There are some who say there is no real liberty in the United States, because the government only lets you do and say so much before you are punished. But there are people who have found a way to exercise freedom of speech virtually uninhibited: stand-up comedians. Traveling from town to town, performing in dingy clubs and bars, exercise their right to be as crude, vulgar and offensive as they choose to be. They are the new revolutionaries, and their hero is Doug Stanhope.nn
What Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks pioneered to break the chains of censorship in previous decades, Stanhope continues. For more than 17 years, Stanhope has been either loved or hated for his extreme views on everything from abortion to the Pledge of Allegiance. An open drug user, smoker, drinker and, according to him “general f'k-up,” Doug Stanhope has risen to become one of the most truthful, hard-hitting and respected comics working today. Until recently, he was also a front-runner contending for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. It was a decision he did not approach lightly. “I spent about a year just doing research,” Stanhope said after a recent performance in Las Vegas. “I read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Government, and it still wasn’t dumb enough for me. But I didn’t want to go into it half-assed. I wanted to at least have something to talk about outside of my interests.nn
On July 9, 2006, Stanhope announced that he would run for president in 2008 on the Libertarian ticket. As he became more and more involved in his desire to pursue the presidency, he started to incorporate campaign ideas into his act. Due to his exposure from hosting Girls Gone Wild and appearing on Comedy Central’s The Man Show, he gained a growing number of supporters.nn
Then, just as his campaign was picking up speed and people were starting to take him seriously, he dropped out of the race. “It became extremely dull and un-fun, and unfunny,” he said. “I was trying to walk that fine line of trying to be legitimate, yet still be myself, and it was turning it into that Man Show situation where you’re cleaning it up for TV but still trying to put your own angle into it. And â€¦ it ends up suckingâ€.
But it was the Federal Elections Commission’s regulations that finally ended Stanhope’s presidential ambitions. “There were so many rules with the FEC, like if I performed â€¦ and I was getting paid for it, but I was also talking about my campaign, the money I was making couldn’t be considered personal income,” Stanhope said. “It would have to be considered campaign contributions. Plus, I’m incorporated, and if you’re a corporation, even if it’s just you, you can’t give more than a certain amount toward any campaign because of campaign-finance laws. The more I learned, the more problems it kept creating. It ended up becoming tedious and boring, and I became boring, and then I became miserable, and it really showed in my act.nn
Even though his campaign is over, Stanhope acheived his goal of bringing attention to the Libertarian Party, to make a difference change people’s ideas of their options for candidates. As a candidate, Stanhope supported prison reform, elimination of the income tax, legalization of drugs and lowering the minimum age to drive, drink and vote. On the subject of minimum ages, he asks, “If we’re supposed to be progressing as a society, why do we keep making people be older and older before they’re responsible?nn
Sound funny? Stanhope didn’t think so either, and he’d much rather be funny. So he took off the ill-fitting suit, went back to his comfy thrift-store clothes and returned to doing what he enjoyed most. He’s still performing just as much as he would be if he were stumping for votes, but it’s on his own terms again. Booking all his own gigs, providing his own transportation, without an agent or a manager, he’s completely free from outside control. His reputation as an insightful and gifted comedian who regularly fills seats at bars and clubs allows him the freedom to say whatever he wants. He’s the old Stanhope again: loud, rude, uncensored and brilliantly funny.nn
What are Salt Lake City audiences in for when Stanhope comes to town? Stanhope said, “Expect me to show up and say a lot of stuff about stuff that I believe in and think. Maybe something great will happen between now and then, and I’ll talk about that. Who knows, maybe I’ll get shot by a hooker, or lose a foot, or get in a fight with someone who rushes the stage. I don’t know, but I’ll try to make it as chaotic as possible because it’s the only thing that keeps me interested.nn
nWednesday, June 13
nBurt’s Tiki Lounge
n726 S. State
n8 p.m. & 10 p.m.
n$10 advance $15 day of show