Doug Stanhope @ George Square Theatre

Review by R.J. Thomson | 14 Aug 2006
  • Doug Stanhope

The writer and free-thinker Aldous Huxley observed that "experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him". This a useful maxim by which to evaluate Doug Stanhope, and what it feels like to go to one of his mind-stretching, uncompromising shows. Put simply, what this American stand-up comedian offers is a rare thing at this or any time: adventurous psychological behaviour. And he does it live, before your eyes.

Stanhope tells us that he went on a month-long mushroom binge in the Texan desert to prepare for this year's Edinburgh Fringe. During this time he pondered Huxley, and tonight he mentions one of the earlier thinker's more far-out suggestions: that the brain is not the source of all knowledge, but a filter to keep the truth out, and to keep us efficient as an evolving species. The further suggestion, from both Huxley and Stanhope, is that we owe it to ourselves to try to look outside of our immediate consciousness. Stanhope's exposed vision is so clear, and his performance so intense, that he consistently offers his genuinely exhilarated crowd the chance to experience on something like Huxley's terms, laughing and panicking at the same time.

In principle it shouldn't be difficult to be as good at stand-up comedy as Doug Stanhope. All he does is be himself. But if Stanhope cares little about what other people think of him, and acts accordingly, what he reveals is not so much a 'true soul' as a fascinatingly fractured individual existence. This is not to say 'fractured' in the clichéd, schizophrenic, 'troubled' sense – though on tonight's evidence Stanhope's life is not an easy one – but fractured in a sense more polychromatic. Common sense is diffracted through him into something more real, something ultimately more useful. Doug Stanhope makes us laugh at what we don't even know yet.

Doug Stanhope, George Square Theatre, until August 27 (not 21), 22:40, £12 (£10.50).