Live Review: Doug Stanhope at Mayne Stage
"What is the difference between a 9-year-old orphan and a Christian," quipped Drew Michael, host for the Doug Stanhope show last night at the Mayne Stage. "The 9-year-old is aware that no one is coming back to save him." Smart, funny and unabashedly crass, it set the tone for an evening of entertainment headlined by libertarian and left-wing boozehound Doug Stanhope who performed 90 reckless minutes of comedy to a boisterous house.
Michael was solid in his hosting duties and took swipes at creation, abortion, condoms and death and even called out God as the ulitmate murderer. "My grandparents survived Hitler's Holocaust," said the Jewish comedian. "They did not survive God's." Michael was followed by Junior Stopka, the evening's featured comic who Stanhope himself said, "there's no reason why he shouldn't be fucking huge." Stopka pondered the difference between coffee and cocaine, dying young vs. dying old and poured forth the strangeness that rattles around in his head."You gotta murder women with a knife," he exclaimed in his deep-throated monotone. "What, you don't like my Ron Paul politics?" Stopka connects unusual dots in his comedy and he's really killing these days. He might just be the biggest breakthrough right now in Chicago comedy. "I don't know if you've ever gone to somebody's house that you met on Craigslist," he said, "But when you get there both parties think they're going to get murdered." I'd heard most of his set before, but I didn't mind hearing it again.
Stanhope pretty much summed up the motley lineup when he arrived onstage and started handing out the bottles of water that a Mayne Stage staffer had neatly arranged on a stool. "Whoever's in charge of giving out free water did not look at the lineup for tonight," he said offering the H2O to eager fans. Stanhope started his set by taking swipes at the Heart O'Chicago Motel, the shady-looking place near the White Castle in Edgewater/Rogers Park. He then summed up Stopka in the only way he knows how: "Junior looks like a retard and a retard had a baby." If ever an underachieving comic needed an icon, it's Stanhope. "The only reason I'm even going to try tonight is because I'm here tomorrow," he joked as he ordered booze from the staff and took playful aim at Chris Ritter, the former owned of the now-defunct Lakeshore Theater and current general manager at Mayne Stage.
Stanhope is not for everyone and I feared he'd be even too abrasive for my liking. He teetered often at the edges of bad taste, including jabs at breast cancer awareness and a rehashed explanation of his Bristol Palin abortion fund. But Stanhope's shots are rarely cheap and often they're self-depracating justifications of his many vices. "Drinking is not a problem," he reasons. "It's a solution." And in another great bit: "I'll take two laxatives and a Xanax at bedtime and play chicken in my sleep," he said using the joke as an excellent callback to staining his sheets at the shitty Heart O'Chicago Motel. He also talked about nearly getting kicked out of Canada on a drug bust and his appearance on Louis CK's Louie. "If you haven't seen my acting debut on Louie, then you haven't seen my acting finale," he said.
My only gripe is that the show started to get a little out of hand toward the end. Because alcohol is the engine that drives most comedy shows, it's important they not go on too long. Crowds get shit-faced and then they get vocal and the last 20 minutes of Stanhope's set was punctuated with audience interruptions. I guess I can't blame them. By the end of the show, I liked Stanhope so much that I wanted to knock on Stanhope's door in Bisbee, Arizona holding a bottle of whiskey. I don't think Stanhope would appreciate that, but I do think he'd let me in.