The first time I saw Doug Stanhope live was in a comedy club in Washington State. Listening to this 7 CD Torrent religiously, constantly, and after failing to try and bring him up to Vancouver, the road trip down was the first time I’d ever gone out of my way to see any performer, and it couldn’t have been more worth it. Dressed in a silly magician outfit, he proceeded to unleash over an hour of some of the best comedy I’d ever seen, much of it never appearing on any subsequent DVD or CD releases. Along with watching Louis CK prepare for his “Hilarious” special taping in Vancouver, it’s tied for best live comedy experience of my life.
Next time I saw him was a few years ago in Toronto, and it was a far less satisfying time. The vibe Doug loves to create, and feels most comfortable in, is a rock and roll bar/club/venue, where he can hang out with his fans, we all get drunk and it’s a party… free from all of the stuffy, corporate, comment-card hang-ups of a standard comedy club that can drive a Libertarian like Stanhope nuts. As his incredible cameo on Louie as “Eddie” (a character rather blatantly hand-crafted for Doug) said… “comedy clubs are where comedy goes to die,” – a line we can all imagine coming straight out of Stanhope’s brain, as it very well might have.
@DougStanhope you have some of the most annoying fans on the planet
— Scott MacLean (@TheScottMacLean) August 23, 2013
Unfortunately, a lot of his fans are numbskull assholes who don’t understand stand up comedy as an art-form. That particular show was basically sabotaged by one guy who kept yelling “Harriet” the name of a shot I guess, basically every 5 minutes. Along with people yelling out punchlines they had watched on bootleg youtube clips, and recording their own shitty cell-phone vids… Doug still put on a great show, but it was a struggle, and his audience was fast becoming his worst enemy. If only he could keep the punk rock atmosphere and freedom, but somehow muzzle and shackle the few shit-turds who inevitably seem to feel the need to make the night about them, and their own idiocy.
Toronto was hot, violent, drunk & fantastic at times. I’ll try to make sense of it tomorrow. Or the next day. But big thanks most of you. — Doug Stanhope (@DougStanhope) August 23, 2013
Fast forward to last night in Toronto at The Opera House, and a strange mix of the previous two shows emerged. While he did still have to spend far too much time wrangling his ‘fans’ – several times openly lamenting that “I don’t need to make this much money, if I could just get rid of half my fans, the rest of you are awesome.” With cell phone filming throwing off his timing multiple times, and one dope even getting removed in the middle of his big closer, with Doug leaning into the mosh pit at the front of the stage and pointing directly at the culprit, refusing to continue until he was gone…
In London tonight with @dougstanhope the audience in Toronto set the bar really low for behaviour. You can win for once!
— Rob Mailloux (@RobLovesArguing) August 23, 2013
…but these relatively isolated incidents aside, something special happened last night, as Doug alluded to in his recap. At times, the vision of a rock and roll, anarchist comedy show came together in a perfect fusion and created a Fight Club rally out of the “sea of 30 year old men” that made up the audience. In a couple of trademark Stanhope rants, building the energy to a fevered pitch, I had tremendous enjoyment watching the ocean of white, 30 something dudes howl uncontrollably and throwing up Slayer signs, while their shocked and outraged girlfriends’ jaws hit the floor and everyone near where I leaned against the bar turned to the one black guy to see if it was okay for them to keep laughing. (He was dying for most of the show… but a particular bit about fantasy-raping an NFL player had him shaking his head for a minute wondering what he’d been dragged into… the bit, however, tied into a delightful, righteous blasting of the bullshit of “Awareness” culture was definitely the highlight of the night.)
So while part of me wishes for the… well mostly chairs, of the comedy club in Washington State, and an attentive, respectful audience, sitting, drinking, shutting the fuck up and watching the show… last night at least partially proved that it is possible to combine stand-up comedy with a punk-rock concert and a boiling pot of counter-culture ready to explode… and have it work. The only thing missing is a 100% willing, self-policing audience, and save for a few assholes, Toronto almost made the synthesis. So, to sum up, do I recommend going to see Doug Stanhope live? Abso-fucking-lutely. But if you’re sitting next to the 1% of his audience that feels compelled to fuck up the show for everyone else… please, kindly spill your drink on their cock and wrap their head in duct tape so the rest of us can enjoy the show.
I asked Jim Norton on his Reddit.com AMA today about his thoughts on the recent epidemic with stand-up audiences, as I’ve heard him address this growing trend before… and he summed it up rather nicely.
But hey, Doug Stanhope last night, and a personal response from Jim Norton this morning… who am I kidding? It’s been 24 hours of comedy bliss. Catch lil Jimmy’s special on Epix HD tonight.
Catch Doug Stanhope live on tour, and his new stand-up special (including some of the best material from last night) over on DougStanhope.Com
Props to opening act @MayceGaloni for a stellar set. Keep your eyes on this young Canadian from Hamilton, ON. At only 19 years old, he showed incredible promise, walking offstage to a massive applause break after 2 particularly top shelf jokes on Homosexuality and Religion.
Canadian Stanhope Ambassador @RobLovesArguing set the pace as the host. As one of the hardest working indie promoters in Toronto, Rob is also always writing new material and evolving as a comic. And I’m not just saying that because he hooked me up with an under the table ticket after the show was sold out. Toronto comedy fans, check out Dark Comedy Fest 2013 – which looks to already be a blast, featuring Dave Attell, Brody Stevens, Gilbert Gottfried, Robert Kelly and the roast of the Iron Sheik, among others.