by Ryan Meehan
This past Friday I considered myself to be very lucky because I was going to see and meet a guy that I have been following pretty intensely for the past seven years. Comedian Doug Stanhope came to RIBCO to share his unique brand of comedy and hatred on the 28th, and FOH was right there to cover the whole thing for you.
Doug Stanhope is equal parts laughter and loathing. He says things not necessarily to get a rise out of people but to help people understand they shouldn’t make such a rise out of themselves. As far as comedians go, there is nobody else working right now that will remove your ego with a microphone the way Doug will. He’s done the TV circuit, he HAD lived in Los Angeles for an extended period of time, and all the while standup has remained his true passion. In the process, he’s gotten chased out of Europe for saying Irish women were too ugly to rape, raised a firestorm of controversy where he basically called the people running the Mothers Against Drunk Driving cause a bunch of attention whores, and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008. He’s done all he wants to do, and sees no reason to crossover into any other form of entertainment where cheesy is king and douchey is prince.
In RIBCO’s 33 years of live music, they have never had a comedian as a headliner. In all fairness, the club is set up more for music than comedy. But lately, Stanhope has been doing more shows in venues that don’t typically host comedy. He’s been doing shows at more rock clubs, and I have even seen a picture of him online where they set up a stage on top of a bowling alley. His goal is to use more of the venues that typically have rock shows to spread the word of comedy and free speech. Not only is he getting even more respect for doing it from other comedians, it is working and now I can tell you first hand that is the case.
The show’s two openers were very good warm-up acts. Brett Erickson and Geoff Tate (the comic, not the lead singer of Queensryche) did a great job of warming the crowd up and both had solid material. But they knew that it wasn’t them everyone was coming to see, so they both did about feature act length sets.
When Doug hit the stage, he immediately informed the audience that although the laughs were to arrive shortly he wanted to talk about the day they’ve had first. For those of you not familiar with Stanhope, his girlfriend Bingo is a little “out of sorts” to say the least. She’s definitely different, and she had a bit of an incident on Friday.
I guess what happened was Bingo had some kind of a manic depressive episode at the local Denny’s earlier that afternoon and Doug, along with Brett and Geoff had to sort of talk her down off of the ledge. It got pretty crazy and you could tell that it was visibly having an effect on his day. Doing comedy has to be one of the hardest things in the world to do because when you have a rough day like that, the audience still expects you to be funny. Having probably over a thousand of shows under his belt by this point, Stanhope knows that this is a business but still he was able to use the day’s unfortunate events as part of his set.
The way that Stanhope presents his material reminds me of a blog post that British comedian Dave Bishop had uploaded several years back that contain Bill Hicks’ guidelines of standup comedy. One of the rules is “I close my eyes and I go out there and that’s where I start. Honest.” Nobody embodies that type of attitude to the degree Doug does. The whole time you literally can’t tell if he had a specific set list or if he just walked out and began saying the first things that came to his head. I’m very reluctant to use the word “act” when describing what it is that he does, because there is no acting involved and it certainly doesn’t seem very scripted. When he finally got going and brought everybody up to speed with the day’s events, he did some more storytelling about how the gang was stopped and questioned for drug-related reasons when they were entering Canada to do a show in Halifax, Nova Scotia. To make a long story short, they use some wand up at the US/Canada border now is supposed to detect when luggage has trace amount of narcotics present. The only problem was nobody had anything on them, leading Doug to ask “Well where do we go from here? Does the bag need to get legal representation?”
One of the my favorite parts of the night was when Doug addressed the whole Occupy movement and its failure to make a mark on Wall Street. This was awesome because like he said, there was a whole lot of hippies in parks playing bongos and a whooooooole lotta nobody going into the actual banks and protesting. Personally I thought the Occupy movement was stupid from day one, and I knew that there was no way that it was going to actually have an effect on the way we are being treated by the people who control most of the money. Stanhope went off on almost every aspect of the movement, and was very thorough in doing so.
Stanhope continued by discussing his disdain for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s presence in the National Football league during October. If you’re not familiar with what Doug is capable of I’m sure you’re saying “Wow, he was going after charities? What a dick…” but it was done in a way where he was able to pull several jokes about the color pink from that idea. He had a similar bit that he did about Toys for Tots and he was able to make that work as well. His strength is in feeding off of the energy that comes from making the audience squirm. It’s that squeamishness that builds the intensity, and that’s where the true free speech rises to the top.
There was one point towards the end of the show where he did snap on this one girl in the front row. It’s one thing to say something in passing during a comedy show, but this girl was talking to the other girl she was with for almost a minute straight and she did it right in front of him. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it involves something along the lines of her staying in the Quad Cities for the rest of her life because failure anchors had shot out of her vagina rendering her unable to relocate. Hecklers and other people in that “Oh great, this person is at a comedy show?” category are always going to be around, but when I go to a show I always hope that the headliner will be able to get through his or her whole set without being interrupted. But it happens, and he put the fucking cabash on it rather quick. He finished the show and was very cool about signing merch even though he had clearly not had a very good day.
The show really was that good, no bullshit. Most of the stuff he was discussing was right off of the cuff and Doug’s at the point right now where he could do several hours of material if he had to. What made this event so special was there was something about the atmosphere in that room that I couldn’t quite describe but I knew I hadn’t experienced before. When they say a certain performer has a “cult-like following”, that usually means the people who follow them are of a particular breed. In Stanhope’s case, a lot of his fans are very different from him. But for some reason, he has that cult fanbase simply because onstage he talks like a guy who would never bullshit you. He speaks the truth, and even with as fucked up as this country currently sits if you continue to do that long enough you can amass quite a large number of people that will respect you.
Doug stands about 5’6″, maybe a hundred and forty-five pounds soaking wet, and when he picks up the microphone he becomes bigger than what you would expect given his stature. I’ll never be able to know how he’s able to string together so many vile bits in a row that just absolutely kill. Sometimes he runs out of breath when he’s doing it so who knows? - Maybe he is doing the same approach as stated in the Bill Hicks rule.
All in all, it was a very intense room to say the least, and I hope there will be many more comedy shows at RIBCO in the future. The balcony gives the performer more opportunity to do crowd work, and the overall feel of the floor area seems like it’s a great place to get a bunch of people together that want to laugh. Jason Parris is doing an amazing job booking there these days, and I hope he brings more comedians our way.
If you get the chance to catch Doug at any of his shows this winter, please take advantage of it. (If you live in LA and can get tickets to see that 12/21/12 show in Los Angeles with Rogan and Diaz, that’s the one you’re going to want to see) Stanhope and the boys party awfully hard and all we can hope for is that their livers can withstand at least another decade of this so we can see more live comedy. Live comedy is one of the truest forms of expressing our freedom, and as long as Doug Stanhope is alive there will always be a dark crowded room where that expression is on display for everyone to see.
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