There are people who seem like they don’t give a shit. And then there are people who genuinely don’t give a shit. That’s Doug Stanhope. If you’re wondering what I mean by this, give him a chance to show you while he makes you laugh your ass off Tuesday night at Lindsay Street Hall.
A comic’s comic, Stanhope cut his chops on small stages from coast to coast rather than one coast or another hoping to land a TV show.
“I was talking to Dave Attell last night,” said Stanhope in a recent phone interview, “and he was complaining that he’d picked up a set at the Comedy Cellar in New York and the first time he mentioned the word ‘abortion’ the crowd just moaned. I prefer playing in some small town in Kansas where the people came there to see me and know what to expect, rather than New York or L.A. where they just come out to see what’s new in comedy.”
Stanhope drove home his point of continually driving cross country in an episode last season of the FX show “Louie,” playing the character of Eddie, a fictional childhood friend of star Louis C.K. who took an alternate route in his comedy career only to come up empty handed and suicidal in the end.
“I’m very proud of the way Louis C.K. has made it big on his own terms, using his own voice,” said Stanhope. “The days of getting discovered for ‘SNL’ or a television series and then cutting your chops as a stand up are over. Besides, that’s why the ’90s sucked so bad for stand up.”
It’s his mantra for making it on stage and not on screen that keeps Stanhope fresh—and driven. Preferring to entertain in person, he hates cameras, TVs, DVDs and recorded versions of himself—despite a career which includes 10 CDs, five DVDs and several cable specials such as his latest, “Before Turning The Gun on Himself,” which airs on Showtime on Friday, Aug. 3. A live CD/DVD will be released on Nov. 6.
Much in the vein of peers like Louis C.K., Stanhope’s comedy takes daily observations and self-deprecation to an extreme that makes Jerry Seinfeld look like Mickey Mouse. Just as you think the envelope has been pushed far enough, Stanhope finds a little more room in it to stuff a few jabs at himself, or any subject that annoys him to the point of laughter.
“There are a few subjects, not many, but a few that are off limits,” said Stanhope. “If a subject makes me more angry than annoyed—like the prison system in this country for example—I find myself so disgusted at it that my observations are more of a bitch session that’s not very funny. Other than that, anything goes!”
Unapologetically, Stanhope unleashes his sharp opinions with a type of reckless abandon that generates as many winces as laughs. In fact, his bitter but comical observation of Britain’s Royal Family at a 2009 Leeds Festival performance inspired many in the crowd to throw bottles at him or leave. But despite the reaction, Stanhope reportedly continued to jeer and taunt those who chose to remain in attendance.
Maybe it’s the ridiculousness of traditions we all accept without question—the daily trials and tribulations that merit a moment of comic relief or just an adolescent perception of those “adult” situations we all have to endure—but Stanhope can find comedy in anything, from the confusion of foreign languages to how hookers are cheating straight women out of dinners and diamond rings.
Those in Stanhope’s graduating class of comedy were all born in the mid-1960s, endured the ’80s, tried to make their way in the ’90s and have settled down now in their forties with contempt in their minds and opinions in their mouths that might seem bitter if they weren’t insightfully funny.
This writer can truly relate, having been born in the same month and year as Stanhope who, upon discovering this, asked if he could call me every couple of weeks to see what he should expect next.
In addition to the unquenchable need to poke fun at any travesty of life that crosses his mind at his age, nothing fuels Stanhope’s comedy more than a few cold beers. “Three before and three on stage,” Stanhope said, “but not pot, never pot.”
Asked if he thought he was funnier when a little tipsy, Stanhope said, “I can play sober and a baseball player can play without cleats, but we both do a better job with a little help from the tools of the trade.”
Stanhope’s penchant for frothy malted beverages and reputation as a partier often inspires fans to deliver more than he bargained for. “One lady brought me a whole container of mushrooms the first night of a tour. We just hid them in the hotel parking lot on the way out of town and the first person who Tweeted me ‘great show last night’ got to find out where. Then one time I had a guy try to ‘discreetly’ hand me cocaine from the front row of the audience while I was on stage. He kept saying ‘it’s NOT pot man, it’s not pot.’”
Stanhope admits that he often attracts a rowdy crowd, but that heckling isn’t as much of a problem as one would think. “I get the guy who’s driven three hours to get there, has been drinking all day with his buddies and just wants to be part of the show. It’s not a bad thing.”
Politically, Stanhope is a staunch Liberian who, like many comedians, is finding much to laugh about during this election year. “Obama has held back from addressing problems he could have solved with the stroke of a pen—like Guantanamo Bay and medicinal marijuana. I’m voting for Gary Johnson, which is like voting for Ron Paul, only he can speak and won’t go dying on us.”
One thing you can’t say about Stanhope is that he’s not a true original. Unlike those he started out with, like Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay, Stanhope doesn’t rely on a signature set of personality traits to set him apart. Rather, he tries to be more like idols such as George Carlin.
“Carlin was able to find his voice and then keep building upon it his entire career,” said Stanhope. “That’s what I’m striving for. Well, that, and not subconsciously rewriting material I’ve already performed in the past.”
Stanhope performs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at Lindsay Street Hall, 901 Lindsay St. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.