Unlike any comedy DVD you’ve seen before, Doug Stanhope opens his 2011 release, “Oslo – Burning the Bridge to Nowhere,” with a taped introductory message, sitting behind a desk or table with a pint of beer, and pulling back the curtain on the “magic” of comedy specials for a few minutes, revealing how Comedy Central and other production companies use audience “fluffers” to manufacture excitement at the top of the show, and how “smash-cut editing” takes out any lulls. “It’s shit,” Stanhope says, “and this is different.”
“This is what the road is like.”
Stanhope said his manager sprung the recording of the Oslo performance on him with only two days notice, and the resulting show happened in an old chocolate factory warehouse with folding chairs and an audience for whom English is their second language. “It’s completely unfluffed,” he warns. “It’s very unrehearsed. I wasn’t happy about it.” The following 84 minutes of stand-up, he says: “It’s real as shit.” Ain’t that the truth.
Question is, does Stanhope’s introduction on the DVD serve as a pre-emptive excuse for a lackluster performance, or is the comedian simply doing what he’s always enjoyed doing — not caring about what the powers-that-be think and burning his bridges behind him? Take a look at the title he chose for his CD/DVD. That should be all the explanation you need.
As for the show itself…
Stanhope opens slowly. Literally. His speech is stilted as he tells the Norwegians he has come from America to deliver his “clever observations” on how Americans and Norwegians are so, so different. One racial slur later, and he’s off to the races.
By that, I mean, he’s back to being the Doug Stanhope you’ve either come to love or loathe. Stanhope has enjoyed greater media attention and success in Europe (like the late Bill Hicks before him), except this time, he realizes, it’s his first trip to Europe in which “the black cloud of George Bush” no longer lingers over him. He turns it on his audience, however, since they still have royal families. “Miss America is a figurehead, but we don’t have to buy her 100 castles on the taxpayer’s dime.”
He claims he spent 20 years yelling about the ails of the world, and now is happy enough making pussy jokes. I don’t buy it. And neither does he. As he says soon thereafter: “I think that’s why I hate observational comedy. There’s no passion. There’s no rage in it.” He calls out modern-day observational comedy king Jerry Seinfeld specifically, asking, “What is up with the airlines, Jerry?” By contrast, Stanhope cannot stand pat making observations, instead filling up with rage toward the people and things that annoy him — particularly people who film their lives with cellphone cameras instead of living their lives. And that also limits what Stanhope feels he can tell any single audience on the road. “I used to have solutions in my act.” Now he just thinks about shooting people.
He does have some solutions, still, though. Among them:
- Picking one world language for everyone to learn and speak. Any language will do. It doesn’t have to be English. Pick one out of a Bingo (inside reference!) basket.
- Combine Olympic events to make an actual sport.
- Promote abortions as a way to prevent waste and pollution.
Stanhope also has some socio-political observations of his own to share. He believes President Barack Obama didn’t do anything to eradicate racism in America. And he believes ugly people face more discrimination than any minority — plus, there is no unity among the ugly, which he somehow weaves into a King Kong story to describe Susan Boyle’s saga, all to describe how truly ugly society is for treating her that way. “We live in a world that’s so fucking awful.” Some individuals and groups may be decent, but not the masses. He’s also suffering from low self-esteem, and doesn’t think that he should take advantage of his status as a performer to have sex with women who are otherwise out of his league — leading to an act-out of the phone conversation he doesn’t want women to have after having sex with him.
Stanhope’s self-esteem has been an issue for a while now. At several moments during his performance, he questions why he’s even bothering to record it and gently reprimands the camera crew and his manager for springing this on him. “I think I’m done,” he says. “How long can I keep doing this?” Even at the end of his show, he’s comparing his tour through Europe with that of Pablo Francisco (whom Stanhope must believe is faring much better than him). Stanhope mocks Francisco, taking on the “movie voiceover” voice to say, “One man. One joke. Spread out over 15 years.”
It’s audacious from start to finish.
The lighting could be better. The production value could be better. But that’s all shallow surface. And Stanhope wants you to focus on him and the material, not the shallow surface stuff. Focus on what he’s saying, and you’ll find he still has a lot to offer to the global conversation.
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