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Monday, July 26, 2010

Doug Stanhope in Vancouver

At one point in a lull in Doug Stanhope's show on Sunday night, people were yelling out favourite bits of his they wanted him to do. They all went over his head. "You're shooting velcro darts at this Alzheimer's brain," he said. (Only he may not have used those exact words. Thanks to my own pre-Alzheimer's brain, not only do I not recall the exact phrasing, but it just took me ten minutes to come up with "Alzheimer's". Seriously. I had to Google "old age memory loss disease" to find it. But he definitely used the words "velcro darts" and "Alzheimer's".)

The point being that Doug and I are about the same age. He's five years younger but has way more wear and tear on his piece of meat – as he calls the human vessel. And while he can't remember every bit he's ever done, I can't remember every bit he did just a few hours ago. I wasn't reviewing the show for the paper so I didn't have to sit scribbling notes. It might have come in handy for this, though. Oh well.

Doug Stanhope wrapped up his Canadian tour in front of a sold-out crowd at The Bourbon in Vancouver on Sunday night. I'd never been to a comedy show at the bar before, and it had all the potential for a night full of drunken interrupting yahoos, but surprisingly it was a great crowd for the most part. Not exactly my people, but hey, who am I to judge? They were there to see Stanhope, but they listened and liked host Rob Mailloux. I liked him, too, especially the line about the decision to keep a child after a rape and how hard that would be: "He has his attacker's eyes."

The guest spot went to Matt Billon, a BC-boy via Alberta and Toronto and now Calgary, who killed. He had an fresh take on why the moon landing was a hoax, painting us a picture of the relative backwards society we lived in 40-odd years ago. Only forty years ago doctors were injecting the urine of women into rabbits and if the rabbit died, the woman was pregnant. He'd juxtapose things like that with a live, smooth broadcast from the face of the moon. Wrap your head around that. In 2010 he saw a live video from Baghdad that was all herky-jerky with a horrible delay. This was a broadcast from Earth! He makes a great point. And a funny one, too.

Then it was Stanhope's turn. This was the fifth time I've seen him. I'm not sure where it stands in relation to the others, but I hate fake comparisons anyway. He was at times hilariously brilliant and at times meandering, but never less than compelling. At one hour and 37 minutes, it wasn't the tightest of shows, but that's part of his charm. He's up there doing shots, forgetting what he was talking about, stumbling across a good line and instructing his girlfriend Bingo to write it down, and abandoning bits midway through because he's suddenly remembered he hasn't finished writing the joke yet. If that were the extent of his time on stage, it'd be a disaster. But thankfully he had a good solid 45-60 minutes of really great stuff, too.

One thing he's a master at is finding new ways to make his fans think. We know he's a libertarian at heart and he believes all drugs should be legal. But instead of going up there and getting everyone to nod in agreement, he finds a way to potentially piss off his supporters. He told us that 600,000 Americans were in jail for drug-related offenses, but that 580,000 of them are probably idiots. His message was that, yes, drugs should be legal, but since they're not, don't go advertising to the world your beliefs. And while you're at it, put on a turtleneck to cover up that swastika tattooed to your neck. Stealth, that's how you've got to do it. At the mention of the tattooed neck, I noticed two inked up people up front clam up, like they were thinking, "Hey, I thought you were one of us?"

He talked about how if you have a group (ethnic or otherwise) to identify with, it makes things so much easier when someone is an asshole to you. You can chalk it up to being a part of this larger group. Whereas people like Doug just have to face the fact that they're not liked or they're looked down upon as individuals, which can hurt so much more. It got me thinking about a conversation I had last week with a Chinese-Canadian friend of mine. She was saying how transparent it was when people would ask her where she's from. She'd get her back up and say, "I'm Canadian." Then they'd say, "No, I mean, where are your parents from? Or their parents?" To her, it was veiled racism. I told her that maybe it was, but she should know that I've been asked the same question and I've also asked the same question to other white friends. That was a revelation to her. When the issue of race (or religion or sexual orientation or whatever it is) is forefront in your mind, of course you're going to perceive most comments through that prism.

He went from there into a King Kong tale of Susan Boyle, painting her as this monster who had the voice of an angel. It was not an attack on her looks at all, even though they were certainly referenced, but on how society treats ugly people. (Maybe the reference should have been Frankenstein's monster since Peter Boyle played it in Young Frankenstein.)

Ten or so years ago when I first saw him, he did this big closer with a sexual act on a beer bottle that culminated in the shaken (and felated) bottle spewing its contents into the air. He's come full circle because now he's got another closer with beer as his prop. But unlike the earlier gag, this one was only used to illustrate a bigger point, it wasn't the crux of the bit. The beer swilling this time was only to punctuate his arguments. He was telling us why he doesn't tackle the big subjects anymore – or at least with the same frequency or emotion. And that's because he's been doing stand-up for twenty years and... nothing's changed! He's made not a bit of difference in the world. Always a master of analogy, he said it's as if he's been talking to starving people saying, "Look, there's a plate of nachos right over there," and they'd all laugh and say, "Yes, there is. Stanhope's right. There is a plate of nachos over there." And no one would eat it.

It's a phenomenon I've noticed over the years. I remember one instance walking out of a Bill Maher concert. He spent a good chunk of time slamming cell phone users and ridiculing them. Everyone was bowled over laughing. Show ends, lights come up, the aisles are slow to clear and everywhere I look someone is on their cell phone. I wanted to scream, "Weren't you listening? Weren't you just laughing in agreement with what he was saying?"

So maybe Stanhope is right. People believe in things in theory or in the larger picture, but don't feel it has any real bearing on their day-to-day lives. I had a philosophy prof who used to smoke in class (which was against the rules even back then). He said he knows smoking is bad for his health, but is this particular cigarette he's holding in his hands the one that's going to give him cancer? No. It's the same kind of intellectual disconnect Stanhope was talking about. Are we hypocrites? Or just human?

I don't know. But I do know it was a really good show. What I can remember of it, anyway.

(Here's the story I wrote on Stanhope for the latest issue of The Georgia Straight.)


Anonymous said...

Hey, I had a philosophy prof that smoked a pipe in our seminar class. And drank coffee. And that was all he did in the class. Turns out he was a tenured manic-depressive who part way through the previous year had a breakdown and stopped teaching his courses. Some of his students were pleased because he hadn't made the Christmas exam yet so they didn't have one.

Anonymous said...

Having dropped out of college I cannot top that anecdote. However I am feeling rather smug after getting my pro-fattie letter printed in 24 today :D It's thanks to Doug Stanhope that I found the courage to refer to my greasy, smiling bloated corpse providing nutrition for local wildlife. Bless you Doug!