Before last night’s performance, my only experiences of American comedian Doug Stanhope was via his ranting shorts on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe and clips of his equally ranting stand up on YouTube. From these brief glimpses, my opinion was that Stanhope’s brand of alcohol-fuelled hate-comedy could either be manically funny or painstakingly average. On his day, he seems to spit vitriolic swipes with (and at) the best of them but these moments of genius are often muddied by drunken rants of little purpose or humour. From the very start I knew my opinion was not going to change this evening.
While Stanhope mixed cocktails backstage, his support on this UK tour is fellow American Henry Phillips. The sight of any comedian walking onstage with an acoustic guitar is one that fills me with dread but thankfully Phillips falls into my happy camp of musical comedians. His dry and straightforward delivery of songs about transsexual hookers, high school shootings and love warm up the crowd nicely and, although his set is short, it’s brilliant. I hope he returns to the UK soon.
With the stage now set for Stanhope (one stool, 4 beers and an array of plastic cups filled with his “cocktails”), he emerges in a suit that looks about three sizes too big. From the start, his tone is that of a drunken local. Excuse the American drawl and interchange the stage for a York boozer and we could be dealing with that odd bloke in the corner that no one makes eye contact with. His opening exchange about being in an opera house is funny but erratic and as he stumbles into a conversation about a train journey with a loud talking granny, I can see why I’ve always tagged Stanhope as either a genius or a drunken buffoon…never something in between.
The set picks up though and his moments of genius are just that and we are finally shown glimpses of what comedy professionals would call “pure gold”. Although 90% of his content may be unrepeatable in this review due its graphic imagery, it is delivered with brutal honesty. Although I can’t relate to his dreams about sodomizing a black American football player in the centre of the pitch, I can agree with everything he has to say about comedians mocking dead celebrities, his disdain for stereotyped personalities and his hate for hippy campaigners. His opinion on the recent Occupy campaign is fevered and a gig highlight as he spits his point that ‘raising awareness’ is not enough when it comes to campaigning. He closes his set with a look at the dumb questions UK journalists have asked him over the years and a final rant about how (despite a useless government and intellectually-challenged population) America is the greatest country on the planet. It’s the strongest part of his set and a great way to end the night but my opinion of Stanhope has not been altered one bit. Like the cocktails he’s been sipping all evening, he’s given us a mixed set of fiery spirit and quite average.