Last month I did a run of shows opening for Doug Stanhope on the Southeast leg of the Big Stink Comedy Tour. Along with Junior Stopka from Chicago, Greg the road manager, and Bingo (Doug’s lovely girlfriend), we spent three weeks doing 17 shows in 19 days. We performed in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. Pretty much every Southeastern state except Mississippi. Why not Mississippi? I never asked, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because it’s Mississippi.
This year I got to celebrate my birthday on tour with Doug Stanhope. Not the womb-expulsion kind of birthday, but my stand-up comedy birthday– the one that matters (No offense to my mother. I actually got her a present while we were on tour). During one of the stops a friendly local opener gifted us all with a shirt of his own design depicting himself and Adolph Hitler sexually double-teaming a lady that is identified as “your mother.” My mom’s birthday is coming up soon and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to receive a memento commemorating that unforgettable occasion. These are the kind of gifts you get when you’re touring with Doug Stanhope.
It was my seventh stand-up birthday, and coincidentally I ended up celebrating it in the same state I started my comedy career, North Carolina. I live in Atlanta now so it was a nice coincidence to happen to be there at the time. We celebrated my birthday that night by having the tour van unexpectedly invaded by drunken Stanhope fans as we were on our way out of the venue. They then led us to an obscure bar on the outskirts of town. It was inside a nondescript building that from the outside looked like the kind of place you would take a date if you wanted to impress her with your remarkable raping skills.
Stanhope fans have a lot of things in common, one of them being a mutual disdain for each other, so appropriately enough the night ended with one of the van fans instigating a fist fight with another Stanhope fan. While I was fine with walking away and letting them beat each other to a pulp, Stanhope jumped into action and tried to pull them apart. When that failed, he tried to bring the fight to a halt by reenacting one of his closing bits in an effort to get the brawlers’ attention– something having to do with Canada and retarded moose rape. Not really, I was drunk. I don’t remember. Not surprisingly, even though Doug’s material may be great at instigating people into anger, we found out that night that its much less effective at doing the opposite.
However all was not lost. Before we left, as the asshole who started the fight stumbled to the ground, Stanhope managed to swipe a souvenir from him. For legal reasons I’m not sure I should identify exactly what we took. Or what we did with it. Or what orifices it was inserted in. Or if we still have it. Or if the CDC should confiscate it and keep it under permanent quarantine.
On our days off, Stanhope would sit down with “Team Big Stink” or as he liked to call us “his little Stinkers” and impart on us invaluable sage comedy lessons. We would all huddle together in the afternoon and have outside-the-box brainstorming sessions. We would come up with new comedy ideas for hours while workshopping our material in order to take our performances to the next level and provide a more polished show experience for the crowds to come. Actually none of that is true, we pretty much just got drunk on margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, downed cocktails at the Days Inn, and had a drinking party while watching Intervention in Valdosta, GA. While all the drinking did a number on my bowel movements, Doug never seemed to deal with indigestion of any kind. I’m convinced he no longer has any kind of normal functioning digestive system. His stomach is lined with Jagermeister and his intestines lubricated with cheap vodka. The man is a pro. As comedian Andy Andrist put it, “Drinking with Stanhope is like trying to keep up with African marathoners.”
The day after our Charleston, SC show Doug decided to stop by a clothing store to spiff up his attire. I was still hung over from the night before so I just lounged around trying to hold in my latest alcohol-ravaged bowel movement, and waited while he and the rest of the crew checked out the wares. Then about a half hour later Doug came up to me:
“What’s your waist size?” Doug asks.
“I don’t know, 33 I think…”
“I just saw a white 33,” he says.
It didn’t take long before I was getting my inseam measured, and was fitted into an all-white suit with purple button-up shirt, purple tie, purple socks and matching purple shoes. Those who know me, know that my usual garb consists of black worn-out jeans, black beat-up sneakers, black thrift store jacket and a cheap black fedora. Add to that the fact that I’m too lazy to shave on a regular basis, and it leads to me being often mistaken for some kind of homeless Jew. The outfit Stanhope got for me could not have been further away from what I’m used to wearing, but that was the whole point.
He bought a similar set of clothes for himself with pink accessories and one for the road manager with black and white accessories. Bingo was fitted with a lovely blue suit that matched the color of her hair, while Junior left the store with an all red suit and matching red accessories– when completely outfitted he looked like a menstruating giant’s used tampon.
Later that day, dressed up in our full Wannabe Pimps Of Comedy uniforms, we did a theater show in the actual city I started my career in seven years before, Charlotte, NC. One of the things I admire most about Doug is that he long ago decided to stop listening to comedy club bookers, and started doing things his own way. I’m happy he did it, not just because it was an incredibly ballsy move, but also because if he did still listen to comedy club bookers the local comedy club would’ve surely advised him against letting me open. Ironically, the comedy club in the town I started in is one of the comedy clubs where I am least likely to get booked to perform.
At the Charlotte show, some fans gifted Stanhope a box full of 170 proof corn mash moonshine specially distilled and labeled for Doug. They were the same people that gifted him a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms at another Charlotte show years ago. Unfortunately, on that occasion Stanhope had to fly back home the next day and couldn’t take the mushrooms with him on the plane. Instead of throwing the bag away though, he searched through his contacts and called the first Charlotte number he could find on his phone. The owner of that number then became the lucky recipient of a bagful of hallucinogenic mushrooms courtesy of Mr. Douglas Stanhope. These are the kind of gifts you get when you’re a fan of Doug Stanhope. Later on in the tour I was also gifted some acid and marijuana by a separate group of fans. Mushrooms, moonshine, acid, and marijuana– these are the kind of gifts you get when you’re in town touring with Doug Stanhope.
That is, with the exception of Fort Pierce, FL.
I met Doug after he quit performing at traditional comedy venues. Before this tour I had never performed with him at an actual comedy club. In the past we did shows in wine bars, bowling allies, old churches, rowdy metal joints, dirty punk clubs and sweltering hot dives, but the one constant was that by virtue of avoiding the comedy clubs, 98 percent of the people who came out were people who were already fans and came exclusively to see him.
While some of them you would never guess were Stanhope fans based on their appearance, others couldn’t be more obvious– the kind of freaks that would intentionally prolapse their rectum if they could just to get a tattoo of Stanhope’s face inside their ass. At a show in Chattanooga we met both a mild mannered middle-aged man in a baseball cap that postponed his heart surgery just to catch Doug’s show, and a young lady with a faceful of piercings and a tattoo on her leg that depicted a scene of people jumping out of the Twin Towers with a caption beneath it that read “It’s Raining Men.” These are the kind of fans you meet when you tour with Doug Stanhope.
That is, with the exception of Fort Pierce, FL.
In Fort Pierce the 2 percent became the 98 percent. What Stanhope described as a “dinner theater” crowd came out to see a comedy show without having any idea who Doug was. Fortunately for all involved, a crowd that old is unlikely to figure out how to operate the recording function on any of their electronic devices, so odds are there is no video record of the Big Stink Comedy Tour’s one-day foray into the senior citizen comedy circuit.
Doug handled the whole situation beautifully though, without even straying from his original intent. He did the same material he intended to do from the outset and somehow still made it work. He may not have been getting the same levels of raucous reaction he was getting at all the other venues we played, but he was still getting laughs while at the same time acknowledging the weirdness of the circumstances: “Jake LaMotta is my neighbor… most of you probably saw him fight live.”
Sure there was still a solid contingent of unbudging old folks, too bewildered to laugh and too scared to leave, but Doug even found a way to handle their displeasure. At one point he offered to purposely turn his back on the crowd so the people not enjoying the show could walk out without feeling awkward for doing so. Some of the frightened geriatrics kindly accepted his offer. I hadn’t seen old people that bewildered since Sam Waterston sounded the alarm on robot attacks for Old Glory Insurance. Stanhope described the show as the most fun he’d ever had bombing. I would describe it as the most fun I’ve had seeing a truly great comic make something out of what could have been absolutely nothing. He did over an hour in a situation where I would have quit a half-second after my minimum required time. The man is a beast.
He’s also too modest to admit it or to try to instill unprompted comedy wisdom. Aside from busting my balls for ending my set on some less than belly busting laughter a couple of times–- excuse me, Mr. Stanhope, for wanting to get off the stage after sweating half my water weight off. The gas chambers in Treblinka had better ventilation than some of the places we performed. Aside from the ball busting, he was never critical or overbearing with condescending advice. All you needed to learn you could learn by just watching the man at work. Seeing him crush with a whole new hour and a half of material was enough to show how a comic at the top of his game gets things done, and how far away I’m from getting there.
Speaking of which, I’d rather not even talk about my set in Ft. Pierce. I’ve never been happier to have an emcee introduce me by the wrong name. If anybody asks, “Ricky Velendes” was the opener that night.
My name was botched again two days later in Tampa, FL. That time I was introduced as “John Caliendo.” I have no idea who “John Caliendo” is, or if he’s a real person, but I like to imagine he’s somehow related to Frank and he does a killer Al Michaels impression.
Getting my name mispronounced isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with and it doesn’t even bother me anymore. The only reason I mention it is because I recognized the local comic who introduced me that night. The last time I had seen him, was almost exactly seven years ago that day. Coincidentally, he was the same comic who won the comedy competition I performed in the first time I ever did stand-up comedy. It was a competition where first prize was a week-long booking on a cruise ship. I was introduced as “Charles Valencia” and I got about half a laugh during the length of my five-minute set (That’s 0.02 LPM’s for the bookers keeping score). I never made it past the preliminary round.
Seven years and three weeks later, I have yet to set foot on a cruise ship, my name is still regularly botched during introductions, and I can’t get booked at the comedy club of the city in which I started. Instead I spent three weeks in a van, getting drunk at shitty hotels (with cockroaches, frogs, and majestic views of brick walls), nursing hangover indigestion, witnessing after-party fights, traveling to small theaters, comedy clubs, smoky punk rock dives and wearing ridiculously fancy suits onstage.
All that just to perform for some of the best, most hardcore, open-minded, intelligent comedy fans in America, opening for my favorite stand-up comedian in the world, and having the best time I’ve ever had in the seven years I’ve been doing stand-up comedy. My only regret is not getting to know more of those fans, so I could invite them to come to my shows, too. The good thing about doing shows with Stanhope though, is that if you forget to get the crowd’s info for your mailing list, you can still find most of them in each city by checking the local sex offender registry.
That is, with the exception of Fort Pierce, FL.