Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Doug Stanhope

Plays Medford Oregon, June 2014.

On Sunday June 22nd, 2014 comedian Doug Stanhope appeared at “The Whiskey Room” in Medford, Oregon. When I first heard about this show, I could not believe that Doug was actually going to do it. I never dreamed he’d ever play Medford and since seeing him “live” was on my comedy bucket list, I figured I’d have to travel to Portland or San Francisco if I was ever going to check this one off. And since I hate to travel I figured this was a long shot.

I knew he was booked to play Portland on the 25th, but I just couldn’t work it out to be at that show…just way too much time and driving for me to deal with…So when I got a late night email from a friend and fellow Stanhope fan that he was coming to Medford, (I live in nearby Ashland), I was elated and immediately bought a couple of tickets (only $25 each!). Soooo glad I did.

My buddy Neil and I are huge Stanhope fans and were there plenty early to get the best seats we could get, which turned out to be right in front of the stage. We saved a couple of seats for my other friend Scott, the one who first told me about the show, with his friend Ian. So when they showed up much later, they were able to join us up front. Neil and I had gone out for sushi before hand, had a few beers and other uh…edible herbal intoxicants and were feelin’ no pain when the show got started.

The musical opener turned out to be my friend Maurice Woodard the “One Man Band” who did an hour with his keyboards and electric guitars. It was getting noisy and what with the acoustics of the room (not very good) and the general mood of anticipation and partying, it was not easy to listen, but we did take in his general vibe and smiled as he went through his usual fantastic vocals and well-known Soul and R & B classics.

A word or two about the room itself. It is a large room but not what you’d call a roomy room. The space is interrupted by numerous big screen TV’s, spinning light effects which cast patterns and laser dots everywhere, and there's an elevated loft in the back of the room which is basically a very deep balcony with very few decent views of the stage.  It also has very high ceilings which make the sound kind of boomy and…just weird. The stage is in the front left corner of the room and there’s a huge multi-paned window looking out on the street that’s right to the side of the stage. This window has no covering and faces West so there’s actual sunlight on the stage until the sun goes down. So in short, not a very good room for comedy, to say the least. And not at all the kind of room Doug was probably used to playing.

So we’re hanging out, listening to Maurice as best we can and Neil points out that Bingo, Doug’s girlfriend is over by the bar. He tells me that she’s really cool and he’d had a few words with her. So I went over to get a coke and while I was there I struck up a conversation with her. I started with, “Man I cannot believe that Doug is playing here.” To which she replied, “Neither did we!” It seems Doug was very very pissed off about the quality of the venue, the stuff they’d failed to come through with in the Green Room, the sound system, just about everything about the place. As she put it, “He’s going to come out on fire.” She even hinted that he might be having trouble getting a drink. She was indeed very cool, relaxed, and we chatted nicely for a bit.

After a little while longer I went back to see if I could buy Doug a drink, since we were at the front table. I followed Bingo out to the back patio where she went through a metal gate into a sort of parking lot back there…I opened the gate a bit and there she was, talking with Doug. I said, “Hey man, we’re in the front row, can we buy you a drink?” Doug smiled and said, “No thanks man, I’m good.” So that was that.

Doug had an opener with him…Andy Andrist. He was from Eugene and very funny. Vulgar for sure, but funny as hell. We really liked him a lot. We were planning on buying his DVD or CD, but given the way the evening ended…this turned out to be impossible.

After Andy finished his set, he introduced Doug and out he came, indeed, on fire. Wearing an orange sport coat and orange plaid pants, the first thing he said was, “I have no one but myself to blame for tonight’s show…” He then proceed to tear the venue a new one…going after the sound system…the “Champagne Room” in the back with its sticky floors…the huge window with sunlight pouring in…“Nothing can be funny in this kind of light!”…at one point he even climbed up the wall of window panes…he said the balcony/loft thing was like playing a prison…there were actually a couple of couches right up on stage with him and on one of them sat an elderly couple who he said were pretty much trapped if they didn’t like his act…he had fun with them throughout the show and even bought them shots at one point…He came out with a huge plastic jug of “Popov” vodka which he drank from in a tall glass and had Bingo bring him some other shots from the bar as well…He said several times that he really didn’t want to be there and that if he drank enough, he would likely forget he ever was…in between ragging on the venue and how bad he felt the show was going…all hilarious by the way, the crowd was howling…he did some of what I presumed were his latest bits…all funny as hell…a great piece about how he cannot get sponsors for his act…even Popov vodka (which he called “hobo plasma”) turned him down…kids with cancer…the TV show “Locked Up Abroad”…and a few other choice bits that I can’t recall right now…All the while getting drunker and looking at his watch and talking about making it through his allotted time…we laughed our asses off and felt like this was really a rare treat…not just his stage act but Doug right there in real time dealing with something he was really pissed off about and riffing on it. Kind of like a combination of his stage act and just hanging out with him being funny at a party. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t played a venue like this in a long time. It might have reminded him of his early years and set him to thinking “Jesus Christ, how long have I been doing this and I’m back here?!?” In any case, it was great to watch him take all of this and turn it into his art, into part of his act. As I said, a real treat. At one point he started fumbling in his jacket looking for his “notes”…I think he had a few more bits for us…but he couldn’t find them…so he just sort of said, Fuck it…and tossed the big vodka jug to his doorman, jumped off the stage, crawled and rolled over the very front table by the door and literally ran out the front door where Bingo and “Jim” and whoever he was traveling with no doubt had the engine running and left. Not to be seen again! An epic closing, I thought, to a great evening that my buddies and I will never forget. (I even grabbed a souvenir from Doug’s area.)   ;~)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Everything In This World Is So Unlikely…

And Yet, Here It Is. 

At least for a moment, until it becomes something else. Look around the space you are in right now. What are the odds that everything around you would be in this exact configuration at this particular moment in time? And yet, here it is. Every single thing that exists sits at the top of a giant pyramid of lucky breaks. 

My grandfather told me this story shortly before he died. His father, my great-grandfather, was a very quiet man. My grandfather hardly ever heard him speak. And yet he had a way of letting it be known what he was thinking and how he was feeling. One night when my grandfather was a young man, he brought a young lady home to meet his parents. I guess at some point in the evening he looked over at his father as if to say, Well, what do you think? His father just gave him a look with a very slight disapproving shake of the head and he knew that this girl was not for him. Shortly afterwards, he brought my grandmother home to meet his parents and this time his father gave him a slight, almost imperceptible nod that said, This is the one.

If it wasn’t for that little nod, I would not exist. And yet, here I am. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Love Or Money?

If I Can’t Have Both, I’ll Take Love…

I read about a study where they asked people, What percentage of your work time is filled with doing what you feel you do best? The average was pretty low. Many people reported that they never got to do what they did best at work. And there was a correlation between a higher percentage and how much people enjoyed their jobs, regardless of what the job was. Like cab drivers who were good with people and good drivers and got to do both all day long were happier than cab drivers who were really good at playing the drums and never got to do that at work. I well understand that there are economic needs and forces here, so I don't mean to put down the drummer-cab driver. He has to do what he has to do.

Very early in my life I realized a few things: 1. that I had a strong need to enjoy what I was doing in order to put much energy into anything 2. that I enjoyed things that didn't seem to make much money 3. that I had a very low ability to tough it out and override 1. and 2. just to make money, and 4. that a typical middle class life (house, kids, car, etc.) would be difficult for me to pay for given 1. and 2. So...I kept my expenses to a minimum...had a vasectomy when I was 29...and kept looking for a way to pay for that relatively modest life by doing something that I loved. I've never made much money, and I have had some real angels in my life who helped support my efforts, but I've never been late for the rent or other bills and I'm still somehow afloat. And...I get to do what I feel I do best...Teaching (T'ai-Chi) and making music...100% of my work day. But I also do without much of what my generation would consider "success".

I think a lot of people would be happier if they set their economic sites much lower...had fewer kids or waited longer to have them...drove a funkier car or better yet got a bike...jettisoned a lot of the stuff they think they "need" which they actually only need because they work so many hours at jobs they hate...and focused instead on finding the kind of work they really enjoy, regardless of what it pays, and building relationships with like-minded people. My experience is that people who are poor but enjoy what they're doing and have a solid community of friends are much happier than wealthy people who don't like their jobs and are socially isolated. And of course, if you can do both, more power to you, but I think that comes more from following "your bliss" and finding there's money in it, than it comes from following the money and finding there's bliss in it.