Doug Stanhope’s Core-Shaking Comedy Comes to Nashville

Anna Matsen — a word nerd, political junkie, amateur philosopher, sushi-lover, and Nashvillian — attends as many comedy gigs as she can afford. As a grad student of English at Belmont Unversity and an English tutor at The Learning Lab, she works daily to improve her writing skills, hoping to one day write something worth a book jacket. Anna attended Doug Stanhope’s April 10th show at the Exit/In and sends in this review:

Doug Stanhope in Louisville, KY (March 14, 2009)
Doug Stanhope in Louisville, KY (March 14, 2009)
Humor may be the most personal sense we have, and it’s no good trying to reason with someone over why a joke is funny or it isn’t. Comedy is something you simply “get” or you don’t. Despite this fact, I will now attempt to explain why my favorite comics are funny: because I spend their entire shows giggling and gasping, and then, as I drive home, I wonder why the hell I’m not a more authentic/inquisitive/brave person.

Foul-mouthed, counter-culture, shake’n’wake ’em comics (“em” being the snoozing masses … myself, lamentably, included) beflutter my tender heart when they get me not thinking so much as rethinking about life. I’m a know-it-all nerd, ya see, and it is a rare and ecstatic delight to be substantially surprised. Do that, and I couldn’t care less how “offensive” you are. In fact, the more offensive, the better! What truly offends my moral sensibilities is mediocrity masquerading as genius. If I were someone to walk out of a show in a self-righteous huff (which I’m not, because that’s childish), it would be because the material was idiotic or boring, not because the artist was being politically uncorrect.

Wait, this post was supposed to be about Doug Stanhope, not me. Focus, woman. Focus!

All of the above applies to Stanhope, who played at Nashville’s Exit/In on April 10th. As arguably the most offensive living comic, he’ll make you wheeze with laughter while screaming, “Holy hell, he’s right. … I’m an idiot and a jerk for not recognizing this before!” His riffing on pretty much every topic was brilliant, but my favorite moment was actually the confessional-like ending. He seemed a zen master exasperated by the fact that, no matter how hard he shakes people, he can’t wake the world from its stupor or its stupidity. Or perhaps he’s a “seer” with shit-vision goggles who, after pointing out that said “shit” is everywhere, is aghast that people continue contentedly living in it. He strikes me as someone whose driving idealism battles daily with his compulsive realism, whose passions are stretched on a rack between what the world should be and what it is.

Then again, maybe I’m presuming too much. I’m certainly being far too abstract to give you a real idea what his humor is like. One thing I can say without doubt is that the slight gravel in Stanhope’s voice is satsifyingly gutteral. That isn’t something everyone can pull off, but I like his voice a bit sandy.

The show was opened by Nashville’s own Chad Riden (“America’s Favorite Comedian Of All Time”), and The Mattoid, an avante-garde band whose music I genuinely enjoyed. Both of the opening acts would have been more exciting with a more enthused crowd, as most people were there purely for Stanhope, but were certainly fun.

The headliner began his act denouncing the “that guys” of the world, including one who imposed himself on him while he tried reviewing his notes before the show (and who later acted like a moronic jackass yelling up to the stage). He then ranted on issues of religion, sex, politics, sex in movies, and so on. There were also a few folks he chastised for holding up video cameras. Now, I’d brought my camera, and would have used it if the batteries hadn’t been dead, but ONLY to take pictures (without flash), NOT video. I would never violate an artist’s right to have control over how and when their own material makes its public debut.

My favorite part, as mentioned above, was the more personal revelation at the end about why he rants. He’s resigned himself to a spirit of futility, even though he keeps treading the hamster wheel, so to speak, by continuing his act, but I’d still like to think his ranting is for a purpose. Sure, the whole world is still terribly messed up, but for people to change things they do have to know what’s wrong and they do need to maintain motivation for working towards what’s right. That’s the other thing that truly great satire does (at least, for me personally). The awareness and motivation to combat the insanity is also why I love The Daily Show so much. The perspective and the humor that satire brings are BOTH incalcuably important. Apathy is the greatest fuel to the fire of the world’s insanity. Or perhaps South Park provides a more apt comparison with Stanhope’s show, since both (in their ironic little heart of hearts) are driven by moral outrage. Still, this self-professed “lover of losers” (by which he affectionately means “his fans”) has an acerbic allure all his own.

In short, I like people who can rock my world without a musical backdrop for their words (although rock’n’roll is fun too). The bottom line is that Stanhope is a funny dude (as long as you’re not easily offended) and that I’m a complete idiot for attending his show with a dud of a camera. It did turn out to be a battery problem, thankfully, rather than a camera problem. But I wanted a picture, dammit! *mad-at-self grumbles* … Guess I’ll just have to catch Stanhope again whenever he returns to Nashville.

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