Doug Stanhope

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett


Being billed as the natural successor to Bill Hicks or Richard Pryor can put a heavy burden of expectation on a man. Especially as that man is a rather shambolic performer, ill at ease in his environment.

Doug Stanhope spent the first week in his natural habitat: the underground, raw and claustrophobic confines of the Tron pub. Now he's gone from playing to several dozen people a night to several hundred, in this brutally functional space. 'Ideal for a world hunger symposium,' he accurately surmises, 'but not for deranged tales.'

He's made an effort and put on a suit, which he doesn't wear well. And as he shuffles to this utilitarian stage, beer in hand, he resembles nothing more than a drunken uncle behaving boorishly and inappropriately at a wedding in some soulless civic centre.

Stanhope has been a road comic for 16 years, and much of his act comprises war tales from that rootless life. It's a hedonistic and horrible catalogue of abuses, both narcotic and sexual ­ aimed squarely at those who want a vicarious life of drunken abandon, hallucinogen-induced escapades and frequent, meaningless and often depraved sex.

It's brutal, fratboy humour taken to its extreme. There's no humanity in this just empty shock. Is this really the future of comedy?

He's happy to twist any opinions to fit this nihilistic viewpoint. Drugs, of course, are great. But not drugs like Prozac that deaden the mind to the bleakness of tedious jobs and tedious lives, only things like cocaine, because that's a completely different oblivion, clearly.

Occasionally, these tales flare up into absolutely brilliant lines, all the more amazing because Stanhope seems so unfocussed, seeming to struggle for words and ideas. With his lifestyle, the synapses probably aren't what they once were. But then he claims to be funnier when he's drunk. And the venue is definitely distracting him.

The harsh fact is that for first 45 minutes of the show, he's nothing special. He's got a lot of attitude, can be sporadically hilarious, and the cheap shock he employs can still be damn effective ­ but that doesn't place him among comedy's highest elite.

Then, in the last 10 minutes or so, he suddenly soars ­ a symphony of incisive, edgy, hilarious stand-up, performed with the skill of a virtuouso. The shocks are to make a point, the thinking depraved but inspired. This is what all the fuss was about.

He bemoans those who blame everything in their shitty lives on the most minor sexual abuse as a child, yet physical abuse is considered a badge of honour. It's saying the unsayable, but in order to challenge an accepted way of thinking, not just because it's naughty to do so.

Similarly his answer to the anti-abortion campaigner flyering with images of terminated foetuses is sick, excessive, callous ­ and absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious because it so expertly fights extremism with extremism.

If only the whole show has been as excoriatingly, viscerally brilliant as this, every ounce of praise he's ever received would have been vindicated tenfold. As it was, it only served as an indication of how much he was treading water for the rest of the hour.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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