Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Truth About Doug Stanhope

If you only know Doug Stanhope from the second iteration of "The Man Show," you don't know Doug Stanhope.

"I'm glad - if only for the experience and the first-hand knowledge of how smothered the creative process gets when you deal with television and their lot," Stanhope said. "I only wish that all the execs who called the shots were equally shamed publicly for the finished product."

Stanhope is at his best when he's uncensored and unrestricted, which is why he's got such a huge cult following but you've never seen him on network television.

"I don't know that it would be as challenging as it would be just not funny," Stanhope said of that possibility. "My act cleaned up is like NASCAR running at 35 mph."

While many other comedians shuck and jive to get TV appearances and fame, Doug Stanhope stubbornly remains Doug Stanhope, and relies on networks like Showtime to get his comedy out to the masses. Even Stanhope's home address is contrary to the industry -he lives in Bisbee, Arizona – a town 10 miles from the Mexican border with a population of around 6,000.

"Nobody cares, there's no problems. You can have dogs, paint your house whatever color you like," Stanhope said about Bisbee. "It might not be the fertile breeding ground for stories about hookers and LSD but it's home."

On a recent episode of Louie, Stanhope played Eddie Mack, a comedian living in his car, playing seedy bars, and planning on killing himself. Stanhope's performance was masterful, and a piece of Eddie really reminded me of Doug.

Stanhope is much more successful than Eddie, and much more at peace with the business and himself. While Stanhope plays seedy bars, he does it on purpose, and he's clearly not planning on ending things any time soon. The part that reminded me of Eddie is Stanhope's relentless belief that comedy should be about truth.

Stanhope's brilliances comes from his egalitarian honesty. "I'm leading you into battle," Stanhope's album Deadbeat Hero aptly starts. "You're not all going to be here at the end."

My favorite bit of Stanhope's (also one of his favorites) is a story he told about a one-night stand with a woman named Bobbie Barnett. He used her real name in the story, and when a born-again Barnett angrily wrote to him many years later, he used her real name on his website, too. The bit (and subsequent letter) is a magnificently frank exploration of the fleeting nature of beauty, and Stanhope does not come off as the bad guy for revealing her. Like it does in the rest of his act, his honesty makes him the hero.

And while you'll never see Stanhope playing a president on Saturday Night Live or participating in a goofy cooking segment on the Today Show, you can see him at those seedy bars, seedier rock clubs, and other such venues around the world. When you do, it's my honest opinion that you'll enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dan St. Paul's Perfect Pitch

It is rare that a comedian as successful as Dan St. Paul can walk down the street unrecognized. But Dan St. Paul isn't successful from television or movies – he's the rare comedian that hit it big on the radio.

Even if you don't know the name, you probably still know the bit; St. Paul's religious satire classic "First Baseball Game" is a favorite on Bob & Tom's uber-syndicated morning show, and is also wildly popular on the internet.

And it's not just St. Paul's face you might not recognize – you might not even know his voice, since most of the bit is done as an impression of late Cubs' announcer Harry Carey.

"I love baseball and I was raised Catholic," St Paul said about the evolution of the bit. "The homophones ‘penance' and ‘pennants' inspired me to make a list of religious and baseball terms. I started putting them together and the bit wrote itself."

There's some exceedingly clever word play in the bit, as well as tons of well-placed biblical references. "Water! Water!," one concessioner yells, before pausing and yelling "Wine!"

"I almost have to do the bit because if I don't, people come up to me after the show to express their disappointment," St. Paul said about his live shows. "I've actually done the bit for people after the show was over so they wouldn't go home disappointed."

St. Paul's live shows are a mix between clubs, theaters, and a great deal of corporate work. It's been a strange journey for a comedian who first started in 1980, and made his TV debut in 1981.

Like many comedians during the boom, St. Paul eventually moved to Los Angeles. But he didn't enjoy the eight years he spent there, especially "the glad handing and schmoozing." St. Paul returned to his native San Francisco in 1994, and calls that the smartest thing he's done for his career.

"I came back to the high-tech revolution and made a killing in the corporate market," St. Paul said. "I was able to buy a nice house a raise a family."

At home, St. Paul can miraculously have the financial security of a success with the anonymity of a failure – it's a combination that many entertainers seek but few achieve. And while St. Paul is one of the most sought after acts on the corporate market and has toured with legends like Ringo Starr and Chicago, he says the highlight of his career came just 8 months ago at The State Theater in the small town of Bay City, Michigan. After another Bob & Tom favorite failed to show, St. Paul had to improvise.

"I did an hour and 45 minutes and 400 people gave me a standing ovation," St. Paul said. "I immediately thought, "Where's HBO when you need them?'"

The strange thing is that St. Paul is one of the few comedians who doesn't need them.