Doug Stanhope At Leicester Square Theatre 2010

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Misanthropic grouch Doug Stanhope has cornered the market in bilious contempt, expressing his frustrations at everything from minor irritations to global concerns in resentful rage-fuelled rants – and his slowly-growing army of hardcore fans love him for it.

He is the embodiment of acrid scorn, barking out the darkest sentiments we all sometimes feel in our most petulant moments. But his appeal is also that he is a screwed-up, bitter drunk with a mind full of extreme vulgarity. He is not only an outlet for shared exasperation, but a reminder we shouldn’t let annoyance eat us up, lest we end up like him.

Because of all the things Stanhope hates, himself seems to be top of the very long list. ‘I’m a horrible intolerant cunt of a person,’ he says, ‘and I can’t change it.’ All he can do is funnel it into comedy, for which we should be thankful.

He is brutally self-critical, drawing attention to his ‘shitty work ethic’ – even though he’s turned over a new 80 minutes of material in the 12 months since he was last here; pointing out the moments when he doesn’t have a neat segueway to get from one routine to the next; berating himself for telling a story that is more anecdote than a ‘bit’; or analysing how the energy is ebbing and flowing, very conscious that he needs to be on top of his game for this show, as all the reviewers are in.

He appears to envy tonight’s support act Hal Sparks – a polished, professional comic with strong material picking at Biblical hypocrisy. But the very reason Stanhope’s the draw is the fact he’s not that man. His rough-around-the edges performance is more genuine, the perfect approach if your job is to blast apart bullshit.

Not that his tirades aren’t typically virtuostic displays of comic brilliance; but afterwards he seems to wish they were more spontaneous. However it would be hard to top his impassioned take on the whale ‘trainer’ killed by an orca at SeaWorld or his take on manipulative rows within relationships that exposes almost every other stand-up routine about how men and women argue differently for the superficial nonsense it is.

The routine about how the recession will hit those already at the bottom of the economic chain makes a catchphrase out of the most unpleasantly vulgar image and repeats it with increasing audacity; while his reaction to the minor inconvenience of being caught behind a dawdler in a queue is so full of disproportionately extreme imagery that exposes the depths his diseased mind, while drawing huge laughs for its twisted extravagance.

Stanhope frets that he no longer has a social relevance; that over his 20-year career he’s stumbled on a handful of good ideas about overpopulation or drug prohibition – and is now frustrated that the problems haven’t yet been solved, as even his most devoted fans blithely ignore his message. Of more concern is that he doesn’t want to repeat himself as a comic, and he’s running out of places to go.

But on the strength of another impressive London show, full of astute opinion, gratuitously over-the-top mental pictures and the ceaseless passion that adds power to his already strong punchlines, Stanhope is far from being a spent force.

Review date: 1 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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