Doug Stanhope: No Refunds

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“At least Black people knew when they were slaves, you remain clueless….Hard work is fine if it’s a work of passion, but just to work hard to buy shit to impress people? You fucking loser.”

People like to play the “Who’s the next Bob Dylan?” game. Comedy is the same way. There’s been a pretty simple chain of rebel hipster heroes. Bruce – Pryor – Hicks. Hicks, who was shunned in his day would probably still be shunned today, but just about every relevant white comedian of the last 15 years plays in his shadow like just like all those English guitar heroes did when Jimi Hendrix, Hick’s hero, came to town. Hicks was so prescient and American culture so repetitive that his concerns have become even more relevant now than they were during his life.

Doug Stanhope: I agree with everything Bill Maher and David Cross have to say, I just don’t understand why they have to be such assholes?

Sometimes it pays to bet on the long shots.

The best stand up comic alive today used to have the following as his signature joke. “So I told my girlfriend I wanted to fuck her between the tits. She said, “How are you going to make that feel good for me?” I said, “Right before I come I’ll stop punching you in the face!”

Stanhope’s first chance to grab some notoriety came when he and Joe Rogan succeeded Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corolla as hosts of The Man Show, a reign that just about everyone including Stanhope’s mother would acknowledge to be worse than dismal. “There are still cultures in this world, like so removed from society, that in the Amazon there are still tribes that still believe …that the camera can steal your soul, which I always thought was ridiculous until I did The Man Show.”

Rogan then went on to make a ton of money hosting Fear Factor, while Stanhope wound up doing one Girls Gone Wild commercial that to his horror was played on six cable stations every night from 2 am to 5 am for what must have seemed to Stanhope to be the next forty years. Could this career have gone any worse? Stanhope then had to watch Fox News report the arrest and jailing of Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis, while playing video clips of Stanhope’s commercials in the background, likely inducing a good two thirds of the country into believing that Stanhope was the one going to prison.   

Doug Stanhope is not the next Hicks, because he’s the only comedian I’ve ever seen to whom that statement would be faint praise. How do you turn that career around and achieve your art? You stop playing the game, and that’s exactly what Stanhope did.

He said fuck it and jumped off the treadmill, something that Hicks, who remained a careerist until the day he died, probably could never have done, and it brought Stanhope a sort of peaceful resignation to go with his righteously hilarious indignation and maddeningly active racing mind. 

Or to say it another way, who else in the history of show business ever decided it would be a good career move to leave Los Angeles and relocate to Bisbee, Arizona, where he could live cheaper and lower his monetary needs? Disgusted by an endless succession of chain comedy clubs where the people who came to see him were hostile and had no idea who he was, he started booking his own dates at rock clubs.

When Richard Jeni committed suicide, it was widely speculated that despite making a ton of money doing corporate shows, his lack of success gnawed at him. Stanhope is as likely to be hired for a corporate gig as Barbara Bush is to one day move to New Orleans and congregate with the home town folks.

Hicks was a preacher. He spent the last days of his life desperately trying to change his father’s politics. Stanhope just offers his opinion, tells you that he feels for you, and goes on his way. He basically makes being the town drunk a heroic act of civil disobedience.

Stanhope plays to a lot of the same concerns as Hicks, drugs both legal and illegal, abortion, the corporate deadening of our consumerist souls, and yet Stanhope’s gutter poetry has become the realization of something Hicks started but never fully mastered. Any four minutes of Stanhope is so profane and wise that the words rise above themselves to become a thing of beauty. He won’t be winning tons of fans by telling them that being molested by a priest is nothing compared to the crap they try to stick in your head, but he’ll walk away amused as amused at the horror middle America reacts to him with every bit as much as Hicks was almost terminally depressed by it. 

Profanity is so essential to relating Stanhope’s view of the modern world that to go without it would be like commissioning Michelangelo and telling him that he wasn’t allowed to use the color red. Whereas Hicks spent numerous frustrated hours trying to get network television to let him be himself, Stanhope somewhere along the way decided not to even try. There’s plenty of art that can’t be shown on network television and Stanhope seemingly decided that applied to his work as well.

Stanhope’s most Pollyanna-like move had to be his completely serious run for the Libertarian Presidential nomination. Convinced that every single sane person he talked to claimed to be a Libertarian, but because of the no names proffered by the party, would never in a million years vote for any of their candidates, Stanhope did his best to bring some humor and notoriety to the party, until realizing that the absurd finance rules of running for election would make it impossible for him to continue to earn a living. Nevertheless, he did it in the least political fashion possible, never for a second considering the fact that he could use an ounce of his efforts to curry someone’s favor. Stanhope is what he is, he views the world the way he does, and he’s going to do his best to enjoy his time on the planet in the meantime.

He’s going to thank the God he doesn’t believe in that Hunter Thompson committed suicide. He’s going to laud Ricky Williams for quitting football to smoke marijuana (“Some would say that drugs ruined Ricky Williams’ career, which is not true … Drug testing ruined Ricky Williams’ career.”).  He’s going to respond to your images of aborted fetuses by relating in infinite detail how creepy he thinks the birth process is, and then charge the photographers of those fetuses with the sickest kind of child porn imaginable. He’ll marvel at the insanity of the Iraq war seconds after breaking down why he’d want to have sex with a grown up two headed baby. He’ll even respond to inaccurate claims that he slurred an ethnic or religious group, by actually going ahead and slurring that specific ethnic or religious group. Meanwhile he’ll be drinking a beer in the back of the club feeling sorry for you because you have to wake up early tomorrow morning to go to that job you need anti-depressants to make semi-tolerable, and as he encourages you to throw a wrench into the fine art of American productivity, he’ll give you an hour and a half of the most manically frustrated combustibly funny peace that he’s managed to carve out for himself despite the rigors of the modern world. 

Will Doug Stanhope be remembered accurately as the funniest most insightful comedian of his day? Not a chance. History loves a martyr and Stanhope isn’t falling into that trap.

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