Friday, May 8, 2015

DOUG STANHOPE | 05.06.06

Written by David Lichius

“I look forward to not knowing what to expect,” Stanhope said.

Pop’s
May 6, 8 p.m. | all ages
Tickets: $10 | Call: 618-274-6720 

On a damp, yet pleasant Thursday night in Kansas City, Doug Stanhope is standing inside a rock club that has flyers for an upcoming Low concert posted on the walls. Fifty plastic chairs are lined in rows up front for those who purchased advanced tickets. On this particular evening, Stanhope is sharing the stage with fellow comics Blo-Chi and Travis Lipski, as well as the sex punk sounds of the Pornhuskers. The Record Bar, suffice to say, is not your usual comedy venue. In the past, you’d most likely find the 39-year-old comedian a mile or two down Westport Road at Stanford & Sons Comedy Club. It is a club that Stanhope has played on several occasions. It’s also a place you can bet that he’ll never set foot in again.

“You come here [Record Bar], there’s probably a bunch of people at the bar that would be sitting in that bar regardless if it was no entertainment, if it was Monday Night Football, if it’s karaoke; they’re regular people. No one is walking around telling you to fucking shut up, you can’t talk to the comics and that whole comedy club feel,” Stanhope said, “When you play this gig, you don’t need a two-drink minimum.”

While Stanhope stated that there are still comedy clubs that he will go back to, he feels that bars have more adrenaline and chaos in them and, therefore, are more enjoyable

“A town like Kansas City where I have a small fan base, if I play Stanford and Sons and do six shows there, my fan base will be spread out sparsely throughout six shows and intermingled with bachelorette parties and fucking douchebags who think that they won 20 free tickets for their birthday party. So there will be people there to see me and there will be a fucking slew of people who, if Larry the Cable Guy came in with a pan flute, he could lead them off a pier,” Stanhope laughed.

Stanhope’s small fan base in Kansas City—or any town, for that matter—has not come from a lack of effort. A touring comedian for over 15 years, Stanhope’s most visible exposure was hosting the ill-fated The Man Show—which Stanhope openly admits absolutely sucked. However, his most recent place in the spotlight was his participation in the comedy The Aristocrats. When he was initially approached about the project, Stanhope had zero interest. It wasn’t until co-director Paul Provenza showed him 45 minutes of rough footage that he jumped on board. In his segment, Stanhope is telling his own rendition of The Aristocrats joke to an infant. As funny as that segment was, Stanhope wanted to alter the scene a bit.

“I wanted to tell it to a kid who old enough to understand it, like a nine-year-old,” Stanhope chuckled. “That would have really pushed it fucking over the top and just pan on this fucking sunken, sallow face. That would have been hilarious.”

Suffice to say, Stanhope’s act is beyond over the edge. A fearless and wickedly insightful truth teller, many people finger Stanhope as a comedian in the vein of the deceased Bill Hicks. However, to try and describe his act is nearly impossible. To hand over a transcript to virgin ears would not do his material justice. It’s in his delivery and self-effacing honesty that the brilliance of Stanhope comes through. While the list of topics that he has touched on over the years—smoking, drugs, pornography, drinking, abortion—have been used by numerous of other comics, Stanhope has taken these topics in directions and to such extreme levels that, on some occasions, clubs have posted signs warning audiences that Stanhope’s brand of comedy won’t fly with those with gentile sensibilities. Or, as Stanhope once said, “My act is like animal porn. It’s not for everyone.”

On this night, there are no such disclaimers at the door. Following the opening acts, Stanhope takes the stage and begins by stating that he’s more interested in seeing the Pornhuskers then doing his set. One might think that for a show that featured the Pornhuskers—two young ladies dancing provocatively with pasties covering their chests—that the audience would be fairly desensitized. However, as evidenced by one young woman sitting in the third row, this would not be the case. Her gasps of, “Oh my God,” were heard throughout the venue as Stanhope ran through his set. The observation that garnished the most audible reaction touched on a Dawn dish soap ad that, to Stanhope’s disgust, used the cleaning of an oil-drenched duck to sell their soap. Stanhope followed by drawing a direct comparison between that and using Elizabeth Smart to sell feminine hygiene products.

After his set, Stanhope stays up front with his digital camera, capturing the opening moments of the Pornhuskers. It isn’t long until Stanhope is swept away by well wishers who start feeding him shots of Jager and whatever booze they can think of.

While the Record Bar proved to be a friendly and hospitable venue, Stanhope also books on his itinerary some towns that have a higher potential of being the exactly the opposite. This is something that he welcomes.

“I look forward to not knowing what to expect,” Stanhope said. “The Improv is the most ironically named fucking comedy club chain; you know nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen. Maybe a waitress will spill a tray of drinks. Generally, you’re gonna see a guy who knows exactly what he’s gonna say verbatim, word for word; there’s gonna be a guy who’ll do 15 minutes who probably sucks and then a guy who’s kinda mediocre do 25 minutes, and then the guy you supposedly came to see is going go through his fucking script and then you will leave.”

Fifteen days later, Stanhope is back in Missouri and is going to get a full dose of the unexpected. For on this occasion, he is not in a major metropolitan city nor is he is a college town. No, on Good Friday 2006, Stanhope is in the tiny enclave of Cedar Hill, Mo. Thirty-odd miles southwest of St. Louis, the show is sold out. However, the crowd is filled with locals, not with many people who are familiar with his act. Inside the local advertisement weekly The Green Apple, an ad teases the show: “Straight from The Man Show: Comedian DOUG STANHOPE, 1 Show Only, 10pm, April 14th! Closed Easter!”

Inside the converted dining room, the place is packed with people sitting around circular tables set up so close to each other, you could easily step from table to table with little effort.

After opener Andy Andrist, it is now plainly evident that the crowd is here to see the guy they know only from the The Man Show. Contrary to his show in Kansas City where he tried out mostly new material, Stanhope—with a few exceptions—hilariously improvises his through his “contractual obligation” of 60 minutes. In the opening minutes of his set, Stanhope subtly ridicules the town he is standing in.

““If you’re wondering what the fuck I’m doing in Cedar Hill, so am I,” Stanhope said with a snicker. “I’ve never done a gig where I’ve had more people warn me not to do this gig. ‘Are you suicidal? I’ve been to that town. What the fuck are you doing?’”

Stanhope quickly turns to the subject of his motel room—18 miles away in Fenton.

“I’ve never played a town that doesn’t have a motel,” Stanhope states. “The next community hall thing where you get together and fight about burning flags or teaching evolution in school, why don’t someone bring up, ‘How about a motel?’”

Stanhope continued with his improv.

“Can you pin point the exact moment when all your Cedar Hill dreams fell to shit? Sometime around senior year in the back seat of your Ford Tempo? You looked at your girl and said”—and here he switched to his best redneck accent—“‘Baby, as soon as we graduate, we’re getting the fuck out of this nowhere town. We’re gonna go to Key West, Florida. I’m learning how to play the acoustic 12-string. I’m gonna play country music right on the boulevard for tips. Oh? You can carve coconuts into scrim-saw monkey heads and sell them at a flea market. We don’t need money, baby. We have love and each other. Our whole future is wide open. Why don’t we fuck one time without a rubber just to celebrate? Oh, what could possibly go wrong?’”

As the minutes go by, Stanhope tauntingly turns up the knob of the vulgarity of his material. With about five minutes left in his set, the room has emptied considerably and a woman—whose voice sounds ravaged from years of smoking—starts yelling at her party that they’re leaving.

Stanhope stopped and responded, “No. No. No. No. No. Take your time. Take your time. I’m gonna keep talking about stinky pussy.” As her party exits the room, Stanhope smiles and taunts her with a singsong chant of, “Stinky pussy on Good Friday.”

After the show, Stanhope is selling his CDs on top of pool table covered with a wooden plank. A man walks up, whispers into his ear, whereupon Stanhope turns and follows the man out the door.

As for his show on May 6 at Pop’s, Stanhope is looking forward to his return to the bar that never closes—as well as the surrounding ambiance.

“I love it. It’s like Porky’s. It’s just so fantastic when you compare it to going to the Funny Bone—and I’m not trashing the Funny Bone, but for what I do it fits.” Stanhope smiled. “I belong in a fucking dirty tavern.”

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