Doug Stanhope at Glasgow Comedy Festival

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Doug Stanhope fears someone has stolen his act since he was last in Britain. For an angry, depraved drunk ranting with intensity and conviction at his peculiar version of the world, look no further than notorious ‘whore-menacer’ Charlie Sheen.

It makes a mockery, Stanhope claims, of his manager’s constant assertion: ‘You’d be so much bigger if you would just knuckle down.’ How much bigger can you get than the world’s most successful sitcom star?

Yet it is true that when focused, Stanhope mixes intelligence, insight and laughs like few others; but also that while his shambolic life and performance is detrimental to this, it’s an integral part of his deadbeat appeal. Embodied in him is that classic apparent contradiction of the wisdom of fools.

Tonight, knocking back beers on the Glasgow stage, he’s not at his sharpest, although he has a couple of great lines to try to cover his mental Blanks and lack of preparedness, and even starts his show with a sarcastic mockery of the slick-but-bland blight of mainstream stand-up.

Yet even on reduced power, Stanhope offers more provocative thoughts in 90 minutes than have ever been heard on Live At The Apollo. It’s not always easy listening – the jokey description of his mother’s assisted suicide is a particularly rocky ride, with every laugh laden with guilt – but comedy should never be afraid to prod the uncomfortable, and Stanhope has no inhibitions.

Not that he’s shocking for shock’s sake – he offers a logical, if twisted, justification for even his most outrageous jokes, but his edge comes from simply refusing to recognise sacred cows. Even the most of understandable of human emotions – reaction to a tragedy on the news, for example – is open to question.

Even on comparatively accessible subjects, such as the cult of Alcoholics Anonymous or the rise of the ‘celebrity rehab expert’, Stanhope’s fiercely opinionated frankness adds tang. And don’t for a moment think he’s not painfully self-aware; the description of his physical decay, leading into his classic routine about ths disappointing ordinariness of sex, is more caustic than any bland observational patter about nasal hair or grey pubes.

This might not have been a classic all-guns-blazing performance by the second most successful functional alcoholic in American comedy, but this flawed genius nonetheless remains a compelling force.

Review date: 23 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Glasgow King's Theatre

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