Photo: Tom Brogan (CC)
[disinfo ed.’s note: this original essay was first published by disinformation on February 8, 2002. Some links may have expired.]
I can’t exactly recall how I first came across the peculiar comedy of Doug Stanhope. I think it was just after Disinformation had published an article I had written expressing my controversial opinions of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks (or maybe it was some other article altogether – I can’t recall), however I remember receiving an email from a guy claiming to be a US comedian who said he liked what I had written and that he would add me to his mailing list. I, of course, saw this as an opportunity to put him on my own mailing list (for my site) since being an opportunistic bastard, I like to promote my deranged writings whenever at all possible (well, some poor fucker has got to tell the truth, even if it does mean almost getting lynched, or risking being sued for libel, or having to occasionally hide behind obscure pseudonyms so that I don’t get sacked from my inspiringly creative day job).
Now I must confess that even as I write this article I have no idea how popular Doug Stanhope’s comedy really is in the States since I don’t particularly keep a close eye on the US comedy scene – due primarily to the fact that I am living in a shit-hole of a place called Fife. Incidentally that’s Fife in Scotland as opposed to Fife in Alabama – although another excellent comedian, Bill Hicks, once described Fife in Alabama in such a way that it made me for a moment wonder if there existed perhaps some kind of weird hyperspace anomaly that allowed only idiots and rednecks to travel between these two places (yes folks, I too have been asked the question: “What are you reading for?”).
Anyway, one day Im scanning the Web for weird and interesting sites and up pops the name Doug Stanhope. Of course, I recognise the name straight away so I go and check out the link. To my joy and utter astonishment he has already put up a link to my own site on his homepage under the heading “Required Reading”. Goddamnit, I think to myself, it seems I have actually got a freaking fan here! So to cut straight to the chase, before I know it I’ve watched his online video clip Patriotic Saturation at Sacred Cow and after some brief correspondence with the guy he then kindly mails me a couple of his latest CDs to review . . . and wow! Holy shit! Doug Stanhope is actually a really funny guy!
Doug Stanhope’s humour is what I would classify as being of the dark/cynical genre. In fact in many respects I feel he could easily be compared to the aforementioned Bill Hicks, but then I wouldn’t want to offend the guy out of fear of giving the false impression that he has cloned anything from Hicks style. In fact, quite the contrary. To start with, Doug Stanhope’s timing is much more direct, for where Bill Hicks might’ve turned his back to the audience to give out a little tiresome sigh (leaving an uncomfortable silence before delivering a one-liner that redeems him from comedy hell), Doug Stanhope tends to bombard the audience with obscenities and vulgar observations that one cannot help but laugh at the situations this wacky guy seems to get himself into. And from what I gather most of these stories are all pretty much true. As he recently wrote to me:
All of the stories are absolutely true – down to the dialogue, save for the ecstasy story which was tweaked for comedy purposes and was the last story ever to be altered in my act (it happened in Sacramento and there was no melon involved). It’s been a weird life but I wouldn’t change much.
Hicks’ comedy, however, was also far more political, although Stanhope’s lack of political edge does not diminish the quality of humour presented to the audience. If the late Bill Hicks were to have left out much of the political material from his act, a lot of what he did would not have been particularly funny. Stanhope, on the other hand, despite risking the danger of coming across as a purely “dick joke comedian” seems to avoid this classification by intelligently knowing how to tweak the inner psyche of his audience. Who among us, for example, has not been caught by their parents jacking off at some point? Or what real person hasn’t slept with some monster that you otherwise wouldn’t have gone near if only you hadn’t had those six extra blood colored cocktails that some foreign exchange student previously convinced you was the ultimate in drinking cuisine?
This is where Doug Stanhope cleverly wins through, for even if you’re a model citizen who hasn’t occasionally ventured to the extremes that most of us get involved in from time to time, somewhere in that perfectly good little Christian head of yours lurks an ugly demon waiting to be exorcised or evoked. As Doug explains when describing the one time he got rolled by a Transvestite Hooker:
Don’t you pricks go judging me now. We all have a fucking story too, alright? . . . You caught crabs; you fucked your best friend’s girlfriend; you ran up a big phone sex bill when you were hammered; you shit your pants; you had an abortion; you walked through the Circuit City and you saw a big screen TV, and just for a second you thought: as soon as my grandma dies I’m buying that, I can’t wait . . . You had a dream where you were peeing and you were peeing and you were peeing and you woke up and you went: “Oh my god I’m thirty-five years old! Please no!”, but yes, you pissed your pants, you have a fucking story. So don’t start looking at me like that!
~~ Doug Stanhope, Sicko
But to say that Stanhope doesn’t have a political element to his act would be entirely wrong as one can certainly discern a particular amount of politics creeping into his later work. Okay, so it’s politics on matters like vice laws, but nonetheless it’s politics all the same:
Every vice is already a punishment in itself. There should be no such thing as a vice law: every vice is only a bad habit and the punishment is inherent in the act. You smoke cigarettes you get cancer, you die, you don’t need a ticket on top of it . . . You gamble, you lose your money, the house has the edge, it’s a punishment in itself. You watch too much porno, it diminishes your taste for the kind of girls that will actually fuck you. It’s got a down side, I’ve done every vice that you can think of. I have drank ’til I couldn’t remember my own name, I’ve done coke ’til my nose was bleeding like the fourth week of Lilith Fair . . . I figured it out all on my own. And I’ve had hookers before . . . I never woke up the next day going: “Man, I’m glad I got a hooker last night; I’m a genius.” . . . Now I’ve gotta check my dick for spots for the next six months.
~~ Doug Stanhope, Something To Take The Edge Off
Doug Stanhope, like his predecessor Bill Hicks, certainly isn’t afraid to offend anyone, and this I feel produces the best kind of 21st century comedy out there, for it shocks the pretentious prude into being disgusted (mainly at themselves since they are obviously unable to laugh at the dark realities of the human condition) and provides such a release for the intelligent mind that it truly is an exorcism of all the shit that builds up inside of us on a daily basis. From the media lies we are continually being fed, to the un-human way out-dated religions of this world expect us to behave in order to become “virtuous” – it is truly the corrupt that is dictating to us and turning us into vessels of bottled up repression and aggression. As Stanhope points out concerning the World Trade Center incident:
I would love to be a patriot. I would love to just fall into it and be happy, but everything has a saturation point . . . Sorry if I’m not wearing my NYPD hat out of respect for the fallen heroes, but you know what? A year and a half ago I wasn’t wearing a plunger handle in my ass in a holding cell to represent that same force either. It’s bullshit.
And you know there’s been a big outpouring of generosity, yes, and you know, it’s too bad that plane didn’t fuck up and hit a homeless shelter . . . How about chucking billions of dollars at those people for a change? There’s more than four thousand of those bodies all over the streets of New York City and now they’re kicking them out of the way to drop off a cheque at Ground Zero.
~~ Doug Stanhope, Patriotic Saturation
The abundance of material that Stanhope has is also quite remarkable. In fact the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was once challenged to a bet by the late wonderful Australian artist Brett Whiteley that he couldn’t go up on stage for two consecutive gigs without repeating himself once. Connolly reluctantly rose to the challenge and won, but admitted later that it was hard as hell and that there is hardly a comedian in existence that has over four hours of material. I don’t know how much material Stanhope has, but so far I have not heard him repeat himself once in any of the CDs or video clips that I have scrutinized – this I find to be quite unusual for a stand-up comic.
Doug Stanhope clearly lives a wild and eventful life – one need only check out his Web site to discern this fact – but this is clearly where he gets the inspiration for his material as should be the case with all good comedians. Many will find him offensive, however, done most of those offended I’m sure will still find there’s an element about his comedy where you just can’t help liking the guy. We could all learn at least something from the Great White Stanhope, even if it’s just that each of us could perhaps do with indulging in a little more excess in moderation.