Casual comedy fans will be forgiven for not having heard of American comedian Doug Stanhope. This hard-drinking, hard-talking comedian has never had a hit TV series, doesn’t appear on panel shows, and would never get his material broadcast on the likes of Live at the Apollo.
I first became aware of Stanhope after he began a spot on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe. In one episode it was revealed that he raised over $125,000 for a woman who’s house had been destroyed during a tornado. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, he was doing it to be an asshole.
After enjoying Stanhope’s rants, I looked up some of his stand up on YouTube and found myself watching some of the darkest comedy I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if your idea of good comedy is the likes of Michael McIntyre, just stop reading now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with mainstream stand up, but there’s certainly a world of difference between McIntyre’s jokes and Stanhope’s.
Upon finding a special show recorded for Netflix called “Beer Hall Putsch”, I was stunned to watch Stanhope do a routine about the time he helped his mother commit suicide after battling with emphysema. It doesn’t get much darker than that, and yet Stanhope’s routine still manages to be very funny and, in a strange way, touching. Stanhope’s Digging up Mother explores his relationship with his mother, Bonnie, as well as being an autobiography that tells of how he became a comedian and what a profound effect his mother had on his relationship with comedy.
It’s fair to say the book is pretty nihilistic for the most part. Stanhope’s exploits throughout his life reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson and his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Stanhope’s life seems to go by at break-neck speed, linked together by one reckless decision after another, consequences be damned. One week in his shoes would probably see me dead from a panic attack, but like Thompson, part of Stanhope’s charm lies in his ability to appear truly free. His adventures are enough to raise your eyebrows to the roof, but I refuse to believe anyone could read this book without at least smirking at some of his escapades.
This book may be written by Stanhope, and be more or less an autobiography, but his mother Bonnie no doubt steals the show. Describing her as “not your typical mum” is like describing the sun as “warm”. It’s obvious that she loved her children fiercely, but she was far from what you’d call a mother in the traditional sense. Her relationship with Stanhope is fascinating and, although for the most part they are thick as thieves, it’s clear that such an unconventional relationship could at times take its toll.
Digging up Mother also allows Stanhope to present his philosophies on the world and, although often bleak, they can be pretty hard to argue with. As dark as this book is, and it is dark, Stanhope manages to tell his story in a way that is still undeniably funny and strangely uplifting. The book may leave readers feeling like life is utterly pointless and absurd, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it all.
Trying to review this book is honestly a struggle. I could tell you about some of Doug’s adventures and the larger-than-life friends (and enemies) he makes along the way, but I’d only be ruining it for you. I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy this book in the traditional sense, some may find it hilarious, other disturbing, but I can guarantee you’ve never read a biography like it.