What is art? Really, it has no definition and can be whatever the hell you want it to be. While the definition of it differs from one person to the next, every artist has the same goal; notoriety and a few spending bucks because finding a job living with the rest of the real world, waking up at 9 a.m. and wasting eight hours at a piss-ant job, isn’t in their DNA. (You can argue this genetic predisposition is either some kind of honorable quality or just laziness.)
If you make your way to Williamsburg, Brooklyn you’ll find yourself surrounded by starving artists dressed like the Wyatts on Monday Night Raw, living off a trust fund sponsored by mommy and daddy’s big Bilderberg account. Most want so badly to be an artist, their thirst for legitimacy comes off as a pukey white person, first world dilemma. The image of pure artist they so desperately want but fail to embody is embodied by a man named Doug Stanhope. Stanhope (and Patrice O’Neal) is one of the few guys in comedy I would ever put on a pedestal above George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
The best part about Stanhope is he doesn’t care about introducing himself as an artist to the world. He actually moved away from the world and calls a bumblefuck town in Arizona named Bisbee his home. It’s this agoraphobic quality that makes Stanhope an artist and leaves the Williamsburg residents looking pretentious. To live in Bisbee means moving away from the action. Sometimes being away from “action” is what it takes for the sad, desperate, art monster to continue driving some of us during the path to stay relevant. When you’re near the “action”, you can fall victim to your own hype. Sure the ability to promote yourself is better near the “action” than in Bisbee, but look at what exposure did for Eddie Murphy. He went from being the next Richard Pryor to a Klump. Don’t get me wrong, Klump money is great but the finished product isn’t watchable.
You don’t get anything from looking at Eddie Murphy in a fat suit. Doug Stanhope’s work, while not as notable as Eddie Murphy’s, is the closest thing to a comedic acid trip you can find. (For comedic acid trips see also Patrice O’Neal’s Elephant in the Room, Joe Rogan albums after drugs, Louie CK after kids, all five Joey Diaz Testicle Testaments, everything Jim Norton, and everything Bill Burr.) Stanhopes new album, “Beer Hall Putsch”, is so much more than the conventional comedy album with set-ups and punchlines. It’s as if the set-ups and punchlines took some shrooms at an upstate music festival miles from Woodstock in 1969 and had a bad trip. The beauty of trips like those, while scary, is that they’re the ones you learn the most from.
Beer Hall Putsch starts off with Stanhope trashing the idea of performing comedy in packed coliseums.
“I fucking hate doing theaters”, Stanhope says. “I wish all comedy albums were filled in seventy-five seaters like old Lenny Bruce albums, smokey room, low ceiling.”
After comparing Jake Lammotta’s play, Lady and the Champ, to Terry Schaivo singing show tunes, Stanhope moves into telling the story of how he threw a party as a sort-of last hoorah for his mother while she drowned herself in pain pills and whiskey. The elder Stanhope was living in constant pain dying from cancer when she came to her son. Not being able to see another living thing -especially his mother- live like this, Stanhope agreed to help the woman who raised him through suicide.
While grim, he only accepted the assisted suicide terms if she agreed not to go out on a Sunday or Monday.
“We laid down ground rules. I said ma, if you’re gonna kill Buy Cialis yourself seriously, you can’t do it on Sunday or Monday because that’s football”, Stanhope said. “That’s a dick move. If you can call your own time to leave this planet, don’t do it during someone else’s planned event. Don’t be an asshole.
“She did it the Saturday before football which was great.”
At that point Stanhope’s mom had been four years sober and he told her she wouldn’t be leaving this planet that way. On the day it went down he mixed up white russians, black russians, and kahluas to wish down 90 pain pills. Along for the ride was Stanhope, his girl, and their closest friends. The plan was to get piss drunk and have his mom go out in a festival of alcoholism.
“I didn’t so much as assist the suicide as bareback”, Stanhope says.
Her last words were “It’s time to be dainty, and there’s time to be a pig.” Before she could ruin it by repeating the joke in different words, Stanhope stopped her from speaking anymore.
“Ma wait they found a cure!”, Stanhope would yell as she fell in and out of life and death.
With the party over because everyone was passed out, (and oh yeah, his mom died) Stanhope called the proper authorities and the coroners came to pick up the body. The coroners mistakenly thought his girlfriend Bingo was dead and were about ready to zip her up until they realized she was in a drunken stupor like the rest of the bodies on the floor of the Bisbee home. His dead mom looked more alive than she did.
Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were arrested on stage for crude language in the sixties but I doubt their acts were anything close to Stanhope bartending his mother’s assisted suicide. George Carlin, as brilliant as he was, never touched upon his personal life after Class Clown. Even when he did it wasn’t that bleak.
Comedy is one of those things where concepts tend to be repeated but Stanhope’s assisted suicide story might be the first of its kind. It’s an original bit that combines darkness and humor in ways the greats like Pryor and Carlin couldn’t reach. Pryor told stories of his mom being a prostitute but never went as far as making her death a fun time.
The beauty of this bit is that it’s in the beginning of the album. Usually the grittiest stories are left for the end. The rest of the album included advice for Occupy Wall Street and raping football players because they’re forced to wear the color pink for breast cancer awareness month. I’m not sure if this album is for anyone. To me, the target audience for this album are the types of people who should be procreating. The world needs more people with a fucked up sense of humor. The thought of assisted suicide, and the death of a parent in general, is so grim, adding an element of whiskey and fun to it makes it seem all the much more manageable.
A Doug Stanhope type figure is scary to some people but at least he’s honest. We somehow became comfortable with a world where we’d rather cloak ourselves in dishonesty, throwing away the essence of who we are, just to please a few people around us in order to run away from a few awkward moments. If we wonder why society is fucked it isn’t because of violent video games or a few titties during a super bowl. It’s because truth is dumped away in the trash bin that the lies we’ve become comfortable with should go.
I not only give Doug Stanhope’s album a 10 out of 10, I also prescribe it to America. Some foul mouthed truth laced in funny is good for the soul.