Doug Stanhope brings dark humor to the Funny Bone on Sept. 25Written by Ian Hubbard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There is still room in a diluted America for what comedian Doug Stanhope calls “the crippling honesty of comedy.” Comedians such as Daniel Tosh and Louis C.K. have poked at the fray with jokes about rape and child abuse that were declared offensive by proprietors of good, clean fun. But no comic during the past decade has blitzkrieged audiences on more taboo subjects and with such black, hellish wit as Stanhope.
Stanhope began his career circa 1990 and spent the decade as an unknown on the circuit while playing with the likes of Dave Attell and Mitch Hedberg. It wasn’t until post-9/11 that Stanhope gained notoriety for a string of material assailing, among other subjects, religions, anti-abortion activists, overpopulation and the nanny state of government intrusion. His assault left every topic bludgeoned and the audience crying “Uncle!”
Though much of Stanhope’s work stands as a rousing declaration against the New American puritanical movement, virgin listeners should take caution. Not all of his material is a soapbox for him to stomp and yell at the drunken masses. His onstage fearlessness loves to dive headfirst from that soapbox into guttural vulgarity.
“The crowd is the necessary evil. If people are paying $25, $30 for a ticket, they better know what they are getting themselves into,” Stanhope said from his home in Bisbee, Ariz. “I play to myself and find anything amusing that I haven’t said. I don’t play to people’s taste. If you do and you’re wrong, then you become the journeyman comic that people only go see because they have a coupon for the show.”
Stanhope has recorded 12 albums since his 1998 debut, “The Great White Stanhope,” including 2009’s “From Across the Street,” on top of five specials since 2003’s “Word of Mouth,” including the seminal “No Refunds” in 2007 and 2012’s “Before Turning the Gun on Himself” — in which he redefined the term “Blood Diamond.”
Stanhope’s great skill is his ability to destroy the line of good taste to sustain his relevance. And with his new special “Beer Hall Putsch,” available on Netflix and a live album, out Sept. 17, he is refusing to go quietly.
“Beer Hall Putsch” — named after Adolf Hitler’s failed uprising in 1924 — is an hourlong harangue on the public’s failure to see beyond the façade of drum circles and charity benefits. It is a more direct, less abrasive, still drunk Stanhope railing against the insolence of his audience rather than the hierarchies of religious institutions and concepts such as marriage and political saturation.
Instead of the embittered “voice of the people,” Stanhope is a Spanish bull that mauls his spectators for applauding their collective demise. As sentimental as that is, Stanhope also delivers a harrowing, but still hilarious, anecdote about aiding his mother into the great beyond — then committing credit card fraud under her name.
While he considers himself a stammering drunk, Stanhope is a consummate professional. Coming off the Canadian stretch of his “Sh*t Town Comedy Tour,” Stanhope embarks on the American leg beginning Sept. 17, with a stop at the Funny Bone at Levis Commons at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25. Stanhope said developing relevant material is a challenge.
“With the new special out, it’s back to me sifting through notebooks and newspaper clippings for ideas,” Stanhope said. “The way the news is handled, every story is ‘breaking news’, regardless of what it is. Every two or three days something big happens in Syria or Egypt and people forget what happened before. By the time I play Toledo, a topic like [Edward] Snowden may seem as old as John Wayne Bobbitt.”
The question is, how will his fans — among the rowdiest in comedy — respond?
“I have a fan base that are all drunks and hate each other. It’s pretty strange,” Stanhope said. “They’re split, too. There are the people who want the vulgarity and there are those who want the social relevance. I still have shows where people yell out old bits, which I don’t understand.”
The tension between Stanhope fans is astonishing. They all want him to know who is No. 1, like die-hards during OSU-Michigan week. After a show at the Token Lounge in Livonia, Mich., two dozen barrel-chested fiends nearly clawed each other’s eyes out while hounding Stanhope for his vaunted autograph.
“It’s funny, because I usually don’t get people like that at shows anymore,” Stanhope said. “Now it’s usually just tourists with cellphones recording the show that get on my nerves during a set.”
Stanhope is a necessary force in America, a walking middle finger to the cultural sanitation we have been experiencing since the Clinton years. He is a reminder that not all is well at home, but nothing will change until we get clever. Though his catalogue of blunt and insightful material continues to evolve, Stanhope is highly aware that sooner or later he “could be out of sh*t.” And that’s OK by him.
“There better be something else to say or else I’m going to be bartending soon,” he said. “When you’re getting the bulk of your ideas from watching CNN, it means you have to start doing more with your life. There’s a lot in the world to participate in, but I find it way too easy to sit on the couch and watch ‘Bar Rescue’ and yell at the TV.”
Tickets to the Sept. 25 show at the Funny Bone are $27 For more information, visit www.dougstanhope.com.