When the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival put together a "Sick & Twisted" show for its annual gathering this month in Aspen, Colo., there really was only one stand-up comedian who could headline the gig: Doug Stanhope.
This is a guy who was planning his birthday bash earlier this week with a comedy show in Las Vegas, followed by marriage to his girlfriend, Renee Morrison, with scheduled performances by Extreme Elvis and other debauchery.
"We are considering running a pool on what time Renee’s grandmother walks out in horror," he wrote on his Web site (www.dougstanhope.com), which is not for children or the easily offended.
Stanhope first tried his hand at comedy at an open mike in Vegas, but his career began in Phoenix at the now-defunct Comedy Cove as the house emcee in the early 1990s. He hit the road, and has barely stopped moving since. He won the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1995 and made multiple appearances at the comedy world’s biggest festivals, Just for Laughs in Montreal and the Aspen shindig.
No, you’re not likely to see a sitcom anytime soon revolve around a guy who is known for heavy drinking, public nudity and bits that include a troublesome encounter with a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix. Too many comics think raunchy material makes them funnier. But Stanhope transcends the mediocrity that pervades much stand-up, as well as other so-called blue comics, through his passionate rants and his truly decadent life.
In Aspen, he openly questioned society’s elevation of New York City police officers to hero status after Sept. 11, considering opinions of the NYPD beforehand. His Web entries go into full detail about his experiences with Costa Rican prostitutes and even his last appearance at the Tempe Improv seven years ago, which ended badly.
Stanhope knows his willingness to tackle taboo subjects will not make him a big-name draw for large theaters anytime soon. "The work is more plentiful if you’re middle of the road, in the short term," he says in a recent phone interview. Is that why other comics aren’t as open onstage as he is? Perhaps.
"There’s a lot of comics who really do live outrageous lives and never talk about it," Stanhope says. "You look at them and it’s a shame. … And there’s other guys who say they have outrageous lives and lie about it, while they go home to their wife and kids."