For Doug Stanhope, there is no such thing as "too soon."
"I'm already laughing before it can turn tragic," says Stanhope. "Before they can finish counting the bodies, I'm laughing."
Stanhope is one of the edgiest and most insightful stand-up comedians working today. His humor has the bite of a pitbull on crack. In the tradition of Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor, it shocks, but makes you think. His routine "The Keynesian Economic Theory As Applied To Private Sector Independent Contracting" from his upcoming special "Before Turning the Gun on Himself" (which premieres tonight on Showtime and will be released on CD and DVD Nov. 6) uses a bottom-rung prostitute to explain economics in the absolute crudest and most hilarious terms.
According to Stanhope, there is nothing too sacred to be comedically profaned.
"There's just the wrong audience," says Standhope in a call from his home in Bisbee, Ariz. "If I hadn't developed my own audience by now I don't know what I would be doing."
He began his career in Las Vegas in 1990 while moonlighting from his telemarketing job.
"I was a goof and a (screw-up)," says Stanhope. "My whole lifestyle lent itself to comedy ... I was already living off friend's couches and the kindness of strippers. For me to jump in a car and live gig to gig was not a stretch. When I started out I loved every minute of it. I loved sleeping in my car when I couldn't get a gig and couldn't find a fat girl who'd put me up on her couch. It was adventurous."
His style, though, took some time to develop.
"When I started I was 23 and it was (masturbation) jokes or I'd build whole bits around a phrase I thought was funny. What I believed never came into it in the early days. There was no point of view. It was all, 'What will make an audience laugh?' It wasn't what you would call bright at all."
He eventually realized that things that he thought could never be said on stage were the exact things he needed to say — either as closing or opening bits.
"You'd always have people who hated it — hopefully not to the point where you'd get fired, but sometimes that would be the result. Or you'd get a stern talking-to from some greasy club manager. It's every reason you quit school. I'm smarter than you. I know better than you."
Over the next 15 years he gained a dedicated following from TV, radio and club appearances and, in 2005, he began hosting his own radio show on Sirius Satellite radio. He was a co-host on "The Man Show" for a brief period, but TV and Stanhope didn't mix well.
"I've never done anything on TV that was as rewarding as stand-up. TV's a job and you work really long hours to produced a fraction of what you can put out on stage. I've done stand-up that's censored and it's awful."
After realizing he didn't want to pursue TV, Stanhope moved to Bisbee, Ariz.
The city, he says, is an artist community, but without the preciousness of better-known artist communities.
"It's half rednecks and half artists and people co-exist and it's great to not have to deal with traffic and stop lights."
Stanhope says he'd had bands play for his Fourth of July parties and never gotten noise complaints, but did when he and comedian friends decided to do comedy after the band.
"The first comedian that got up, because they were all of my ilk, she was onstage six or seven minutes before the cops showed up with language complaints."
Stanhope recounts the comedian's graphic and colorful description of the post-birth damage to the female anatomy.
"I was sitting in the back like the club owner, knowing how many complaints I was going to get from the neighbors, cringing."
He does, though, sometimes pine for the old days.
"I do miss people getting real cheesed off and walking out. Back in the day when people would just show up to see comedy with no idea who you were. Then you have that whole bachelorette party crying outside in the lobby because their whole night is ruined. There's no feeling of blame, because when you put that little thought and planning into what's going to be your big night and don't even know what you're going to see, it's teaching you a lesson!"
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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