It could have gone so wrong. Previously, when Doug Stanhope played a gig in Liverpool, he either vomited on-stage or was subject to volleys of mindless heckles that ruined the event for all concerned.
Was it the work of a few idiots – or was it simply the way a Liverpool crowd would react to a comedian sometimes referred to as the most offensive in the world?
Things got off to an excellent start with opening act Henry Phillips, with a funny, pleasant and very skilful opening set with a few musical numbers displaying an evident craft. Though Stanhope later admitted that he was concerned that Phillips might bear the brunt of the night’s heckles, if anything the opening to the show may have lulled the audience somewhat.
So, on came Stanhope with an immediate recognition of what had happened last time. Liverpool, he said, was the most contrarian place he’s ever played.
“No we’re not!” shouted someone from the rafters and, thankfully, that was about it. Probably wisely Stanhope ignored any further shouts and ploughed on regardless.
Something that did not come as a surprise to fans was a lengthy rant about Telegraph columnist Alison Pearson and this segued into a defence of the right to be ‘an asshole’ on Twitter without being sent to prison. Stanhope tells us that we would have tweeted a joke about Fabrice Muamba dying on the pitch if he’d been on Twitter at the time, had Muamba died.
Because that’s what comics do, says Stanhope – and he points out that it’s open season on a celebrity when they pop their clogs; also that we apply a curious double standard over insulting people when they’re alive against insulting people when they’re dead.
No doubt this might be labelled tasteless, unpleasant, and unnecessary by many. But it’s hard not to see the logic behind Stanhope’s apparently misanthropic monologues. It’s clear that there’s a very sharp mind behind the oversized suit, the scruffy appearance, the rambling delivery and the neat Jagermeister.
The show meandered somewhat from this initial train of thought – with a few detours to familiar material, including the reason men watch sport and why it’s good to pretend to be gay sometimes, plus some amusing observations on the Grand National – and at one point literally stopped as Stanhope examined his notes.
Finally settling on an agree topic, he launched into a ten-minute demolition of England and routine on why America was great. Given that observational comedy is apparently out-of-fashion it was excellently put together and the sizeable audience rolled around.
So, Liverpool behaved itself. But so did Stanhope. Bar one or two barbs – an amusing, if horrible, description of his girlfriend’s puffy eyes and his live Tweeting of the Japanese tsunami – it was a remarkably inoffensive show.
Stanhope appeared rather dishevelled, perhaps a little distracted but his act did not seem especially out of place in the Philharmonic, as we’d suspected it might. This was no precision-guided excoriation as his blogs or Newswipe pieces can be, but a rambling audience with a funny, clever and, somehow, a vaguely pitiful man.
Stanhope appeared ready for home – but the Liverpool audience did not seem to begrudge him what appeared to be a rather tired (and a little emotional) gig. He remains irresistible, challenging, thought-provoking and frequently hilarious. Perhaps he was just happy to get one successful Liverpool gig under his belt.