Author: Sean L. McCarthy

Doug Stanhope, on embracing outrageousness

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 (, 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...

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Marc Maron and his Jerusalem Syndrome

"People always criticize one-man shows for being self-indulgent," comedian Marc Maron says during a phone interview from his home in New York City. "So I took it to a level of grandiosity never before seen." That’s Maron for you. The cultural critic, storyteller and frequent guest of Late Night With Conan O’Brien brings his one-man show, The Jerusalem Syndrome, on the road. While many in and around the stand-up comedy circuit wondered how to be funny in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Maron simply took his wit and comedic barbs to another level. "My comedy has become very entrenched in politics, reaction, fear, in addressing what’s going on," he says. "Onstage, it’s very hands-on and exciting, for very horrible reasons." But as a cultural critic, that’s his job — to make us aware of the crazy world we live in. "What else am I going to do?" he asks. Well, for one thing, Maron has decided to perform The Jerusalem Syndrome for the first time in about a year. His one-night-only show in Tempe, Ariz., benefits Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Maricopa County’s leading provider of behavior health services and programs for victims of child abuse and domestic violence. Credit Maron’s brother, who works for the group, for getting him to take another look at his one-man show. The title refers to a psychological phenomenon that...

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The end of the road — Night 6

After five straight nights of traveling, joke-telling and ego bruising, many of the comics are ready for this week to end. It is fitting that the first round should end in a casino. For this is a mighty big gamble. The winner of this competition gets $3,000. But there is no money — I repeat, no money — for you if you don’t make it out of the first round. You may get applause. You may even pick up some fans along the way. But you get no other compensation for your week on the road. It might actually cost you a pretty penny to compete in this thing. Thus, the pressure mounts. Some of the comics still in the running have begun to second-guess their material. They add new jokes or try anything different to make a final attempt at the top five. Those of us who have been mathematically eliminated from advancing have a different view of the last day. A couple of people snap. Chris Maltby spends his final minutes of stage time explaining how the judges and audiences hated him for being gay. Scott Meyer decides to take this night to explain his madness to the other comics. Of course, this meant nothing to the audience. The crowd was unnecessarily tought tonight. Considering how little they paid for the show — the casino actually paid...

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The world is your food court — Night 5

Well, well, well. As we headed into night 5 of 6, things began to get a bit ticklish for many of the comics. The comics in the middle of the pack, score-wise, are feeling the pressure, knowing that they still have a chance to make the top five overall and qualify for the semifinals. But they probably feel less pressure than the folks already at the top, who know that two bad nights now can end their chances for the contest. Joe Vespaziani, still the current leader in our week, confides in me that he’s a bundle of nerves. He says he has not done well in Bellingham in years past. His spirits lighten a little when Scott Meyer emerges onstage tonight in disguise as El Destructo, a Mexican wrestler. With mask, cape, a "wife-beater" shirt and shorts, Meyer/El Destructo puts on a performance that has all of the comics — and much of the audience — in hysterics. Halfway through the set, he pulls out an effigy of Vespaziani and proceeds to beat the literal stuffing out of it. Despite that, Meyer earns a very low score tonight. And the comics who do well are those who don’t let the pressure get to them. Kevin Foxx and Damonde Tschritter, the two British Columbians in the bunch, strike a chord with the Bellingham crowd. Dean Evans performs a carefree...

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The night the worm turned — Night 4

This is a good opportunity to explain how life on the road for a stand-up comedian is not always all it’s cracked up to be — if you pardon the cliche. Club Broadway is a big old four-story building in downtown Everett. The venue offers multiple shows every weekend. That’s convenient for folks. But not for entertainers. We were set up on the third floor. While we tried to do our thing, actors were performing a murder-mystery next door. That wasn’t as much of a distraction, however, as the KISS tribute band that played downstairs. The guitars and drums were loud enough at times to drown out the jokes and laughter in our room. Needless to say, it was a bit unnerving to many. There were other problems, too. The stage had a railing that either made the comics look like they were caged animals or like actors on the bridge of the Titanic. The microphone had a shorting problem that muted several punchlines and launched Jan Barrett into a profanity-laced tirade (are there other kinds of tirades) DURING her act. This answers one of last night’s nagging questions. Barrett completed her set, stormed off stage and yelled her way out of the building — causing half of the audience to turn their attention away from the next comic’s act. Any yet Barrett still finished second tonight. Which leads...

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