Twenty-five years a stand-up, little throws Doug Stanhope. Post-warm-up gig in Edinburgh on Thursday night, he helped talk a man out of committing suicide.
And on this first night of his UK tour, at least two fights erupted, the first simply feeding smoothly into his set. Requesting the audience share their mental health problems, acknowledging that his fans are more likely to defect to ISIS than Michael McIntyre, the American marries empathy with bruising, amoral cynicism. Having previously noted a “drought” of US mass murder recently, the Oregon shootings arrived like “Merry Christmas!”, gifting his material on craziness much greater, rawer relevance. Scarcely bound by society's conventional sensitivities, Stanhope is freer to dissect the hypocrisies behind them.
And so while he cheekily demands cultural tolerance for his use of the word “retard”, archly noting the crass behaviour behind its etymology, he alights on solid truths in the distinctions between treatment of the mentally disturbed and the mentally challenged.
Sage on the limits of medical knowledge too, he makes great mischief out of twisting the agenda of trans self-expression and homophobia in sport towards his own preoccupations. Delivering another hilariously contrarian argument for the selfishness of child cancer victims, his self-centredness reaches its grim apex in his perceived influence over Robin Williams.
Closing with an atypical, motivational call to pursue your radical ideas, even in the most self-degrading circumstances, Stanhope reiterates the wonderfully dark spark of his idiosyncratic thinking.