Doug Stanhope

Words: Mantis Kane

Image: Robert Scholten

Mike Tyson’s legacy as a boxer will soon be eclipsed by his work as a new-age philosopher. Those vicious diatribes and post-fight verbal eruptions have oddly alchemised over time, shape-shifting from thrash-talk to TED Talk, now used in Silicon Valley presentations and intellectual punditry – soundbites that stand alongside the word-smithery of our modern-day greats. Hawkings, Dawkins, Dali Lama, Mike Tyson…The new Mount Rushmore of 21st-century orators.

Tyson’s immortal ode: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”, has aged like good wine; the perfect metaphor for when our best-laid plans get suddenly derailed by unforeseen events. And how about his response to a commentator’s displeasure at his bad language: “If you’re offended, change your dial to a different station”.

Why’s this profound, you may ask? Because it has resonated powerfully with the modern-day condition of trigger-happy sensitivity. Oversensitivity. If you’re of such constitution, why tune into the most brutish, crazed foul-mouthed nutter on TV? Tyson had a point: you have plenty of options – chose another channel if you’re offended.   

US comedian Doug Stanhope has experienced a similar ascent. From an upcoming standup with dark and risky material – flying dangerously close to the fires of political correctness – to a global star, author and spokesperson for the weird outliers of society. Indeed, his face should be etched alongside Tyson’s on our Orators Mount Rushmore, the final piece in this odd spectrum of characters.

Stanhope’s subject matter toys with acceptability. Death, paedophilia, terrorism and drugs are deconstructed and examined, sometimes all at once, in the same story, spun cleverly in his own inimitable way. Like a lawyer finding loopholes, Stanhope exploits the modern world’s hysteria, the irrationality of our fears and illogical blindsides – presenting provocative counter-arguments and anecdotes, all delivered in a drunken, nicotine fuelled rant.

Defending the indefensible is a sport that has earned him a loyal following. Alongside with the new-wave of uncensored podcast and internet stars, he’s bypassed the boxy mainstream media, creating devout silos around the world, all gravitating to his pure and uncut material.

He recently joked that ISIS was competing with him for the same disenfranchised market of damaged oddballs and misfits, “back off ISIS, I’m working this corner”. But in truth, Stanhope’s wingspan is broader than you might expect.  Battle-tested and shock-proofed over the years, he’s a true ‘comedian’s comedian’, filtering out those folk who are bored of pedestrian comedy, decanting them into his undiluted wrath.   

He’s playing the The Astor (St Kilda) later this month. Arguably the biggest act of Melbourne’s April comedy bonanza. Although, he strangely not part of the official Festival – absent from the brochures, schedule and tv guides, seemingly transcending the circuit, either that, or a clerical error by his intoxicated management team.

If you’re easily offended, change your dial to a milder comedian. There are plenty of room temperature acts playing this month – Joel Creasey has 5000 dates during the festival – so there are 5000 ways not to be offended by Doug….

We threw a few questions at Stanhope.

1. Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world (according to some massive website). What is your criteria for a cities liveability?

Zero traffic comes in at Number One. Bars to Children ratio would be second. I’m fine with a 1-0 victory in favour of the bar. Weather is third, only because I only recognise Hot, Really Hot, and Sweaty, Shitty Humid Hot. I’d consider all three but settle for Really Hot. Anything that has cold seasons is not a city, it’s a gulag.

Oh, wait.. you said city. Fuck cities. I was thinking towns.

2. You’ll be performing in St Kilda, once Melbourne’s epicentre of hedonism and art, but currently being sucked dry by gentrification and redevelopment. Do you have any advice on how the art community can resist this corporate sterilisation?

Resistance is futile. Just keep moving to poor places until they love them too and take them over. Always remember that you, the artists, are the first wave of gentrification. Without you making them cool, they’d just be ghettos or abandoned wastelands.

3. What Australian comedians do you rate?

Nick Sun. That’s the only one. Steve Hughes is the greatest of course, but I don’t know if he’s still alive or doing comedy. There are two others whose name I can’t remember but I know are top shit. Damien something and that other guy. Or maybe that was New Zealand. What’s with you and your nationalism?

4. Imagine the world is ending, and we’re filling Noah’s digital ark with some choice material that’ll be uploaded to Elon Musk’s Elysium in Mars. What stand-up performance, song and criminal (dead or alive) would you archive?

Mitch Hedberg “Do You Believe in Gosh?” for comedy; Jimmy Luxury’s “Cha Cha Cha” for the song and Mark “Chopper” Read for the criminal; the Eric Bana version, of course. The real guy was probably less entertaining.

5. What question would you ask Donald Trump if he had to answer it truthfully?

“If she wasn’t your daughter, how quickly would you shame her out of a beauty pageant?”

6. If you could cast the next James Bond, who would it be?

Bill Murray. The answer is always Bill Murray.

7. When are you most creative?

The sixth and seventh drinks and part of the eight or the last hour of a hallucinogen ride. Neither of these is happening for me now.

8. William S Burroughs famously said cats were the “the purest form of animal”. What animal do you gravitate towards?

I once gravitated towards a bull in a Costa Rican bullfight where they allowed the general public to be in the ring. I was definitely drunk and possibly on ecstasy (which would make sense) and I was sure that the bull could understand that I was different from the rest of these assholes. I was going to pet him on the head to show the rest of the stadium kindness.

I’d also made the poor decision to wear a matadors jacket that I’d found in a thrift store. This didn’t sit well with the locals who became louder and louder in their booing me. As it seemed to get more violent, I thought “Fuck this bull” and rolled back under the stands.

So Burroughs is probably right in the cat thing.

9. What gives you goosebumps?

I’ve tried Viagra, I’ve tried amyl nitrates. I’ve even tried electrocution in mild doses. Nothing seems to work anymore. It’s not you, it’s me.

10. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is obsolescing many industries. If you were in charge of coding the first AI stand-up comedian, what approach would you take?   

Bill Murray. I already told you that.

Doug Stanhope plays The Astor (St Kilda) on 20th and 21st April.

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