Doug Stanhope in London

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Ever insightful, Doug Stanhope knows the impotence of his trademark fury better than most. He’s come to accept that his big, if hugely controversial, ideas to solve all the world’s ills fall on the deaf ears of the drunkards and wastrels he considers his natural audience.

He also admits this all-too brief London run coincides with his annual crisis of confidence, when he becomes listless with his own material and convinced he’s not, nor never has been, funny. He’s hardly motivated by the news, feeling there aren’t too many ha-has in sub-prime mortgage lending, so what he really needs is a ‘better 9/11’ to inspire him anew

This – plus the fact he’s noticeably under the weather – doesn’t auger well for an hilarious 80 minutes. But thankfully, despite his protests, there’s no drought of ideas in what turns out to be another powerfully opinionated show. If global issues aren’t his concern, he is still left to focus his omnipresent frustrated rage in two opposing directions: outwards to the minutiae of existence, and inwards to his own numerous failings of a human being.

In a coruscating early routine about stand-up itself; he contrasts his attempts at observational comedy with the benign wit of Jerry Seinfeld. Both may comment upon the inadequacies of airline food – but where Seinfeld simply points it out, Stanhope wants to punch someone in the head for it. Comedy is all the funnier when it has anger management issues, and Stanhope brings plenty of those to the table.

When it comes to himself, he’s not so much angry as disappointed, especially at the state of his aging body, which he doesn’t even feel he can inflict upon comedy groupies any more. But he can still get laid: ‘I got hooker money,’ he declares.

It’s a line that is perfectly believable, coming from Stanhope. You know his debauched tales of drunken, drug-fuelled excess, of watching porn, and generally being on the fringes of society – although never the core thread of his act – are entirely authentic. That you know he’s the real deal gives added credence that the views he espouses are genuinely held beliefs, not concocted for the sake of a glib joke.

So even on the rare occasions when routines don’t really work – a muddled if well-intentioned derision of the Monarchy or some nonsense about humans being the result of aliens breeding with apes – you still want to listen to hear what he has to say.

Aside from the closing material about the relative lack of intimacy in sex, which Stanhope performed at his last UK visit, his most impressive routine considers the discrimination against the ugly as heinous as any other prejudice. This tessellates neatly with both his take on Barack Obama and racism, and his inspired thoughts on Susan Boyle, brutally spearing those who expected her to be unable to sing simply because she was aesthetically imperfect.

Elsewhere, Stanhope beautifully offensive take on why abortion is the environmentally sensible choice, and a thoughtfully logical, if comedically underpowered, manifesto makes a great case for how the state should have no power over what you do to your own body – from drugs to abortion to euthanasia.

Hang on, aren’t we back on to the big issues Stanhope said he wouldn’t tackle. But for a drunk wreck of a man with a tendency to rub people up the wrong way, he doesn’t half make some good points – and funny ones too.

Review date: 2 Sep 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

What do you think?

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.