Doug Stanhope at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Friday, April 13
US COMEDIAN Doug Stanhope is an enigma. Lucid, erudite and socially aware one minute; shambling, verging on incoherent and downright dirty the next. I know which version of Stanhope I prefer, but then I’m a delicate flower. Likewise, the audience divided pretty much into diehard fans and “try it outs”, a fair few of whom didn’t make it to the end. This, along with a smallish crowd (for The Anvil) of about 300, seemed to be pretty much accepted as all in a day’s work for Stanhope, who carried on regardless in his indomitable manner.
From an excellently-argued monologue about why the USA is a really great place to live despite its questionable governance, social organisation and legal system, to a dissection of his Twitter spat with Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson which revealed a kind heart hiding somewhere within a maelstrom of vitriol and bile, Stanhope at his best was on the button with something really interesting to say, and the wit to present it well.
However, at other points, his act delved to the darkest depths of depravity, including an extended Aristocrats-style “joke” which I suspect is becoming daily more disgusting as the 30-date tour runs its course. Not my cup of tea at all, but the uproarious laughter from much of the audience belied my personal sensibilities.
I went to this gig knowing it was quite likely not to be all to my delicate tastes, and I’m not going to take umbrage with the bits that made me uncomfortable. In the end, no one got hurt, and unlike so many less intentionally offensive comedians, I can’t recall anything faintly misogynistic or endorsing of domestic abuse, which as I’m sure any regular readers of my reviews will have noticed, is my personal comedy bugbear.
Personally, I found the support act, comedian/guitarist Henry Phillips, to be more palatable to my fairly gentle tastes. Another American with a potty mouth, Phillips kept on the right side of mucky with songs which also showcased a true musical talent, including one written on the road by himself, Stanhope, Stanhope’s partner Bingo (who received a cheer whenever she appeared to ply her man with more alcohol) and other crew members about the various hardships of touring in the UK. To be fair to Stanhope, there were a few obvious absences from the audience before he followed Phillips onto the stage, which was probably the right decision - if those people were shocked by Phillips, Stanhope might have made them pop.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, April 19, 2012