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Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope

Stanhope says he was living off fraud telemarketing and the kindness of strippers in Las Vegas, when he first ventured onto the stage of an open mic comedy night at a seedy bar called the Escape Lounge II.

When all the strippers left for band guys, Doug traipsed down to Phoenix on the tail of a woman and landed a gig as a house MC at the Comedy Cove, a club as doomed to failure as the relationship. The girl left him nine months later for the lighting guy from Cheap Trick . The club shut down around the same time, but not before Doug had enough contacts to start a life on the road.

In December of 1992, Doug packed his few belongings in a 1981 Dodge Omni and spent the next three years living on the road like a pig, getting drunk, chasing women and spewing "dick jokes" across America like a crop duster until his break at the 1995 San Francisco comedy festival enabled him to move to Los Angeles.

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Doug Stanhope 2012 tour

Doug Stanhope 2012 tour

For a self-confessed deadbeat, Doug Stanhope is remarkably prolific. He’s just released a new DVD, Before Turning The Gun On Himself, just ten months after the last one.

It’s clear he feels the pressure to keep that impressive turnover going, particularly in Britain where comedy gets proper critical scrutiny. That compels him to graft, however reluctantly, to validate his reputation as an outspoken comic of substance.

So even though this first proper UK tour is a big one – he calls it the ‘unreasonable expectations’ tour as he’s been booked into venues an order of magnitude too big for his pulling power – there’s sometimes the feeling he’s still crafting routines on the hoof, as he has the laudable aim not to repeat previously released material.

That’s in keeping with his loose style, and his admission that he hates the Edinburgh-style tyranny of shows with a theme, persuasively arguing that stand-up should have the freedom to react to topical events, either global or personal, not be anchored to a through line.

On which note, there’s one big thing in Stanhope’s life this week. Comedy fans with a Twitter account would have found it difficult to avoid his online row with Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson over her opposition to assisted suicides. During their – well, let’s call it a debate, though that’s stretching the definition to breaking point – he tweeted: ‘Arguing this issue in 140 characters is a fist fight in a tanning bed. But I have plenty of time on stage.’

So no surprises that his idle question ‘so, what shall we talk about?’ early in the gigs receives a chorus of ‘Allison!’ in response, allowing to unfurl the offending article he keeps about his person at all times. But those expecting a corrosive, coruscating comeback, might be a little disappointed, as this section largely involves reading out her words in a pissy, sarcastic voice and going ‘nyeh, nyeh, nyeh’ by way of commentary.

Still, he has a couple of nicely sardonic lines, especially at the notion Pearson could possibly have him ‘fired from comedy’, and the routine does culminate in him imagining a grossly violent death on the writer, with an proportionately brutal punchline. It also opens the door for Stanhope to talk frankly about the way his ailing mother killed herself, a topic he’s touched on before, producing a rich yield of dark gallows humour.

Such willingness to confront uncomfortable facts of life head-on is what makes the surly Stanhope so interesting as a comedian; and here his iconoclasm again makes piñatas out of a few cows his liberal audience might hold sacred. The Occupy movement are derided for their ineffectual protests, fighting the global capitalist machine with drum circles; he sings the praises of living in America, no matter what the view of the Great Satan from the outside; while his hatred of ostentatious ‘fagginess’ as opposed to homosexuality is his version of Chris Rock’s career-defining ‘Niggers vs black people’ riff.

‘This is the truth, and you don’t want to hear it from me,’ he says at one point, acknowledging the fact that as drunken, twisted and depraved wreck – who watches joyless porn starring former wrestler Chyna for gratification as well as material – he should be the last person we heed as a the voice of reason. Yet here we are…

By the end of the show his more off-the-cuff ramblings have solidified into pointed, embittered rants barbed with passionate punchlines that really deserve bigger audiences than the quarter-full auditoriums he’s been getting (tonight’s gig at the 1,700-seater Lowry being the exception).

For his encore, Stanhope was joined by his endearingly droll support act, Henry Phillips, who strummed his guitar as Stanhope broke his golden ‘new material’ rule to reprise some old material from 2000 album, Something To Take The Edge Of.

His tale of how he once managed to have sex with the stunningly beautiful Bobbie Barnett is actually rather enchanting – and unequivocally enhanced by the musical undercurrent – and proves that behind the raging, twisted, hard-bitten drunken idiot of a road comedian beats the heart of a poet. Albeit a poet with a fondness for the word ‘cunt’.

Monday 19th Mar, '12
Steve Bennett

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Past Shows

Velvet Laugher Master Series Doug Stanhope Day With Doug Pimm's Summerfest Doug Stanhope, Soho Theatre