(First run on Alterati.)
Doug Stanhope Deadbeat Hero from a decade ago.
Comedy is a dicey topic these days. In fact, you can't go within a hundred yards of many topics without engaging a twitter boat load of hate your way--sometimes with good reason, and sometimes not. Consider this. The point is that comedy makes people engage with ideas, sometimes incredibly subtle or complex ones, without realizing that they are doing so. Comedy is, in other words, a means of making the public engage in philosophy. I realize that may seem absurd. Just as absurd as it is to suggest that Doug Stanhope is a philosopher? But even if the comedians themselves don't recognize it--and I think Doug does, actually--this is the real task of the comedian. To get people engaged with uncomfortable topics. Laughter is a defense mechanism. But it isn't just a method of diffusion.
There are times when being proven wrong is the best thing in the world. The other night I was stopped dead in my tracks by this man. He made me want to pick up three of the bad habits I’d managed to kick, and start up about twenty new ones. Most importantly, he made me laugh. A lot.
Really, we’re all laughing as Doug goes down like a screeching 747, and we will probably laugh when invariably it crashes and turns into flaming wreckage. Maybe it’s like the sacrifice that gets slaughtered every year so the crops can grow- more likely, we’re just laughing at a world that many times seems too fucked to do anything else with but laugh at it.
Society needs its “fool messiahs”, it’s jesters. Comedy allows us to express thoughts and feelings that might otherwise cause a lot of trouble. Consider what the Daily Show has done for, or to, news and journalism in general. Stephen Colbert lampooned the president to his face. Comedy gets written off because it’s half pretend, but oftentimes we forget that the things that make us laugh are the things that are true.
Doug takes this process a step further though. With him, I don’t think there is actually any satire here. There is no ‘pretend.’ He gives it like he sees it at that particular moment in time. I imagine it might be somewhat alienating for those who don’t understand what’s going on, (arguably the title of his most recent DVD, No Refunds, has something to do with that.)
So I acknowledge that there’s a fair chance you’re not going to be able to take this journey with me, and by the end of this article I’ll be figuratively standing in an empty hall, drunk and naked, ranting while riding a crack-whore bareback across the stage. (I guess in this fantasy I’m wearing a wireless mic or something.)
All the same that would at least leave me in the right frame of mind to enjoy Doug’s erudite body of work. So come with me on this one, or don’t.
Either way- I think we’ve found this generations Bill Hicks. Enjoy it before he finds a nice hole in the ground.