Doug Stanhope is not interested in your approval. He might be owed some -- at least if mortified horror can fuel approval -- but he will not make it easy for you. "I wish the road down was faster," he seethed, minutes after he set an early tone for his Friday night set by getting simultaneously choked up and pissed off at people eulogizing fellow comedian Greg Giraldo for dying while he "still had so much to give" ("why don't people say he had so much to get," Stanhope retorted). If you go to a standup show, especially in the fancy bechandeliered environs of the Varsity, and in the first 10 minutes the words "I hate so much of my fanbase. I want you to fuckin' die" emerge from the headliner's nicotine and alcohol-ravaged throat, things will not get any easier for you the further the night goes along.
[jump] Unless, of course, you're ready for it. It's not that Stanhope likes to bait his audience, though he does so with a monomaniacal hostility that makes early '70s Iggy Pop look like a baby-kissing gladhandler. It's that he has the full knowledge that this audience, receptive as it is, will not walk out on him, and that he is subsequently free to bulldoze his way through the most grotesque material possible and receive appreciation for it. Stanhope flung loathing in every direction: taking down Alcoholics Anonymous as a farce in that it treats alcoholism as a disease but then expects prayer to be the best treatment for it; rolling his eyes at the idea of a Mitch Hedberg memorial golf tournament to benefit a rehab center, therefore conflating two things Hedberg was never interested in; confessing that when he listened to the Mel Gibson tapes, he had to make sure it wasn't a recording of himself.
And all the while the real driving force of his set was his own shambling mess of an existence, an honestly miserable presence, as though the wacky, drugged-out drunk that college students like to lionize as the no-bullshit party dude has shown you just how the story really ends. Fans brought drinks to the stage, which he set on a table for future consumption, and with each shot and cocktail he went further into the depths. Maybe the most shocked reception he got was when he mentioned that he doesn't even like sex anymore -- a process he wearily detailed in joyless play-by-play variations that all ended in an unceremonious shout of "BLORT" for the money shot -- and that the only way he can get off while still feeling like he's being treated in the honest way he sees himself is to visit a dominatrix.
As for the midterm postmortems and Tea Party mockery one might have expected from a notoriously political comedian who once offered five figures to pay for Bristol Palin's abortion -- well, according to Stanhope, people just stopped listening. He admitted that after going on for 20 years over the same sociopolitical subjects -- zero population growth, the redundant uselessness of marriage as an institution, the freedom to do whatever you want to your own body -- the fact that he still needs to say it made him feel like giving that up and sticking to what he called "rear-naked-choke-fuck" jokes. (Stanhope must be fun to watch MMA with.)
Stanhope concluded his set with an especially brutal, painfully funny look into the side effects of a shitty economy -- that it must really be hurting prostitutes, whose plan B is a lot more unfortunate and desperate than everyone else's. That his imitation of a prostitute ranting about how now she's going to have to give anal somehow spiraled into her fuming about the reinstitution of the gold standard and how more people should've listened to Milton Friedman? That's just proof that in every trip Stanhope takes into the abyss, he brings some pointedly observant convictions back with him.