It would be nearly impossible to talk about Doug Stanhope without mentioning the comics to which he is inevitably compared – Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Louis C.K. and, most obviously, Bill Hicks. Stanhope’s is a humour that, if not paved, has been at the very least made more “fashionable” by these idolised modern day preachers. That three quarters of these comics are actually dead is a pertinent fact. It makes them perfect idols, figureheads for (permanently) “dark comedy”. In one section of his recent live release, ‘Before Turning The Gun On Himself’, Stanhope even talks about his need to “go out big” – referring of course to dying. One might argue it is a riff on an old Hicks bit about letting Chuck Norris kick grandma’s head off, but here Stanhope discusses in great length how being remembered for dying is probably more important that being remembered for living. Granted, in this instance he is suggesting that having a killer whale chew on your head for 30 minutes in front of a crowd of screaming tweens with cell phones is a good way to go, but Stanhope’s comedy is rooted in a deeper meaning than this. Yes, there are of course dick jokes but they are sandwiched in between relevant observations about the state of the world, the state of society and the state of America.
“If you get offended by words – by noises we make with our mouths – it means you were raised by bad parents”.
The crowd howls with laugher.
Perhaps the notable comparisons are accurate: just like Hicks, Carlin and Kinison, Stanhope is angry – at the world; at the government; at himself – and it is with his utter disgust at all of them that he finds the humour in the hard truth.
What makes Stanhope a truly inspiring figure to watch as he waxes-lyrical is the fact that he knows his whole act – catered to his flock of dedicated followers – is futile. He tells the truth we all see but the humour means we do nothing about changing the problem. It is an interesting idea and one that is perfectly suited to his on stage demeanour. Stanhope is a tired man; he is 45 years old (22 years a professional stand-up); he is a drinker; he is abrasive; sarcastic; crude; cutting; personal and funny. But that’s it. He is not a messiah. He is not a forward thinking, should-be-in-politics Jesus. He is a comedian who tells jokes, and that he knows it makes him even funnier. What Before Turning a Gun… represents is a man whose mid-life crisis is realising that his time to be a Hicks-lite, false deity has past. Now, with each day, he just has to get on with it as it gets worse. “You ever look in the mirror and think, ‘What the fuck happened?!.’” It is a familiar set-up, but you truly believe that he did it this very morning.
Stanhope’s pessimistic outlook is certainly not reserved exclusively for his personal self-loathing however, and his razor-sharp, keenly astute observations are afraid to take no prisoners. Whether it be the economy, rehab, religion, politics or any other “taboo” subjects that supposedly make you “cutting edge”, Stanhope can reel them all of with one breath and still seem fresh.
“Alcoholics Anonymous makes scientology look credible!” declares Stanhope at the end of a rant concerning the use of religion to treat alcohol and drug abuse. The statement alone sounds false, but the research and delivery that has gone into the set-up would be reason enough for Charlie Sheen to start ‘winning’ again.
This release is an example of a comic who is still at the very top of his game but who will only ever reach the same audience he has had for the past 22 years. His material is to ‘risqué’ for the hoards of BBC viewers who that that Michael McIntyre is the height of modern comedy. It’s not their fault though, and nobody knows this more than Stanhope. There’s just little he can do about it…unless he turns the gun on himself.
A must-buy stand up release in an age where most comedians have forgotten the art of their trade. They would do well to watch this in between appearances on mock the week.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.