When comedic cult hero Doug Stanhope last played Vancouver, he had just finished recording material he had perfected over months of performing night in and night out. The problem was he hadn’t yet developed any new material. And Stanhope, who admits he’s often fuelled by alcohol, is not one to suffer boredom gladly. So he winged it. And died.
Those summer nights three years ago are still etched in his memory—somewhat surprisingly given his habit of performing under the influence.
“I still remember those shows,” he said on the poolside phone at a motel in his home of Bisbee, Arizona, where the famous child-hater was entertaining his niece and nephew. “Those were amongst epic meltdowns on-stage that I remember. Everything in your set you’re tired of saying and nothing that you’re trying to say is really working out. And then you’re at Yuk Yuk’s and you can’t drink on-stage and I was already beyond that. I don’t need these gigs. I’m trying to pretend to drink a fucking orange juice on-stage and trying to sneak vodka in it and dealing with managers and their fucking rules. I don’t need to do this. I was cheesed off and I took it out on everyone, including myself and my act and my credibility.”
No doubt there were some first-timers present who had heard about the legend of Doug Stanhope and walked away feeling cheated. But anyone who’s followed his career knows that was just a blip. Since then, he’s released a CD, 2009’s From Across the Street, that’s as crudely incisive as anything he’s ever done, so it’s fair to expect some vintage Stanhope when he ends his eight-city cross-Canada tour at the Bourbon on Sunday (July 25).
A social commentator of the highest order, Stanhope is also blazingly funny, whether you agree with his slant on the issues (abortion, child pornography, suicide, and all points in between) or not. Like all the best comics, Stanhope has a poet’s way with words, which allows you (if you’re not too uptight) to appreciate his art even while shaking your head at what’s coming out of his mouth.
“I’m not comparing myself by any means, but [Charles] Bukowski you would read and he’s talking about raping women and punching girls in the face and puking on a one-legged whore. And you go, ”˜I enjoy the writing.’ You don’t read it because you go, ”˜You know what? Thank God, someone stood up for raping women.’”
And unlike the two renowned comics he’s most often compared to, George Carlin and Bill Hicks, Stanhope isn’t didactic. He’ll argue his case fervently, but doesn’t try to shove it down your throat. Carlin and Hicks would tell you what to think, whereas Stanhope tells you why he thinks the way he does. Plus he exhibits a healthy streak of self-hatred, unlike the other two. He’ll be the first to put himself down.
The 43-year-old is often praised for his straight talking, but he says that candour can backfire at this stage of his career.
“As you get older, you get naturally more boring,” he says. “People laud me for my honesty, but when the honesty is ”˜I’m tired, I don’t want to be here, I’m pretty much bored with this fucking business tonight, I don’t want to entertain you,’ they don’t like that honesty.”¦I’d have a way better career going if I just shut my mouth sometimes.”