What you’re looking at above may very well be the future of comedy. I do not know if I like it, and I do not know if it’s good. But it’s still a very likely future.
The entire meta-bigot schtick has been around for some years in comedy now: playing a bigoted, asocial, crude and racist character to satirize said point of views. Archie Bunker of All in the Family was perhaps the known first example in modern popular culture. We’ve seen South Park, we’ve seen Sarah Silverman, we’ve seen Lisa Lampanelli (thx, Fredrik). But all of those are about to be blown away by the most out-and-about shocking trope mainstream comedy has ever seen.
Meet Doug Stanhope. A 40-some, deadbeat American slacker. Probably a very mean, insulting guy in private. Drinks more than Christopher Hitchens (and frequently appears wasted on stage) smokes more than a chimney, and once took an ecstacy tablet recieved from a person in the crowd on the opening night of a series of gigs in Edinborough (which just happened to recieve rave reviews). Relentlessly goes for the most shocking, nasty and offensive content you can possibly come up with, and never ever takes the easy release of “Sorry guys, just joking”. Frequently has audiences walking out on him. Once got all of his slots cancelled at the Kilkenny Comedy Festival after commenting on the current paedophilia panic in Ireland by saying that Irish men go for the children, because “Irish women are too ugly to rape”.
If you still think listening to this kinda guy could be interesting, check out his stuff on Youtube, or his MySpace page (ah, the interconnectedness of our age…). His skit on web pornography is representative (believe me – you will hear of stuff you wish you hadn’t), but the true killer is his take on abortion. The punchline is some of the most mind-blowing stuff I’ve ever heard from a comedy stage.
So this is Doug Stanhope for y’all – mindblowing, mindbending, breaking every social boundary and cultural taboo you’ve heard of. The famous quote of American journalist Tina Weymouth concerning The Happy Mondays goes equally well for him: “I grew up in New York in the Seventies, and I’ve seen a lot of people who live life on the edge. But I’ve never before seen a group of people who had no idea where the edge is.” It’s often shocking, never uninteresting.
But it does raise a number of questions as well – namely those concerning said borders. Art has to be provocative and on the edge to be interesting – but how far can we take it? The first time a nipple or a kill was shown on screen it was considered revolutionary. I remember the Tarantinian combination of humour and brutal, sadistic violence shocked me the first time I first saw the beating of the poor cop Marvin to the tones of cheerful rock music in Reservoir Dogs, or the merry bickering of Jules and Vincent while picking up the pieces of another Marvin’s brain from the back seat in Pulp Fiction. Today, “torture porn” horror like Saw or Hostel perpetually pushes the borders for what can be shown on screen. I consider myself a pragmatic liberal, but you don’t have to be a honorary member of Moral Majority to be worried by this development.
So enjoy Doug, if you will. He may very well be the future of comedy: and the future of a culture where we need increasingly more shocking stuff to make us react at all, to the point of breaking the last taboos there are as well. But do it with some thought. We may not want this future, after all.