Doug Stanhope comes onstage at the Cardiff Glee to little fanfare. With no support act or MC, the crowd is cold, but he seems to enjoy that. It’s a Monday night and it feels like one.
He opens his set by reading a prepared apology, in the past tense, for the events of tonight’s show that hasn’t happened yet. He shows great remorse for the things he is about to say and promises to take time away to reflect and listen.
The slow start to the show continues with Doug telling the crowd to feel comfortable and encouraging them to get up and get drinks if we want. Unusually for the Glee, there’s no interval and the bar is open throughout the show. This gives the place the feel of the sort of far-flung American comedy clubs that Stanhope has honed his act in on the road for decades now.
When he finally launches into his first chunk of material, it quickly veers from a safe-ish seeming bit about hotel inconveniences and call centre complaints into a discussion of Indian gang rape. His fans have come to expect this sort of thing, but I can see some other audience members don’t know what to make of him. The room is definitely split.
He covers dicey topics like the #MeToo movement, the morals of crowdfunding for a dead child and having to defend his friend Roseanne Barr from a heckler. He makes good points and gets big laughs but there are definitely still pockets of resistance in the crowd.
This changes with the centrepiece of the show. Stanhope launches into a rant about being told what he can and can’t joke about. From a lot of comics this would be the bitter ramblings of someone unwilling to keep up with society, but not here. “You can’t make fun of x” he is told. He makes the point that life is horribly hard, so when confronted with horror, what better response than to take it and “Make Fun”. This becomes almost a mantra.
He beautifully illustrates this with a touching story of a big long-time fan of his who got brain cancer and was given 6 months to live. She sits front and centre of his next show and he roasts her, making all the brain cancer jokes he can think of, and she loves it. She’s facing imminent death and he has taken her awful situation and made fun. Now the room is with him.
None of the serious points would matter of course if he wasn’t funny, and my god is he funny. One section about his own irrational fear of elderly people was devastating. The level of graphic detail he went into was staggering. He’s not just a shock comedian, he’s an incredible, cultured, detailed writer too. It’s so refreshing to take some time away from the outrage vortex of social media and be in a room that understands context and trusts a comedian to make us laugh about the darkest areas of the human experience. Life is hard and we need it. We need Doug Stanhope.
★★★★ and a half.
Find Doug Stanhope’s remaining UK tour dates here.