Doug Stanhope is a terrible person. Whether through his well chronicled experimentation with drugs or his brazenly crude and crass sense of humor and use of language, he’s not someone I’d likely loan 20 dollars to with any expectation of getting it back. Having said that, of course, this terrible person is a f**king brilliant comedian.
Playing the detached and depraved everyman in his comedy—perhaps because he is a detached and depraved everyman—Stanhope’s comedic point of view seems to grow more poignant as his career advances. The album this review covers is his 12th since 1998, despite the offal it seemingly is camouflaged in. Mind you, as a Louisiana son I am no stranger to speech laced with enough colorful images to make even the most die hard sailor blush like a nun. Maybe that’s why I like Stanhope so much.
Some of my favorite comedians take the everyday ignorance and idiocy they see and turn it on the audience in a smart way that makes them laugh without realizing that they are laughing at themselves—that I am laughing at myself.
George Carlin did it with blinding wordplay and verve. Lenny Bruce did it with a coy deliberateness that cut through excuses like a knife. Doug Stanhope does it… with dick jokes and 10-minute monologues on anal fisting.
They all got to the same places, eventually. Carlin, Bruce and Stanhope, especially on Before Turning The Gun On Myself—his most relaxed and fully realized album in many years (as opposed to just taping himself doing a set), all drive the audience to a place of awareness.
At their best, comedians make us see how absurd we are, how absurd life and existence itself is, and let us laugh at it instead of getting a hellacious case of anxiety. Though Stanhope is all for that too.
Before Turning the Gun on Myself is a nice hour or so of Stanhope just pacing the stage in jeans, white t-shirt and a fairly ridiculous jacket while drinking many glasses of adult beverage while simply talking. What he says are, ostensibly, jokes but they are also simple observations on human nature, the feral idiocy of most people, and coming to terms with how small and ineffectual most of us are in our lives.
There is a telling moment when Stanhope talks for a bit about how much he used to care about the things he talks about on stage. Over his career he seems to have dulled down that urge simply as a means of survival (comedians do not tend to live long if they go too far down the rabbit hole, look at the late Richard Jeni) but even though he shuffles about a bit and tells you over and over that he simply doesn’t give a sh*t anymore, it’s obvious that he does.
Nobody wants to hear the truths he brings. Not really. If it’s done with a dick joke following it, though, or perhaps with a diatribe about how awful he thinks Alchoholic Anonymous truly is, they’ll listen because they’re laughing and not understanding that they’re getting a heaping dose of observation.
If you like to laugh and you understand that Stanhope just happens to be a really big jerk with a really big talent for being funny, I can’t recommend Before Turning the Gun on Himself (or really any of Stanhope’s earlier discography) enough. I really can’t. I have listened to this album over a dozen times and I still laugh and I still want more.
I hope the man never turns the gun on himself but keeps putting out good work like this for many years to come, as he turns his observations on us.