The Beautiful Art of Vulgarity: Doug Stanhope @ The Oriental

Sculptors work with a mound of clay. Painters: oils, acrylics and canvas. And stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope, who appeared last night at Denver’s Oriental Theatre, creates masterpieces out of feces, Japanese tsunami jokes and anal sex, bound together with various bodily fluids and copious amounts of social satire. Gross, right? Sure, but this comic brilliance is no less of an art form.

Stanhope has perfected the art of getting wasted on stage and being really, really funny. The beauty of it all is he not only says the things nobody wants to say out loud. Better yet, he lends his voice to those things that no one else would even admit they think about. Nothing is off-limits. Taking his audience into battle alongside him, Stanhope marches headfirst into topics that the mainstream generally choose to ignore. Deftly ripping off societal blinders with his wit and sarcasm, he exposes the dirt and grit of reality with side-splitting hilarity and intelligence. A Stanhope show is an endurance event: exhausting, abrasive and, after it’s over, you might need a shower. But that’s not a bad thing – this shit is real.

That’s not to say Stanhope is a lowlife asshole with no morals. Sure, he’s vulgar, but this isn’t the banality that the once-astute Joe Rogan has now sunk to with his “yo, where my bitches at?” low-brow humor aimed at the Ed Hardy crowd. Oh no. Stanhope is smart – scary smart – and he uses that intelligence for the good of us all, poking satirical fun at the absurdity of modern life, taking on topics that, once given a good dose of Doug, really are seen in a whole new light.

Take Breast Cancer Awareness month, for example. With surgical precision, Stanhope last night peeled back the layers of hypocrisy employed by hundreds of corporations during the month of October – “ruining the color pink” by placing it on everything from car parts to NFL players’ socks while in fact not doing a damn thing to help cure the disease. Using Dannon Yogurt as an example –  instead of just donating a portion of each purchase, Dannon donates a whopping ten cents to breast cancer research only after a consumer both (a) enters a code found on the inside lid of every yogurt into a website and (b) gives Dannon all their personal information – Stanhope exposed how the whole thing is a sham since, well, tits are popular and people love to hop on bandwagons. So, with a big middle finger to that establishment and all the marketing bucks surrounding it, Stanhope started his own charity – Cunt Cancer Awareness, for which anyone can purchase a shirt.  Yes, really. For ever shirt purchased and registered, Stanhope will send a dime to Nancy Grace, the “worst cancerous cunt of our time.” See what I mean? He’s not afraid of anything.

He took on religion, Somalia, and the hypocrisy of nuns converting starving kids before they get fed; the ridiculousness of calling Osama bin Laden a “mastermind” because sharp objects and plane tickets don’t equal Oceans Eleven-level plotting; and how Occupy Wall Street is leading a revolt by, um, camping? There was also a hilarious segment on Japanese tsunami victims and Korea, which I won’t even try to recount here…but it did give me a new favorite word: “Japastaki.” If you were there, you understand.

Stanhope has been around for years, and as such has retired much of his incredible older material. As such, his stage presence has changed a bit. Whereas he has always been about ranting about social ills and poking fun at anyone and anything, of late he seems to be taking on a more self-deprecating view. Last night’s show seemed – dare I say it? – more whiny and a lot less edgy. Not to say that was bad…it was just, well, different. He is extremely comfortable on stage, but somehow I felt we didn’t get to see the same comic who absolutely decimated Sarah Palin and took on George Bush better than anyone else ever has. Still, he’s better than anyone out there at handling hecklers with ease – mainly by talking louder than them, tearing them to shreds, and then incorporating their ridiculous comments into whatever taboo subject he’s tearing to shreds at the time.

Still, this latest version of Stanhope seems slightly defeated. He frequently refers to the ills of his own life, and as such seems to become his own material. He also seems a bit more disjointed on stage, even as he talks about how he won’t be around much longer, one has to wonder how much of it is part of his act. The joke could all be on us, a commentary on our sick societal obsession with the drama and tragedy of watching others self-destruct.  Still, Stanhope’s insatiable appetite for alcohol begs a whole new reason to go to one of his shows – just to see how much he will self-destruct on stage. And, if you have a celebrity death pool (those of you at the show last night will understand this…) he may be a sure bet for your fantasy team.

Stanhope’s  latest release, Oslo-Burning the Bridge to Nowhere, is a dual CD/DVD release recorded live in Oslo, Norway, is in stores now.

Some classic Stanhope bits for you…goes without saying these are all NSFW:

Why Atheists have Better Morals

Medical Marijuana – Old fucks vote…we don’t vote, we’ve got shit to do.

Gay Marriage

Fuck TicketMaster, arm the Libyan rebels

Laura Keeney originally became a professional writer because she was too cheap broke in college to pay for concert tickets. She’s obsessed with The Clash, gets easily distracted by politics and shiny objects, and thinks Spock is sexy. She blogs and writes for 303’s print edition about various things. Follow her on Twitter at @onnabugeisha.


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