience is like Trekkies and sex offenders. They have no patience for you to get to punchlines."
So was it planned for you to perform here the week of the New York Comedy Festival, like you did during Montreal? "Coincidence. I think they were trying to market against it, but I'm not a marekting guy. I don't know anything about the festival."
Not that he doesn't have an opinion about New York City hosting a comedy festival.
As I sit here, living off of the boissons gratis of the 24-hour Subway restaurant and paying for temporary WiFi access in Montreal's Trudeau airport terminal, I realize that my initial plan to bring you a full slate of reviews from Montreal's Just For Laughs festival today might not come to fruition. Something about spending most of the afternoon trying to get a flight to New York City, then boarding a flight that takes off, and almost makes it there only to circle back and land in Canada, forcing you and your fellow passengers to pass through Customs even though you just left (the Customs agent had a quizzical view of the situation, as well), then spending the rest of the evening and into the morning hoping that the skies have cleared and airports reopened -- it all leaves me tres fatigue, as the French write. At least for a few hours, though, I was sitting in a chair in the sky!
With that nod to Louis CK, who put on two of the best shows (and hottest tickets) during the fest, I do want to share some initial thoughts about Montreal's annual celebration of comedy, and how it fared this summer. More in-depth reviews of the shows I saw will get published once I'm back home in New York City, to be sure. But first, a few thoughts, opinions and ideas to get you thinking about -- and hopefully talking about -- comedy.
It's time for one last look around the 2008 Montreal Just For Laughs festival, which Variety reports raked in $10 million (which is about the same in Canadian as it is in U.S. dollars these days!) this July. Which means this final recap must begin with the guy who buzzed about the festival...
Doug Stanhope, who set up his Slamdance to their Sundance, aka Just For Spite festival with shows Friday and Saturday at Club Chaos, told me on Saturday night that he'd been offered a paltry $1,100 to perform 10 nights of one-man shows at the fest (or as he added, less than what he earned during his first trip to Montreal's JFL), which prompted his fury. Much of the buzz about Stanhope during the fest itself centered around two incidents, both of which Stanhope wrote about online. He first aired his grievances on Wednesday via 236.com, then on Friday night, after getting kicked out of a JFL venue by fest organizer Bruce Hills, Stanhope went to his MySpace to fill us in on the details.
Most pleasant surprise in a one-man show: Patrice Oneal. Here's a guy who seems so in your face and so not safe for work that, well, that's how his career even began in Boston, challenging another comedian. And he has made his name on the club circuit as that guy who won't take no gruff. But you take him out of the comedy clubs and put him in an intimate theater setting, give him a stool or a chair and just let him speak...wow. As I noted earlier, his one-man show, Positivity, is positively brilliant. He may think he's not getting any smarter. But this show is the smartest thing he has done.
The lucky New Faces bump? Last year, Tom Papa hosted all of the New Faces showcases and handled himself with such professionalism and managed to bring the funny, that I recall singling him out and hoping he'd get a show of his own. This year, Papa got the special one-man showcase named after the late Richard Jeni and earned nightly standing ovations for his show, Only Human. Here's the Montreal Gazette review to chew on. I saw similar magic coming from Greg Giraldo this year in hosting New Faces, and hope he gets a similar promotion in 2009. Giraldo always has mastered the art of topical social commentary, but there also has been so much going on in his world, both professionally and personally, that could be mined for a one-man show. Let's make that happen.
Funniest comic-on-comic impersonation: Greg Behrendt, who introduced himself to the audience as "a 45-year-old alternative comic," doing Russell Brand at the midnight Alternative showcase, slinking his way around the stage and joking about Brand having sex with Kate Moss.
Toughest ticket for a show I wished I'd seen: They say you mock the ones you love (some do), so Behrendt must have been paying tribute to Russell Brand's status as the hot comic of the moment. You had to sweet talk your way into his sold-out performances. Thankfully, I got to see Brand a couple of days later in New York City (my review of Russell Brand).
Toughest ticket for a show I'm not sorry I missed: Apatow For Destruction. Movie producers and movie stars should not always be confused for great stand-up comedians.
How young is he, again? Bo Burnham, at 17, is the new sensation, already signed to Gersh with a Comedy Central EP that zoomed up the iTunes charts. Where did he come from? Outside of Boston, since you asked. He generated some "heat" as they say in the bidness. I saw him the previous weekend open up for Joel McHale at Carolines and deliver an amazingly proficient and efficient 13-minute musical set of songs and rap. How did this tall, scrawny high-school kid making YouTube videos gain so much poise onstage with less than 20 live performances to his credit? He told me. "I'm young, dumb and fearless." Here's a recent fairly NSFW video from Bo fo yo (argh, I just really typed that and didn't backspace backspace delete, didn't I?):
State of the Industry vs. Comedy Person of the Year: Andy Kindler wins in a walk-off, as Kindler filled the room to more than capacity, with people standing in the foyer, then half of them walking out to skip the festival's awarding of "Comedy Person of the Year" to Judd Apatow. Having Apatow did guarantee that all his famous friends and industry associates would show up in Montreal, though, leading to some heartfelt words from Apatow himself, and a funny quip from Seth Rogen: "Look at us. We're a parade of bad fashion...It's like we're at the rehearsal for the award."
Just Comedy? Remember the days when you didn't have to pay $500 to attend a festival thrown on your behalf? Oh, those were days. But Just Comedy's two-day confab proved to be kind of eh. As I joked to Andy Kindler in our short video interview, I only stayed at the Webisode to Episode panel for about five minutes, because that's as long as that panel should have been. Don't they know this already? Because of that, I missed out on perhaps the liveliest panel of the confab, as club owners kvetched at length about the business of live touring.
All-around favorites: You couldn't go anywhere in Montreal without someone reminding you how great John Mulaney and Brent Weinbach were at the festival. I shall sing Mulaney's praises to anyone who asks, and it was great to see him knock it out of the park (that's a baseball term) at JFL, with people especially rapt over his tale of playing a joke on a restaurant at age 11. Mind you, he's only 25 now. He will tape a Comedy Central Presents next month and you will enjoy it. He's also co-headlining at Comix next month (Aug. 22-23) with Nick Kroll. As for Weinbach, he won the Andy Kaufman Award in Vegas last year for a reason, and showed why in Montreal with an over-the-top performance at the alternative showcases.
New Faces recaps: My favorites or yours? Brendon Walsh stood out for me with his cleverness, while Sean Patton surprised me because I had never seen him in a mainstream club before. Harris Wittels delivered the ballsiest set, ending a routine that included misnamed bands and masturbation issues with a joke about racism. Ira Proctor turned it around so much from the first set to the second that veteran Larry Miller couldn't stop complimenting him. Mo Mandel was the singular standout from the other group. Although truth be told, most people I talked to from the industry were relatively underwhelmed by this year's crop of New Faces as a whole. Then again, they were relatively underwhelmed in general.
State of the New Faces Industry: What does it say about the comedy industry and Montreal's New Faces that two of them, Iliza Shlesinger and Jeff Dye, are among the finalists for this season on NBC's Last Comic Standing? A few things. Among them: The NBC producers prefer fresh-faced comedians, even if they're relatively inexperienced, because it allows them to have control (read: earn money) by launching their careers nationally. Also, it means tough luck for industry wanting a piece, as NBC and the producers have them under its contractual spell already. Anyone want to guess whether Shlesinger and Dye already are locked up for the nationwide club/theater tour that follows the season finale?
The Masters: Speaking of Larry Miller, what a class act he proved to be in Montreal, not just for actually watching younger comedians and saying nice things to them, but also for being the consummate host for the Masters showcases. Miller has been one of the more amusing voices of reason on Bill Maher's HBO chat show, Real Time, and it's so nice to be able to see Miller onstage again doing stand-up. As he told audiences, "Almost everyone on the show is someone I've known for years and respect -- and they're all good." Well, I'll be the judge of that. Henry Cho, a Korean raised in Tennesee, "so I'm South Korean." If you didn't enjoy Esther Ku's jokes about getting Koreans confused for each other, what would you make of this master's trip to the homeland with his father: "When we went to Korea, he walked 20 feet away and I lost him!" Hal Sparks continues to sport his Criss Angel hair and magician look, despite how it looks. It looks like Criss Angel. Instead, Sparks ranted against people who miss his short hair, talked about losing his Kentucky accent, and did a big act-out about sexually peaking. Cathy Ladman hates her New York voice, and Montreal audiences weren't exactly thrilled with it, either. Another trip to the therapist and everything will be OK. Henry Phillips and his guitar? Well, here's a little number you may have heard before, "Sweet Little Blossom of Mine." Todd Glass: I hadn't seen him live in four years, and man, how I missed seeing his energetic self. Glass is a guy who's always on, even when he's not on he's on. What a bundle of fun! Remember when Glass was on Last Comic Standing and kept mugging for everyone at everytime...good times. At the Masters, Glass riffed on both Sparks and Phillips and then himself, and destroyed with a bit about how easy recipes are, such as corn pudding! Meantime, here's an oldie but a goodie from Glass. Thea Vidale and I sat next to each other on the "regional jet" up from New York City, and regional jet means really small plane, which means I actually should have and could have used the phrase, "C'mon and sit on Daddy's lap!" And Billy Gardell closed by focusing on how kids have changed and how we've all changed because of anti-depressants, with a presence that shows you what a veteran stand-up headliner's set is all about.
Shuttle buddies: Don't know how it worked out like this, because we didn't see other during the fest and came from different cities, but Kent from Ask A Ninja and I ended up on the same shuttles to and from the airport in Montreal. Serendipity?
But what about next year: What about 2009? As noted or hinted at previously, several industry folks grumbled openly about wondering why they'd come to Montreal again in the first place. The festival certainly didn't dispel stereotypes about the friendliness of French Canadians, as they tried every manner in the book to get industry up to Montreal -- including their annual withholding of the New Faces and Masters names until two days before most would arrive, adding this two-day Just Comedy confab and charging industry $500 to show up -- then giving industry folks multiple hassles once they made it to Montreal. And that's not to mention the outrageous prices in the Hyatt Regency ($3 for a Coca-Cola, $10 for a bottle of beer), the attitude of the Hyatt toward the industry (even though the festival encouraged them to stay in the Hyatt) and the fact that some Hyatt workers were picketing outside made for a big barrel of not-fun. Stanhope wasn't the only one to openly ask if Montreal has become more about making a profit off of comedy fans and less about being a place for discovering and launching comedy careers. So what will happen in 2009 when JFL joins up with TBS to host a comedy festival in Chicago the month before Montreal? Will the industry go to Chicago and skip Montreal entirely? It only served to make me miss the atmosphere in Aspen, a festival run by people who really wanted it to be a home for the comedy industry (even if it proved too expensive and snowy). It also makes me want to start up my own comedy festival, a true showcase to bring industry to the talents worth watching, both new and old. If anyone wants to help me make that come true, please holler my way. Thanks.
Here's something you don't see every weekend: Doug Stanhope performing in a mainstream comedy club. Stanhope is at Carolines in midtown Manhattan through Sunday. His rolling tour of bars and dives also detours back into the comedy clubs at Go Bananas in Cincinnati March 28-30.
Blasts from the past: My recap of his show in a bar in Somerville, Mass., two years ago. My interview with him six years ago, just after his Aspen festival appearances.
Late into the night, or early this morning, after seeing parts of three different comedy specials on Showtime, I couldn't help but think about how Showtime's comedy specials all have a uniquely odd look and feel to them. Especially when compared to the consistent theater sets and production values of one-hour comedy specials that get aired on HBO and Comedy Central.
Why is that? For one thing, HBO tends to control its own comedy output, which means its comedians often tape their hourlong sets at the same venue with the same crews. Comedy Central does the same for its half-hour Comedy Central Presents, and for hour specials, they're most likely edited versions of highly stylized and produced DVDs. But Showtime is another matter. Whether it's Joe Rogan (at the Tempe Improv), Paul Mooney (at the Laugh Factory) or Mo'Nique at an Ohio prison (or even Doug Stanhope at Gotham Comedy Club), these specials will go anywhere. They'll feature lots of close-ups. They'll bounce the camera angles around the room. They're as OK filming in a small club as they are outdoors. They're independent. They're rogue, even. Performance art pieces. I get the sense that many of these specials were made by the artists themselves, then later sold to Showtime.
But does that make one network's comedy specials better than the others? Depends upon what you mean by better, I suppose. Comedy being so subjective, you cannot say one form of televised special is funnier than another -- that's left in the hands of the performer and the gutteral reactions of you as a viewer and listener.
Do you think, however, that one network does a better job of showcasing stand-up comedy and comedians as artists? Does one network offer more in the way of helping further a comedian's career? Is that answer different now than it would've been even a year ago (looking at you HBO)?
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it.
The premise behind the movie, Man of the Year, which suggests that a late-night TV host could become president. Sort of. Anyhow. Here are some additional thoughts from comedians on the subject.
From Lewis Black, who plays the joke-writer/speechwriter for Robin Williams in the movie. When is the right time for a comedian to run for president? "Yeah, when Christ returns and there is total peace on Earth, then you might want to have someone who just tells jokes. Then, but only then." Black said he had some input on the script, sitting around with writer/director Barry Levinson and co-stars Williams, Christopher Walken and Laura Linney to talk out the plot and figure out speeches and jokes. But what if people wanted you to run? "My official stance is I would never run, because I would only use it to get laid on a regular basis." He said the trappings of the office offer too many diversions, from a bowling alley in the White House to a boat to anything else he probably could think to ask for. "And it wouldn't be for good!" Most presidents wake up early, but he wouldn't. "I would be asleep by five in the morning." No, but seriously. "I did some political stuff for a while. It just made, it wasn't, the people who do it made me crazy." Of course, Black's act often revolves around people and things that drive him nuts. It wasn't always that way. "There was a time when 20 percent of my act was politics," he recalled. "I like talking about the weather." On Conan the other night, Black tried out a new bit about neuticles, which are implants for neutered pets. Yes. Exactly. "You saw that? That's my new breakthrough piece!" But back to politicians. "These guys are just taking up so much of my time," he said. "I go yeah, OK, I can get off on this, but then they keep giving me more!" As he noted in this summer's HBO special, Lewis Black: Red, White and Screwed, it's almost too much to handle at this point. That might be why it's so timely to talk about a comedian saying what needs to be said to the politicians. "I think it's a fun thing to throw out there. It's the right place, right time."
From Jimmy Tingle, who runs Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theatre in Somerville: He said that some entertainers look for something more fulfilling to do after 25-30 years of performing. But he added, "That's a very rare person who wants to completely go into the day-to-day tediousness and give-and-take of day-to-day politics. Because it's much bigger than making a speech." He understands why people would create Stewart/Colbert T-shirts, because Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can cut through the rhetoric with satire. "Jokes are basically soundbites," Tingle said. "That's why Stewart and Colbert are so successful. Not ony are they funny, but they also have artistic and creative freedom to say whatever the heck they want. That's something politicians don't have." And that's not even something Tingle had when he delivered commentaries years ago on CBS' 60 Minutes II. "They wanted commentary about everyday life. They didn't want to do politics. They didn't want to do issues. They wanted bottled water, parking tickets, things people can relate to."
From Doug Stanhope, who grew up in Worcester and has a Stanhope for President MySpace page seeking the Libertarian Party nomination. When Stanhope performed at the Abbey Lounge last month as part of the Boston Comedy Festival, he told fans after his show that in truly libertarian fashion, he doesn't want to be in charge. "I don't want to be president," he said then. "There shouldn't be any president."
The Boston Comedy Festival kicked off with its ever-random charm last night, a stand-out stand-up show off the comedy club grid, a well-attended gay-themed show (last year’s had to be canceled) and two equally unpredictable preliminaries in the comedy contest.
I’ve told people this before. As both a former participant (Seattle, 1998) and judge (Seattle, 2000; Boston, 2005) in stand-up comedy contests, you really need to take it all in with the proverbial grain of salt, throw caution to the wind, je ne sais quoi, devil-may-care attitude. Because — brace yourselves — comedy contests, more often than not, never determine who the funnies person in the room really is. There’s politics involved. Lots of BS. Your look might sway people as much as your 5-7 minute set. What’s the crowd like? Who are the judges? Have the judges seen your act before? What’s the scoring system? Where are you in the lineup? Who’s in your preliminary? And Boston adds another layer of madness, since it tries to fit the entire contest into one week. At least San Francisco and Seattle have full weeks of prelims and semifinal competitions — several nights in several different cities and venues — to weed out the flukes and let the premier comics rise to the top. Boston’s contest offers no such luck. Or rather, it’s often about luck. The funniest person in the entire contest might not even survive a prelim.
With that, here are last night’s results.
Prelim 1 winners: Logan Jacobson and Matt Malley
Prelim 2 winners: Frank G, Chris Tabb and Russell Bell
Which, of course, means some of last year’s finalists and semifinalists (Rob O’Reilly, J-L Cauvin) didn’t make the first cut. EJ Murphy, who was in the first prelim, told me he thought everyone in his group “crushed,” so it was hard to tell who’d advance. Chris Tabb, meanwhile, said he was unsure how he’d fare, since he often relies on crowd work and longer stories. “I don’t do five minutes!” he said. Last night, he must’ve figured out something. Also talked last night with Darryl Lenox (that’s the official spelling, despite all of the variations you may have seen elsewhere), who I had the privilege to open for back in the day (and no, that day was not a Wednesday, but a weekend back in 1999, or was it 2000, in Seattle and Bellingham) and can verify his funniness. Of course, Lenox also has won the Seattle contest, finished runner-up in San Francisco and Boston, and appeared this summer on Comedy Central’s Live At Gotham. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll win — last year he got bounced out of the prelims. This year, he says he’s focused on putting that behind him. But he’s in a prelim tonight with fellow Seattle contest winner Floyd J. Phillips and fellow Boston finalist Ira Proctor, among others. Something’s gotta give.
But first, a report from the Abbey Lounge, where Doug Stanhope found fans aplenty to pack the hot room last night for the “Cruel and Unusual” show. Stanhope took the mic at 9:18 p.m. when no one else would, and with his voice hoarse, brought up Brian Joyce, a guy originally from Somerville who had spent a year in Ireland. Naturally that led into material about alcoholism and not letting the terrorists win by backing off of that, somehow transitioning into prison rape (which reminds me of another pet peeve of mine, which I won’t get into here) and gay marriage. Joyce brought up Esther Ku, who dazzled the crowd into revered silence. They were afraid to laugh at Ku’s racially realistic observations, but showed their approval by giving her rousing applause at the end of her 7-minute set. Tom Dustin followed by ripping on both Ku and the Abbey. Dustin also delivered a killer bit about HPV, which I won’t repeat here. Next up, Spike Tobin. Tobin provided the old-school Boston comic set mentality, and even received interference from Annette Pollack, which should tell you something. But Tobin turned Pollack’s heckle around right quick, making her scarf out to be her panties. A final unadvertised set from Norman Wilkerson and then, finally, Stanhope.
Over the course of 57 minutes, Stanhope, despite the hoarse voice (and the weirdness of performing with family and friends nearby, since he was born in Worcester and had a gig there the night before) covered familiar territory and offered new insights on life. Yes, his first request was for liquor: “Do you have any clear tequila?” But the shot was for his girlfriend, suffering with flu-like symptoms. I hadn’t seen Stanhope in close to four years, back when I lived in Arizona and he was coming off an Aspen appearance and about to get married and famous. Now he lives in Arizona and is unmarried, still flirting with fame. Anyhow. Back to his set.
Stanhope reflected briefly on his month in Scotland, where he got lumped into a media report on anti-Semitic comedians, which led him off on a wild tangent about Jew-hating material. “I hate Jews?” he pondered. “You hate cats, but you don’t want them all put on trains and gassed!” Eventually, he came back to a oft-repeated premise of his, that religion causes too much nonsense and too many wars. No wonder some critics try to compare Stanhope to the late Bill Hicks. Stanhope isn’t a comedian in the traditional, stereotypical, set-up punch, jokey joke vein. Rather, he’s more of a truth-seeker, soapbox kind of comic. Is that like Hicks? A bit. But it’s also court jester, too. The kind of guy who can say the most outrageous things and get away with it, because, well, there’s quite a bit of truth to what he’s saying, and because, well, look at how foolish he looks. It’s not as if we have to worry about this guy, do we? That’s what makes the whole Stanhope for President in 2008 idea — on the Libertarian ticket — so intriguing. Is he serious? Outside, after the show, Stanhope told a fan that he doesn’t really want to the rule the country. “I don’t want anyone to rule the country,” he insisted, which is a Libertarian way to go.
Some other highlights of Stanhope’s performance last night: Noting that guilt has nothing to do with being Jewish, using man’s evolutionary relationship with apes as an obscene example. Noting that nationalism only teaches people to hate other countries and to take pride in things they’ve never accomplished (Example: Bailing out the French?). A funny aside about Boston: “There’s an awful lot of history in this town, but not a lot of future.” Some candid reflections about turning 39 and not being able to keep up his wild lifestyle. Wondering why the only new drugs are prescription medications designed not to expand our consciousness, but close up our thinking so we forget our depressing and dull our lives truly are. Noting how the world revolves around women, and particularly, sex with them, which is why the government and religion tries so desperately to make sex seem shameful. At one point, Stanhope engaged the audience in a discussion on monogamy, wondering if it’s instinctual or learned, and what that might say about love. He said he loves MySpace for its marketing efficiency, and joked about comedians who make fun of MySpace, wondering where the comics are who first made fun of cell phones and e-mail in the early 90s are now. But Stanhope hates the idea that the media makes MySpace out to be full of pedophiles — which led to a prolonged routine on pedophilia. Don’t worry, parents, he said. For one thing, online pedophiles are far less dangerous than the old-fashioned real-life pervs. And for another thing, “odds are, no one wants to f— your child!” This riled up him to a killer closing routine about child pornography, describing how it cannot be rampant as people think it is, how it’s the only crime you can be nabbed for simply by looking at it, and then wildly figured out a way to use child porn as a way to attack an anti-abortion campaigner. Never have you heard the phrase “pre-term necrophiliac child molesters,” or so I’m guessing. I’m also guessing many of the people in the crowd hadn’t seen Stanhope perform before. Who knows what they were expecting? They didn’t get an out-of-control, ranting lunatic alcoholic (if that’s what they were expecting). All in all, they heard thought-provoking and funny stuff.
When the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival put together a "Sick & Twisted" show for its annual gathering this month in Aspen, Colo., there really was only one stand-up comedian who could headline the gig: Doug Stanhope.
This is a guy who was planning his birthday bash earlier this week with a comedy show in Las Vegas, followed by marriage to his girlfriend, Renee Morrison, with scheduled performances by Extreme Elvis and other debauchery.
"We are considering running a pool on what time Renee's grandmother walks out in horror," he wrote on his Web site (www.dougstanhope.com), which is not for children or the easily offended.
Stanhope first tried his hand at comedy at an open mike in Vegas, but his career began in Phoenix at the now-defunct Comedy Cove as the house emcee in the early 1990s. He hit the road, and has barely stopped moving since. He won the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1995 and made multiple appearances at the comedy world's biggest festivals, Just for Laughs in Montreal and the Aspen shindig.
No, you're not likely to see a sitcom anytime soon revolve around a guy who is known for heavy drinking, public nudity and bits that include a troublesome encounter with a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix. Too many comics think raunchy material makes them funnier. But Stanhope transcends the mediocrity that pervades much stand-up, as well as other so-called blue comics, through his passionate rants and his truly decadent life.
In Aspen, he openly questioned society's elevation of New York City police officers to hero status after Sept. 11, considering opinions of the NYPD beforehand. His Web entries go into full detail about his experiences with Costa Rican prostitutes and even his last appearance at the Tempe Improv seven years ago, which ended badly.
Stanhope knows his willingness to tackle taboo subjects will not make him a big-name draw for large theaters anytime soon. "The work is more plentiful if you're middle of the road, in the short term," he says in a recent phone interview. Is that why other comics aren't as open onstage as he is? Perhaps.
"There's a lot of comics who really do live outrageous lives and never talk about it," Stanhope says. "You look at them and it's a shame. ... And there's other guys who say they have outrageous lives and lie about it, while they go home to their wife and kids."