Fans of Doug Stanhope, rejoice. On his new album Before Turning the Gun on Himself, he returns to the stage in full effect, tackling his newest list of complaints and grievances with a fresh fervor that is nothing less than classic Stanhope. And believe me, that's a good thing.
For anyone who may not be familiar with Stanhope and his knack for being drawn to the darker side of humor, this is a perfect introduction. It doesn't take long before you get a sense of what you're about to experience. His dissection of the Mitch Hedberg memorial foundation is simultaneously cringe-inducing and laugh-out-loud funny.
There are no subjects Stanhope shies away from and there's no such thing as a word that's "taboo" or "off limits." After all, they are just sounds you make with your mouth.
With this project Stanhope is really on top of his game. He approaches each and every topic with equal passion and energy, whether it's a guy asking if it's OK to bring his kids to a party (of course it's not, you idiot) or a Michigander with four kids complaining he doesn't have any money and can't figure out why (Hint: You live in Michigan. Bonus hint: You had four kids).
The latter story is a fine example of how Stanhope addresses issues. He breaks things down to the basics and reveals the real root of the problem (or at least what he perceives the root to be). He isn't quick to accept a sob story and is the first to call B.S. when no one else will. There's no room for self-victimization here and he doesn't hesitate to call someone out. With his gruff, honest tell-it-like-it-is approach I can't help but think he and Judge Judy would get along really well. There's a quirky humor found in the blatant truth.
Where society has come to naturally praise the efforts of people like Dr. Drew, celebrities in rehab, and Alcoholics Anonymous, Stanhope digs in and doesn't hold back from asking legitimate questions. He's not poking fun just for the sake of getting a laugh but sincerely wants to know how we plan to help others. It's this genuine desire to find out how things work (and why) that leads him to demand in exasperation, "Stop with the buzz words!!"
That sincerity, I believe, is what really brings this project to life. Stanhope is a man of conviction who sticks to his guns and stands up for what he believes. This isn't just a man with a laundry list of things he wants to get off his chest. He's talking to us, not at us, and at the same time you can tell he is truly enjoying himself and having fun on stage.
Stanhope's writing is clever and very well thought out. His way of displaying just how over-rated songwriters are is inspired. I won't ruin exactly how he does it, as the discovery of what is happening is a major part of his genius. That's another testament to his style, as he doesn't bring a case to court empty-handed. He has a folder stuffed full of evidence to support his claims and his proof leaves little wiggle room for rebuttal.
One of my favorite bits comes near the end of the album when he takes on The Arts. He goes down the list of various forms and expressions of art (i.e. painting, writing plays, etc.) and then begins to explain why they aren't necessary. Considering that Stanhope is an artist himself (or at least, I think he is) it's a practice in ironic self-condemnation that keeps a constant stream of laughs flowing.
Nothing here is treated lightly or thrown together haphazardly. Stanhope truly wants the crowd to enjoy themselves and he shares with us his struggle to construct the perfect way to close his show (an hour earlier, we laughed with him as he lamented about his less-than-satisfying opening) and it's safe to say he pulls it off.
He doesn't save all of the biggest laughs for the show's finale. This is one solid block of comedy done right and there are no low points. I truly enjoyed myself throughout the entire ride and at the end as Stanhope signs off he makes a promise to the applauding crowd. "I'll be back, " he declares, "I shall return."
This project is a lot of fun and a promise of more Stanhope in the future is a great way to bring this session to a close. We'll be back, too.