Go see Doug Stanhope at the Ottobar on Friday night, and chances are you'll be angered, outraged, maybe even ticked off beyond all sense of reason.
With luck, you'll laugh, too.
He is, after all, the comic whose profile in a 2006 issue of British GQ was headlined, "Is This America's Most Depraved Man?" As a comic, he's following in the footsteps of such angry young men as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks and Lewis Black, ignoring conventions of good taste, cracking jokes about things both hallowed and profane, never meeting a sacred cow he didn't want to gore.
He's made jokes about suicide, arguing that people should have the option of leaving behind a life they don't like, just like they can leave a movie if they don't like where it's headed. (According to Stanhope, lawyers for Comedy Central wouldn't allow that one, fearing it might actually encourage someone to kill himself and leave the network liable.) He's invoked the wrath of Brits for mocking the royal family, and of conservatives for ridiculing Sarah and Bristol Palin (and, unlike David Letterman, not apologizing). His take on drugs: "All illegal narcotics are 'medicinal.' Boredom is a disease worse than cancer. Drugs cure it."
He is as politically incorrect as is humanly possible, and proud of it. People, he insists, have become too wimpy, too unwilling to rock society's boat. If he's the only one making waves - well, it's hard to imagine anyone enjoying the task more.
"Sometimes, I feel like I'm the last of the drunken comics," Stanhope, 42, says over the phone from his home in Arizona. "I don't feel that I'm depraved. I think it's that this country is soft."
Don't get him started about drinking. Stanhope wears getting drunk like a badge of honor. It's a frequent topic of his stand-up act, and to hear him tell it, he spends more time drinking than not. "I've really figured out how to work alcohol as a tool in this business," he says. "I've pretty much figured out the exact measurements for a good show."
Growing up in the New York suburb of Greenwich, Conn., Stanhope says he was always the class clown, though not in the way you might expect. "I was kind of a school-shooter class clown," he says. "I was the morbid, dark class clown that gave the girls the creeps. Gave most people the creeps, I guess."
Leaving school after ninth grade, Stanhope says, he set out for California "as soon as I was old enough to leave." He started showing up at comedy clubs and open-mike nights in 1990, and soon earned a reputation for saying anything that was on his mind - as long as it was scabrous, insensitive and absolutely out of place in polite society.
Success soon followed, though not on the scale that will make him a rich man any time soon. He's been on Comedy Central, done specials for Showtime, toured overseas (he's just back from a month in the U.K. and Scandinavia), hawked "Girls Gone Wild" videos. But Stanhope's mouth is too unfiltered for mass consumption, and his refusal to tone anything down makes him a risky proposition for even cable TV, much less the networks.
Which, again, is OK by him. Pricking society's sensibilities is a tough job, he says, but one that needs doing.
"We live in a very insular, very safe, very paranoid society," he says, going off on one of his favorite riffs of late, the idea that this generation is really the pits. "I don't know what you'd look at from this generation that's better, except for technology, which keeps us apart from each other, has us meeting people online rather than meeting the person next to you at the bar."
Stanhope pauses for a moment to let the rant sink in. What he says onstage is often proudly profane, and the shock value, if not calculated, is certainly effective. Strangely, however, that's one area of his performance that gives Stanhope pause. He does have something to say, he insists, and people who don't hear beyond his obscenities are missing the forest for the trees.
"Because there's so much filth mixed in," he says, "sometimes you get guys who just want to hear the vile smut, and they don't hear the point of it.
"But then," he adds, "there's other people that could care less about the smut and just want to hear you blather on about your stupid opinions. I guess I get a good cross-section."
If you go
Doug Stanhope performs at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., Friday night. Doors open at 9 p.m., the show starts at 10. Attendees must be 18 or older. Tickets are $20. Call 410-662-
0069 or go to theottobar.com.