Phil Nichol, John Robertson, JoJo Smith, Phil Kay, Gina Yashere, Dana Alexander, Andre King, Ron Josol. Comedy-going audiences in Hanoi and HCMC have been blessed with some fine comedians over the past year. Yet when veteran US comic Doug Stanhope appears on Wednesday, Mar. 14 at Caravelle Saigon, they will be treated to something on a different level.
Stanhope is a true comedic superstar. But not a superstar in the traditional sense — this man is a visionary, someone with the ability to twist logic and make it logical, and to communicate dark irony that takes on the meaning of truth.
There’s no celebrity or photos on showbiz websites, no hyped-up chatter, or magazine gossip about his latest podcasts or Tweets. Instead he’s the anti-celebrity.
Famed for his smoking and his penchant for vodka, club soda and grapefruit juice, his humour does something remarkable. He takes a banal subject, twists it and paints that same topic in a completely different way. Outrageous, darkly funny, confrontational and at times grotesque, it is a persona that has kept audiences laughing for almost 30 years.
His quotes tell the story:
If you really believe that death leads to eternal bliss, then why are you wearing a seatbelt?
Life is like animal porn. It’s not for everyone.
At least black people knew when they were slaves; you remain clueless.
Put your camera away, you stupid… tourist of life! There’s a whole generation of shitheads just filming every… thing they do. ‘I’m gonna film my entire life and watch it later!’
So when, after waiting for 10 days I get my interview with Doug Stanhope, I am jangling with nerves.
It’s 2am my time when I speak to Doug and I’ve taken the advice of his manager. “Call him on the phone, don’t use Skype. He hates the delay… Talk to him about Vietnam… Try and get him in a conversation. He likes conversations.”
I start with Vietnam, tell him about the Magners-sponsored comedy festival and the amateur comedy competition that has been running here, but we get stuck. The only material he’s ever done related to this country is about Vietnam Vets. “You got f**ked over by your own government and then you wear a hat, celebrating it?”
So we move onto his forthcoming tour of Asia — at present the material he’s writing for it is “a work in progress”. By the time he finally gets on the stage in Singapore in early March, except for three warm-up gigs in San Diego, he “won’t have performed for five months.”
He adds: “Maybe I should enter that [amateur comedy competition you] talked about so that it can motivate me.”
He’s on a roll.
“You know, I’m afraid to bring prescription drugs on this trip,” he continues. “In some places you get beheaded for having drugs. Prescription? Well, they don’t recognise that here. Wait, I have a layover in Malaysia and they search your bags. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of nervous breakfasts.”
“But I love long flights,” he continues. “I went to Singapore last year to get air miles. I never left the airport. So, I walked around, stretched my legs, Changi is always voted the best airport. Had a cocktail and got on a flight back home.”
So, what else do you like about touring, I start to ask, but he’s in full flow.
“I always get a comfort from sleeping while I’m moving. Whether it’s on a train or as a teenager in the back of a tracker trailer, it gives you a sense of progress while you’re doing nothing at all. And I love that. I really love doing nothing, except for the guilt. With flying you feel like you’ve accomplished a goal while you were getting drunk and taking Xanax. Hey I’m here! I made it!”
Do you enjoy going to different places, seeing different venues?
“No, I never leave the airport! I just love to be on long-distance flights. I sleep better than anywhere else. I don’t do anything and I don’t have any interests. I mean, I don’t need to climb Machu Picchu, I can just look at a picture!
“You know when I travel, I like to find a good bar. And I don’t like to eat, because I don’t want to take any chances.”
So no streetfood then?
“Well, if you’re hammered enough, you’d do it as a dare.”
He continues: “I mean these rules apply for the UK as much as they do Vietnam. When I’m in London I call Subway the embassy because I know I can eat it. I mean if I go out to dinner, take a chance and it’s awful, I still have to drink on an empty stomach during a show, and that’s not going to be good.
“Now when it comes to cocktails, I’ll take more chances than with food. Because I can always order another cocktail.”
Over the next half hour we meander through a range of topics. In the moments when the comedy stops, Doug admits that he’s struggling with writing material about the #MeToo campaign. He’s also avoided all talk about Trump — simply because everyone’s doing it and it bores him.
I mention to him a piece he did about the BBC series, Have I Got News For You, in a recent tour of the UK. Someone from the programme’s team wrote Doug an email trying to blag tickets for his show “with a view on getting his availability for the upcoming series. Is it possible to ask for six tickets?”
“No,” he shouts to the audience having read out the email. “You’ve got a TV show. It makes me sick what media has to do to panhandle for tickets.”
I’ve now watched the clip a number of times. It never fails to make me laugh.
As 3am nears and my concentration wanes, a strange thought crosses my mind. What’s he wearing?
Is he sitting there in his underwear wearing a jacket, shirt and tie like in one of his press photos, with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other? Is he shaven or unshaven? Is he at home in his office, sat behind an iMac surrounded by his own personal library, or is he relaxing outdoors on an armchair on an empty road in the desert like in his The Voice of America clips?
Some of the stuff Doug has said to me over the past 45 minutes is true — the normal subject matter of interviews — but most of it is comedy and much is ad-libbed.
I’ve been given my very own one-man show.
I’ve used the word before and I’ll use it again. It’s a treat.
Doug will bring his one-man show to Caravelle Saigon on Wednesday, Mar. 14 as part of the Magners International Comedy Festival. For ticketing information, click on ticketbox.vn or facebook.com/saigoninternationalcomedy.
PHOTOS BY BRIAN HENNIGAN