Doug Stanhope at Brixton Academy | Gig review by Steve Bennett
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Doug Stanhope at Brixton Academy

Note: This review is from 2018

Gig review by Steve Bennett

He's a ferocious comic who's built a reputation on being unapologetic. But tonight Doug Stanhope starts with an apology, a prepared statement ready for when he inevitably provokes outrage in these sensitive, censorious times. Do I need to mention that it’s entirely tongue-in-cheek?

The easily offended should, of course, stay away, as Stanhope is a one-man trigger warning. But even if you think your tolerance for bad taste is high, he will confront you with jokes that are darker, more brutal, and more morally complex than almost any other comedian.

And he loves that challenge. This American lowlife is an unlicensed abattoir for our sensibilities: filthy, visceral, but fulfilling a function we don't really want to think about. By sacrificing all probity he can strip away red lines about what’s deemed ‘acceptable’ to offer an alternative to accepted norms.

Although he sets himself up as absolutely the last person you should listen to – a barely functioning alcoholic whose shambolic life is a blur of budget motels and seedy diversions from miserable reality – could there be wisdom in what this outsider reprobate says? The answer is deliberately murky.

In fact, as he later acknowledges in response to a heckler accusing him of racism, his main concern is not with offending those he would doubtless see as snowflakes, but getting the support of those who take his sick jokes at face value. Indeed, it’s odd when his routine savaging the grieving parents of dead children – which counts as a showstopper in his Twisted playbook – gets whoops of 'yeah' and a round of applause, as if he's revealing some great truth. He will get to that point, but not yet. This is just bad-taste humour designed to challenge.

As he admits in the provocative #metoo routine designed to rile the feminists, he likes causing outrage, because then victory is so much sweeter when he turns things around. And even if you’re not convinced by his arguments – and certainly the payoff doesn’t always justify the dubious thoughts that lead there – the journey is never predictable.

His vexatious material peaks with an audacious routine which combines racism and gang rape jokes, and dares the audience to pick a side in this unresolvable dichotomy. It’s a chunk that as funny as it is evil, which is very. And of course, Stanhope has no truck with those who’d argue that comedians should never joke about rape, offering a convincing, robust defence why making fun of such dark topics is entirely appropriate.

Death, decay and the rancid underbelly of existence beneath society’s veneer stalks all the material, explaining why his mind goes to the dark places it does. It’s a grubby gig, too, in the Brixton Academy, with its walls reeking of countless sweaty rock gigs. Stanhope’s audience – predominantly youngish, male and grungy – are raucous and unsettled, wandering the venue in search of their next beer.

Lest anyone be unsure of what they had signed up for, Stanhope’s warm-up act, Glenn Wool, prepared the audience with a playful routine that started in familiar domesticity and ended with a savage Aids routine, without ever letting the glint fade from his eye, however savage the punchlines got. And all delivered with all the quiet stillness of a WWE wrestler calling out an opponent.

Stanhope’s ensuing show is not always an easy ride, but he goes places few others dare and can usually be depended upon to   find mordantly witty humour there. And for all he likes to flirt with sexism, racism and any other -ism you care to mention, the only person he really hates his himself. A couple of thousand delighted fans in South London would have the opposite view.

Review date: 8 Jun 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brixton Academy

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