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Doug Stanhope at Back Booth 

Mean streaker
Doug Stanhope at Back Booth
Thursday, Nov. 19

Comedian Doug Stanhope returned to Back Booth last Thursday for some more funny business, and business was good during his third successful appearance at the rowdy live rock & roll club. The 160 people packed into the downtown club were well-versed in Stanhope's particular brand of raunchiness, hanging on his every incendiary word.

He set the tone for the evening during his opening bit, when he graciously thanked a few firefighters for their gift of Orlando Fire Department T-shirts. Stanhope genuinely praised the gesture and called them "heroes" to great applause. Then he said, in his seasoned delivery style, pausing between words, "Heroes … don't … have … merch," and followed that up by talking about how Capt. Sully may have landed that plane in the Hudson, but you didn't see him hawking collectibles at a booth. The crowd roared with approval. And so the journey into Stanhope's madness began.

For the uninitiated, the 40-something mad genius specializes in over-the-top, alcohol-and-cigarette—fueled explorations of society's twisted psyche. He's an angry philosopher with a beer chaser, and he's hilarious. Stanhope's observations push the envelope, even among his peers — Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K. and David Cross — and the crudeness can create as much discomfort as it does laughs. For proof, watch his last Showtime special, No Refunds (2007), a tightly wound opus that captures his grit and glee.

An almost 20-year veteran of stand-up, Stanhope — who is probably best known as co-host of the second incarnation of The Man Show on Comedy Central — doesn't appear to be worried about his image or if what he says will keep him from getting a sitcom on Fox. This frees him up to cross whatever line he feels needs to be crossed, or to call people out on their shit, even if they've paid to see him. Or brought him gifts.

Early on, he took unsuspecting audience members to task for their clothing choices, including a guy in the front row sporting a glimmering cross necklace over his black shirt. Stanhope asked him if he had ever listened to anything that Stanhope has said before, referring to his endless tirade against organized religion and its participants. Even the cross-bearer had a good laugh.

Stanhope also brilliantly short-circuited those in the audience who might have been planning to record him on their cell phones and post video clips on YouTube (an increasing problem). He laid down such a venomous tirade that only a fool would have had the guts to hit record. But Stanhope is at his best when he is worked up and a little drunk, both of which seemed to kick in about halfway through the set, which went generously past the two-hour mark.

When he's in a frenzy, Stanhope doesn't just skewer people, places and popular ideology, he tenderizes and marinates them, chops 'em up and throws them on the grill, where they sizzle. And everyone laughs. Hard.

Also contributing to the enjoyment of the show was local opener Carin MacWithey, 24, a petite firecracker of a performer who killed for 25 minutes before introducing Stanhope. MacWithey warmed up the green room with her spot-on response to Stanhope's question, "What was her local competition like?" She said there were only three choices when it comes to Orlando comedy show openers: "a drag queen, a stripper and me." We should all look forward to seeing more from her.

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More by Mark Padgett


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