Once you do standup, it spoils you for everything else,” says Doug Stanhope. “There’re no censors, there’re no sponsors to get offended, there’re no standards and practices. It’s just you, and it’s immediate gratification. You say it, and drifts off into thin air, and you can say it a different way the next day.”
Stanhope’s confrontational rants, who’s live show was twice named “Best Stand-Up Show” of the year by Time Out New York, encompasses caustic social commentary, outlandish first-person narratives, graphic sex and perversion, sometimes within the same sentence. Fueled by equal amounts of anger, outrage and alcohol, Stanhope rails against western civilization’s slide into apathy and stupidity, always on the edge of implosion yet fully in control and never afraid to risk pissing off his audiences. “Stanhope is a genius parading around the slums of failed ideology…he’s Charles Bukowski with dick jokes drunkenly fueled by Thomas Payne,” declared The San Antonio Current.
In a field crowded with conformists and copycats, Stanhope is a genuinely original comic voice, albeit a gleefully vulgar one. “A visionary douchebag” says The Times (London). Raw, agitated and unflinching, he holds forth on all manner of major injustices and petty annoyances, excoriating himself as much as any of his other targets. But Stanhope’s venomous bile is matched by his passion and conviction, as well as a fierce intellect that gives his work a level of substance and subtlety that belies his snarling exterior. His comedy is as corrosive as it is hilarious, and his righteous self-immolation is exhilarating and life-affirming in its cathartic honesty. “Stanhope shocks you with the virulence of his lucidity; he shocks you into realising how transparent the confidence trick of western propaganda can be made to seem. What he has in abundance is the charm, don’t-give-a-damn swagger and aggressive intelligence that make for important, exciting comedy,” says The Guardian (UK).
Stanhope has been compared to such fearless comic revolutionaries as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. But his work makes it abundantly clear that he’s a complete original. As Ricky Gervais tweeted, “Doug Stanhope might be the most important standup working today.”
In recent years, Stanhope has won a large and rabidly devoted fan base both in the U.S. and abroad on his own uncompromising terms, bypassing the conventional comedy circuit and most forms of mainstream media exposure. The Denver Post calls Stanhope “A truth-teller and astute (if messy) social critic…one of the most bracing live acts on the stand-up circuit…” He routinely sells out large theaters in Europe and in Britain.
It was at around that time that Stanhope began making well-received appearances at a variety of high-profile comedy festivals, including the 1995 San Francisco International Comedy Competition, where he edged out Dane Cook to take home the top prize. In the years since, Stanhope has delivered attention-getting performances at virtually every major comedy festival, including the Just For Laughs in Montreal, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, the Chicago Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, where he won the Strathmore Press Award in 2002. By that point, Stanhope was receiving already receiving considerable attention from audiences in Britain, where he made numerous TV appearances, including an infamous spot on the BBC’s Live Floor Show while tripping on ecstasy. Back in America, he won new fans with appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show, Comedy Central Presents and Premium Blend.
So what motivates Stanhope now? “Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failing. Fear of sucking. Fear of bad comments on a Facebook page. I admit that that’s not a really good place to be fighting from, but I don’t know how to change it at this point. I just ride through it until something breaks.”
“I’ve never tried to drive my career in any particular direction,” Stanhope concludes. “I’ve always been an in-the-moment, live-for-today guy. I’ve never had a goal, and nearly everything I’ve done has been an accident. I just play to me, and if I can amuse myself, I consider it a victory.”