Dispatches from the Creation Wars

My Favorite Things: Comedian

As a former stand up comic, I get asked a lot who my favorite comedians are. I tend to like dark, edgy humor more than anything else, and if it’s got a real identifiable view of the world attached to it, so much the better. I think the best comic working today is Doug Stanhope. Whether you agree with his views or not, he has them, and he’s not afraid to give them to you in the most pointed way imaginable.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, there was a huge comedy boom. Every network and cable channel seemingly had their own stand up show – Evening at the Improv, Comedy on the Road, the Half Hour Comedy Hour, Caroline’s Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, the Sunday Comics, Stand Up Spotlight, and more. Every guy who owned a seedy bar or a bowling alley was opening a comedy club in the back. But about 10 years ago, the boom ended and they all went back to karaoke or midget tossing. The bad thing about the comedy boom was that, because all the shows were on networks or basic cable, the range of comedy that you heard was very narrow. Even while the ranks of comedians were exploding, the art was becoming more and more homogenized and middle of the road. The clubs gave them freedom, but most comics were so intent on getting on TV either for a comedy special or a sitcom (or both) that they played it safe. So comedians who work outside of that box always catch my attention.

Doug Stanhope definitely works outside the box. This is the guy who, 3 months after 9/11, was going on stage and opening with.

“Pardon me for not wearing my NYPD hat here today in honor of the fallen heroes, but you know I wasn’t walking around 2 years ago with a plunger hanging out of my ass to honor that same force.”

Ouch. That’s brutal. But it’s also funny and, undoubtedly, offensive to some. He combines an absolutely fearless “I’ll say whatever I want to say” attitude with a highly perceptive eye for detail and social psychology. For instance, on his webpage, he recalls the hecklers who got thrown out of his show in Youngstown, Ohio:

I remember middle-age business guy with his two associates, he was a stereotype movie heckler whose entire life can be read in a glance from across the room. This isn’t your first Holiday Inn by any means, is it, my friend? Your position has allowed you to travel the entire midwest circuit all in a newish Ford Taurus provided by the company. Perhaps a cellular provider or an Orkin distributor. You take off your wedding ring when you hit town, more to impress the guys you work with than for any real hope of landing some action.

I can almost see you lean into your cohorts and say with a wink “Watch this!” before bleating out an inane cliche to the comic on stage and then another wink to your friends as they wish they had stayed in the room. You were a high-yeild asshole in your fraternity days but you traded that in for a life of wrinkle-free khakis and spread sheets. But now and again you can show you’ve still got it by being a smart-alec at a karaoke night in a Fort Wayne Marriott or by demanding that they take a little something off the bill since the restaurant was out of rice pudding.

You too will have to be walked out in a shuffle, the doormen now more like sanitarium orderlies than bouncers. You will show your Holiday Inn Priorities Club Card in protest and be dumbstruck that it does you no good.

Don’t feel badly. I envy you. I wish it were me being walked out ahead of schedule. In this drop-ceiling convention room, stacking chairs and folding banquet tables on a stage where so many Shriners have auctioned fruit cakes for burn victims. I wish it was me they were taking out.

They say this is a mob town but I can’t imagine what is here that the mob would want any peice of. Like seeing gang insignia in a men’s room and wondering what self-respecting street outfit would claim a IHOP shitter as it’s “turf”.

Whoever said “You can’t go home again” surely came from someplace great. But I come from a place like Youngstown and always seem to wind up back in those places despite my best intentions.

Yes, he’s rude. Yes, he’s crude. Yes, he’s bitter. But damn, is he funny.