There are only a few comedians who are viewed as true originals. They may never be the most popular comic in the world, and they may never sell out arenas, but their legend will live on forever thanks to the fact they’re your favorite comic’s favorite comic. They’re the envelope pushers, charging beyond the so-called trigger warnings that cause society to pause while reveling in the every cringe-inducing moment they can create. It’s anarchy, in a way, and it’s done to entertain as much as it is to challenge societal norms we all too often blindly accept.
Lenny Bruce is probably the first name that comes to everyone’s mind when true icons are discussed, and he’s usually followed by someone like George Carlin, Bill Hicks, or Richard Pryor. Those answers are all correct, but sadly none of them are alive today. Their marks have been left, and their impact continues to influence young comics around the world, but there are no more new jokes to be heard. The shows have come to a close, the crowds have all dispersed, and all that is left are recordings of geniuses most of us will never have an opportunity to see in person.
Among the real innovators still living today, Doug Stanhope may be the one who all too rarely gets the praise he deserves. He’s definitely your favorite comic’s favorite comic, and he’s probably the favorite comic of every diehard stand up fan you know. His legend has been building since he first stepped on a comedy stage over twenty-five years ago, and as I write this near the end of 2015 he continues to tour and create new material on a near-constant basis. He is a comedy machine, and if you believe his own material he’s slowly begun to break down, but that has not stopped him from releasing 11 CDs and writing a new hour of material every single year.
I don’t believe there is a such thing as a bad hour of material from Stanhope, or at least not one that has been released to the public just yet. Of his 12 solo specials, which I recently spent time revisiting in their entirety two times over, every single one has something worth experiencing. I told The Laugh Button I would find a way to rank them, so I did my best to do just that, but I encourage you to spend time with each as you are able. There are many who recognize Stanhope’s talent today, but I believe his best material is still to come. As long as he’s willing to share his thoughts with the world there will be throngs of followers ready to listen, and I certainly be among them. Use this list to guide you own adventure through Stanhope’s work, or use it as an excuse to start a war with me in the comments. Whatever the case, experience Doug Stanhope’s comedy as often as you are able. A voice like his is all too rare in the world.
#12: The Great White Stanhope (1998)
This is one of the few stand-up albums we know of to be renounced by the person who created it. The Great White Stanhope serves as Doug’s debut recording, but he has admitted to hating it so much he specifically released Sicko to make up for it. I think there is still some solid bits here, but don’t expect too much in terms of replay value.
#11: Word Of Mouth (2003)
Stanhope’s first DVD release also happens to boast his biggest track list (30 bits in total). Several jokes from previous releases make an appearance here in one way or another, including the infamous “tit fuck joke.”
Those bits are great, but having heard them on at least two, if not three releases by this point, it’s hard to appreciate Word Of Mouth as anything more than a compilation of Stanhope’s best ideas up to that point in his career.
#10: ACID Bootleg (2001)
Finding a copy of the special known as the “ACID Bootleg” is next to impossible these days, but for a while this hour was a staple of Stanhope’s merch table. Again, there are repeated bits from earlier special, but by and large the material here is new. It’s also edgier than the majority of Stanhope’s catalog. If there were ever an hour made for true diehards, this is it.
#9: Sicko (1999)
Sicko is one of the strangest releases in recent comedy history. Allegedly intended as a replacement for The Great White Stanhope, this record feature many variations of material found on Stanhope’s debut album, including the infamous “Banana Lady” and “Transvestite Hooker” stories.
I don’t know why Stanhope felt these bits needed a second release, but there are some new twists that make for good laughs. The quality of the recording is better as well, which certainly doesn’t hurt.
#8: No Refunds (2007)
Stanhope’s first special for Showtime, No Refunds is chock full of material that would still work well today. Doug’s takedown of our recently revitalized PC culture, which has only worsened since the record’s release, serves as the perfect opening to an hour of relentless comedy that actually encourages thought and action on the part of the audience member.
This is one of the first hours in Stanhope’s catalog where he really makes it a point to put the responsibility of inciting meaningful change on the shoulders of his audience, and in a way it’s that approach the drives a large portion of the material he releases today.
This is Stanhope at his most relaxed. I don’t know what changed between the recording of Oslo and the making of this record, but there is a sense of aggression behind Doug’s delivery I don’t think you will find on any other hour.
The stories on Before Turning The Gun… are bigger here than on most releases, but they aren’t yet fully formed and have the type of big payoffs found throughout later releases like Beer Hall Putsch.
#6: Die Laughing (2002)
This feels like Stanhope at his loosest. Everything that happened during the recording of this album made its way onto the final cut of the record, including a moment of interaction with audience members that is label on the track listing as “Stuff I Should Have Edited Out But Didn’t.” When this record plays you really feel as if you’re a part of the crowd, living in the moment from joke to joke, and when the record ends all you want to do is listen all over again.
The world needs more comedy albums from comedians performing in countries other than their own. Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere was recorded in an abandoned knitting factory and Nazi World War II bunker in the Oslo borough of Grünerløkka with the comedian given last minute notice the show was happening. Stanhope begins with a parody of observational comedy that reaffirms he is the same man no matter where he travels. The Stanhope that gets on stage in Norway to perform for people who may or may not understand every word he says is the same guy who performs at clubs across America (to people who may or may not understand every word that he says). This special does feel undeniably special though, if only because Stanhope himself seems to find humor in the fact life has lead him to perform before a packed house in a place thousands of miles from his home. He’s clearly appreciative, but also very confused, and in his signature way he makes the audience know he’s not sure they’ve made the best financial investment by catching his show.
#4: Deadbeat Hero (2004)
When I started telling people Stanhope was a comic I loved, Deadbeat Hero was the special people thought I was referencing (the answer was, in fact, Oslo). Having no idea what bits this special would contain, I immediately sought it out and fell in love.
There was a special edge to Stanhope’s stage presence in the mid aughts that first reveals itself on this recording, and it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to understand why this special serves as a gateway release for so many of Stanhope’s fans.
In his transition from his angriest era to the current period where his rage comes accompanied with a suggestion for improvement, Stanhope shared From Across The Street. There is a fire in his delivery for this set that draws you in from the very beginning.
Of all the hours on this list, this is one I’ve probably shared with others the most. It’s more accessible for the average comedy fan, but still undeniably Stanhope.
#2: Something To Take The Edge Off (2000)
This could very well be one of the best hours of stand-up comedy ever laid to tape. I know it doesn’t make the top of this list, but it’s a damn close second place.
Stanhope performs for an hour while accompanied by an acoustic guitar, and while it seems like the gimmick will wear thin fast it actually provides an amusing compliment to an already strong set. Stanhope was a decade into his career at this point, and I think it’s the first time we get a good idea of the comic he will become in the years ahead.
Claiming a comic’s latest release is also their greatest may seem cliche, but in the case of Stanhope it seems undeniably true. Between his rant against 10k fun runs and his fear of contracting an STD from his high definition television, not to mention the heartfelt and hilarious tale of assisting his mother with her suicide, Stanhope perfectly balances all the qualities that have made him a comedy legend on this release. We learn something about the man himself, as well as something about the way he sees the way. He’s unabashed, perhaps a bit tipsy, and as focused in his delivery as you’ve ever heard him. If this is his last release for one reason or another, at least he goes out on top, but I have a feeling we’ll hear more from him in the near future.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.