MADEUP made a rare trip north in the name of entertainment this week, to catch US comedian Doug Stanhope at Southport Theatre. This was a deliberate choice; Stanhope plays the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall next month, but after a disastrous gig in the city last year I wasn’t keen to go for that again.
Last time, a horrible vibe in St George’s Hall cast a shadow over the entire show; and the surroundings just didn’t suit our antihero at all. The Phil, too, seems a little ostentatious for a nihilistic alcoholic from Arizona – so for my money, I was going to head to the seaside town they forgot to close down. I figured it’d be more Stanhope’s style, and it was the right hunch.
The comic was greatly amused by his surrounds, both the town and the venue, having been moved from the theatre space into the Floral Hall, where the audience sat around ten-seater tables and he held court like a wedding singer.
He seemed in much better spirits than he had on his last trip to the North West, and presented a much more loose and rambling show. He was also among a particularly gentle crowd – from where I was sat, the worst heckle to be heard all night was “you’re doing well, Doug”, in response to some self-depreciating remark. Other people also mentioned they had deliberately come to this show to avoid a repeat of last time’s Liverpool crowd.
The edge Stanhope is known for was surprisingly practically non-existent. His bile was mostly directed at Telegraph columnist Alison Pearson, who had written a largely ludicrous column about the right to die that had given him a right old bee in his bonnet and led to a tasteless, but not necessarily too uncomfortable, bit about the death of his mother that, kind of left a cold figure on stage. His lack of self-regard didn’t really seem like an act, which was a little saddening (*armchair psychologist face*).
Doug Stanhope is, by and large, good company, a clever and funny guy. The kind of guy you want to go for a drink with and put the world to rights. Even at his most vulgar, he always has a keen point.
But this show was bleak and somewhat deflating. Stanhope put himself down, and garnered much laughter from putting down the audience, the hall, the town, the whole of England as he went. The crowd laughed back in recognition all the way, but this trickle-down hopelessness in a rather disorganised show made it all as melancholic as it was funny.
For the most part Stanhope either abandoned or couldn’t be bothered with a formatted show, and seemed to talk off the top of his head for 50 minutes, before coming back for an encore (which he never does) reprising an old bit (also never does) about sleeping with a girl out of his league. This little story, expertly told and benefitting from the background music of opening act Henry Phillips, showed what Stanhope can do as a performer when he puts his mind to it.