Why Doug Stanhope drinks on stage

Doug Stanhope at Comix last week.

Last week = First time I'd ever seen Stanhope live. Loved it. Early show (he hit the stage before 8pm) but he still managed to get hammered before the end of it...and even wound up having the guy who kept buying him drinks kicked out for constantly yelling stuff out.

Maybe not as many punchlines per minutes as some other top guys, but I feel like he's doing more of a Hicks/Carlin/offensive/"important ideas" thing than almost anyone else right now. And lots of ruthless honesty. The kind of stuff you're still thinking about days later. Plus, the total lack of pandering is great. He fully expects to walk people during his set (no big surprise from a guy who titles CD tracks "Fuck Your God" and "The Upside Of Sexual Abuse.")

Things got interesting after the show too. Then, he was interviewed for some TV pilot where a psychiatrist analyzes comedians. The whole thing was pretty half-assed but it was fun to hear this guy going after Stanhope's lifestyle choices. Q's: Wouldn't you rather be happy? Aren't you worried about dying? Don't you want to improve your mental health? A's: Happy people are brainwashed. We're all gonna die. Clarity is more important than positivity. In front of a crowd of Stanhope fans, this stuff all killed. The psychiatrist didn't have a chance.

A lot of the psych talk focused on Stanhope's drinking and drugging. He admitted he hasn't spent an entire night sober in over 20 years. But he also seemed fine with that. He thinks he has clarity and he doesn't care about living forever so what the fuck? He doesn't want to be happy or "improve his mental health."

It reminded me of something philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.

Too bad we never got to hear Mill do standup, eh? Alright, comparing a justifying-his-alcoholism-Stanhope to Mill is a reach. But after listening to Stanhope get analyzed, he really seems like a guy who's operating from a similar core philosophy. And that made it interesting to watch him vs. this shrink who seemed to represent society's view that you're supposed to be happy or something's wrong with you. The problem with that: Sometimes the people with the most wisdom seem the least happy. Does that really mean they need "fixing" though? Anyway...

From a comedian standpoint, the most interesting part of the interview was when Stanhope talked about why he always drinks while performing. Does he need booze to make him funny? I'll paraphrase his answer: No. He doesn't need booze to make him funny. He needs booze to make him a better ACTOR. See, a lot of standup is acting like you just thought of something. And he hates doing that. The only time he enjoys a joke is the moment he thinks of it. When it comes to him. Then he has to go out and say it 300 nights in a row and that makes him miserable 'cuz he feels like he's losing a little part of his soul every time he does it. So he drinks to get over that.


Mo Diggs said...

Interesting Mill comparison. Maron also has a bit about how sometimes depression is really just clarity and everything is fucked up with the world.

Great Maron line: Hope is faith-based denial.

Mo Diggs said...

Marc Maron btw.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

With all due respect to the man's talent, work ethic, and commitment to the art of stand-up, he sounds like a guy suffering from alcoholism and depression, and I would have a hard time being his fan without wanting the hope-filled, health-based sunshine marshmallow kitten best for him.

I guess we had better appreciate this one while he lasts.

Hank Thompson said...

There aren't very many other professions in which this kind of behavior would be tolerated, let alone rewarded. If he worked in an office he would be called into his manager's office all the time. "You ever try to make copies sober? It's impossible!"

I think he's brilliant and would hate to see his career cut short by a failed liver or some other calamity. Eventually his plane will run out of fuel and the result will not be pretty. Creativity and happiness are completely separate things and sadly some minds don't have room for both.

londoncalling said...

sorry but it sounds like classic denial to me !

you get fucked up before a gig cause you like getting fucked up ...the bit about losing a part of your soul when you repeat a joke sounds like pretentious horse-shit to me . That kind of artist as shaman bollocks kills people !

Abbi Crutchfield said...

From the linked interview...

"But I don’t want to give an indication that I drink more than I do. Once I came out and there were nine shots on stage. I can’t drink that. I’m 160 lbs — I’d die!"

So maybe he's not so doomed for cirrhosis and callous about death.

"That’s the problem with doing it for this long, thinking of what haven’t I beaten to death that I care about? You try to break yourself out of your comfort zone, because comfort is deadly for a comedian."

Setting a great example for mining topics and telling what's true for you. And the message about comfort zones harkens back to a long exchange I had with myq on this site. Let's not get too cynical about his cynicism and miss his contribution--there's stanHOPE after all.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Don't Forget to Leave a Tip

Matt Ruby said...

Well, def see him live for yourself to judge this stuff. I'm just paraphrasing his views in this post.

He sounds like a guy suffering from alcoholism and depression...

Yeah, I guess the "suffering" part is the question here. He seems pretty fine with how he leads his life and the way his brain works. If he's cool with it and he's not hurting anyone else, what's the problem?

That kind of artist as shaman bollocks kills people !

Yeah. Except, sometimes, the artist really is a shaman. Or at least as close as we get in our culture. Then it's kinda a good thing they get fucked up (see Hicks talking about musicians and drugs).

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Even if you make the most of your alcoholism and your depression (and regarding depression I speak from experience), you are still up against two forces that can keep you from getting the most out of life.

Well what if he doesn't want the most out of life?

He ran for president! He's done a TV show! He makes people laugh for a living. This isn't someone who would rather waste life being miserable. That guy works in the cube next to me.

I'm not in the position to diagnose anything. I just wrote how he was coming across. I don't know the man. I've only seen his recorded performances. If you see something honorable in his philosophy, something courageous in his outlook, something revolutionary in his approach that's great. Great Grains. I'm hungry.

ECN said...

Man, something about this guy just rubs me the wrong way.

No, let me rephrase that: EVERYTHING about this guy rubs me the wrong way.

He just does Bill Hicks' angry/depressed faux-messianic shtick, only one never gets the sense he's really thinking about any of these ideas. (Not that I don't have my issues with Hicks -- but I think my problems with Hicks come from me not agreeing with what he says, rather than me doubting the essential earnestness of what he's doing.)

For Stanhope, though, it's just posturing -- choose the most shocking/rebellious-sounding angle possible on all your material, then deny you're a shock comic. Act like your amoral drunken life is some kind of Statement, when the whole thing is really obviously just an excuse to get drunk and be a dick to people. That's the "power" people are responding to -- the power one gains when one decides to just be a dick. It's mean-spirited, it's confrontational for confrontation's sake, and ultimately it's a lot of rock star bullshit. Stanhope is the Stone Temple Pilots to Hicks' Nirvana.

Matt Ruby said...

ECN, it's cool if ya don't like the guy. I just don't think it should be because he's posturing. I can't think of anyone who's "faking it" less.

And a lot of the stuff I discussed here came out 'cuz a therapist was analyzing him onstage. Someone was pressing him for this info, he wasn't just passing this stuff off as his act. And I didn't find him at all to be a dick. Just honest.

Have you seen him live? I'd def do that before passing judgement.

ECN said...

I've heard enough of his albums. To me, no amount of on-stage charisma could excuse his content. He's a misogynist, he lacks compassion... I feel like there's something inherently hard, petty and cruel about the way he looks at the world.

And I guess... "faking it" isn't exactly what I meant. I'd say more like "using the ideas of others in an attempt to excuse his actions and beliefs, when it's apparent that he doesn't say and do those things because of strongly held convictions, he does them because he thinks it's fun to do them, and doesn't care that he's causing other people to suffer."

Which isn't ALWAYS what he does -- sometimes he's like, "yeah, I'm a jerk." Which... I'm sorry, but saying "I'm a jerk" doesn't excuse BEING a jerk, especially when you're obviously not trying NOT to be a jerk. You're trying to be a jerk.

Now, I'm not saying being a jerk is "faking it" -- I have no doubt you like being a jerk, and that's why you're trying to do it. But don't act like this behavior is any more excusable because you're aware of it.

And don't -- DON'T EVER -- imply, tacitly or otherwise, that those of us who AREN'T jerks are somehow less honest, somehow suppressing some deep jerk-urge. (Stanhope pulls this shit all the time.) No, it's in our true nature not to be jerks, to not desire the suffering of others, and to feel guilt when we cause it. And to the extent that we possess any schadenfreude or ill-will, we have the DECENCY not to wave it around, because we know what it leads to. That's not dishonesty, that's decency.

Don't go on stage and tell me "really now, you're no better than I am." Because if I AM better than you are, if I don't like bullying people and making them suffer, I'm not going to revel in my alleged badness. I'm going to call you on that shit, because how DARE you call me a bully. You know?

It's like... someone mentioned Marc Maron, who I do like most of the time. But his recent show about how he was a jerk to his wife and drove her away? First of all, I don't want to hear about how you were a jerk to your wife. Why is that kind of behavior worthy of being recounted? What business of mine is it?

Second of all, don't come to US with your contrition. We, the audience, can't forgive you -- you didn't wrong us. And if you were really contrite, you wouldn't be waving about all this venom and suffering, in your act, for money and for the acclaim of the populace. You wouldn't flip your guilt into an attempt at professional gain. You'd accept your guilt with dignity, swallow it, and move forward.

Now that's not the same sort of thing -- for one thing, I don't think Maron was trying to present his misdeeds as part of some hastily-constructed "theory" about Inherent Human Nature. But that breakdown in the comparison only favors Maron.

Stanhope basically spends his time trying to justify being an amoral bully. And even if I thought he manages it, which I don't think he does, he's still an amoral bully. So why do I care what he thinks? There are millions of people out there who DON'T lead lives composed largely of hedonism and casual cruelty. They win, Stanhope loses.

londoncalling said...

It's the dead eyed Nihilism Of Stanhope I can't stand . At least with Hicks maybe it was his religous background but you felt there was a moral compass .With Stanhope he just deconstructs and puts nothing in it's place . It's feels like teenage posturing not the emotional range of an adult man .

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