June 03, 2017 – Doug Stanhope

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What can I say about Doug Stanhope – people either know his comedy work or they don’t. Whether or not the name rings a bell, there’s a healthy chance you’ve seen him. He was a prankster on Spy TV, co-hosted The Man Show with comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, and has an admirable collection of stand-up specials under his belt. He has also guest starred on Louis CK’s hit television show Louie, started his own podcast in 2013, has been collaborating with actor Johnny Depp, and recently drafted a book called “Digging Up Mother: A Love Story.”

When I moved to Bisbee, Arizona in 2011, I hadn’t ever heard of Doug Stanhope (although I realized after-the-fact that I had seen several of his works). During the annual Bisbee Home Tour, an elderly gentleman – who had been regaling me with treacherously graphic Vietnam war stories – told me about this interesting house he’d toured over in the Warren District – it was the Stanhope Compound. A few months later, my girlfriend and I were invited to a Superbowl party over there and all the pieces fell into place.

He was a gracious host. A pretty and relatively quiet guy, it seemed – a radical shift from his opinionated, anarchic, cynical stage performances. From everything I’ve gathered, he chose Bisbee because it’s a remote location, away from the madness of Hollywood. He spends a tremendous amount of time on the road, so it makes sense to have a quiet, sleepy, bizarre little high desert town to retreat to.

In the years since then, I’ve consumed just about as much of his comedy and writing as possible. His cynicism and outright rage at our political system, at social justice activism, and at art in general – almost always clutching a cocktail – absolutely resonates with me. I also found it refreshing to wander about the grocery store or stand in line at a local bodega for a cup of coffee and see a man like Stanhope – a successful performer and, by all accounts, a celebrity – milling about and saying hello to people just like anybody else; no grandeur, no need for a posse of sycophantic parasites, he doesn’t appear to treat anybody like they’re beneath him.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, check him out. I believe Beer Hall Putsch is still on Netflix, and there are plenty of clips on YouTube to dig through.

Today’s image was taken at The Bisbee Royale in the winter of 2012, during a stand-up performance filmed by the BBC. He returned to The Royale in November 2015 to shoot No Place Like Home, which you can watch here. He’s a genuine talent and I am very honored to have had the chance to wander around backstage and take his photograph.

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I Got A Fever…

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Sometimes I just like to sit down and spit-ball ideas. It can’t all be one big magnum-opus, and I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time away from the drafting table and too much time prepping for my ‘Image of the Day‘ project. At one point or another last week – I can’t remember precisely – I overheard somebody quoting the famous Christopher Walken/Will Farrell sketch that made fun of the cowbell intro to Fear The Reaper.

I felt like taking a break from the daily routine and pay proper homage. I had actually started this piece a long time ago, but it was nice to have an excuse to sit down and finish it. Hope you like it!

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Dumb And Dumber – Don’t Fall Off The Jetway Again

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It’s unfortunate when we have to forgive a franchise it’s latter-day sins, but it happens. Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes we fall off those shoulders. “Dumb & Dumber” was one of the unique films that was tremendously effective in its comedy specifically because it didn’t know it would be so great. It was earnest in its approach but knew how to take risks. It respected its audience and it never pretended to be anything other than what it was: a story of two dimwits on a road-trip. It’s a “buddy comedy” through-and-through. Even though the sequel appears to have been a nostalgic cash-grab, that alone cannot unseat the genuine brilliance of the 1994 classic.

The real train-wreck is a film that aspires to dramatic greatness when, at best, it’s a soap opera. We’ve all watched a comedy that over-clocked the same joke, much to our boredom and disappointment. We’ve seen humor recycled ad infinitum and we’ve seen movies that desperately hope a successful punchline from one feature will lead to success in another, a laziness and hubris of film-making that plagues the Hollywood circuit to this day. One of the reasons the new “Ghostbusters” trailer has caught so much negative criticism is because of this. The “that’s gonna leave a mark” gag stretches back as far as Jack Benny and Peter Sellers; it has been uttered by John Candy in “Spaceballs,” Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy,” and Michael Richards (Kramer) in multiple episodes of “Seinfeld,” and this is naming only a very select few.

In the end, audiences recognize when a film is out of its depth, trying too hard for an Oscar, or taking its audience for granted. “Dumb and Dumber” never did this. The characters were honest and three-dimensional, with their own histories and aspirations and shortcomings. A quick glance might reveal a flimsy animated cartoon cell, but an honest viewing of the whole movie shows us characters of agency, two outsiders fumbling about in a world they don’t (and because of their intellectual limitations, can’t) understand.

The Harry and Lloyd characters of “Dumb and Dumber” fulfill the “fish out of water” trope on two important levels. On the first level, they’re too dumb to function in society in any meaningful capacity. They struggle to hold down simple jobs, can’t pay their bills on time, are gullible enough to be swindled by a disabled elderly woman on a motorized cart. On the second level is where we, the audience, can actually meet them halfway and begin to relate to them rather than just laughing at them. On the second level, after finding a suitcase full of money, the duo winds up attempting to blend-in with high-society, a subterfuge that clearly doesn’t work but motivates us to think about how wealth is expressed in our society. It’s never the nugget ring or the gaudy fringed cowboy boots, no matter how expensive, that ever expresses refinement. It’s always something more subtle – the brand of watch, the fold of the pocket square, the part of the hair.

The premise of “Dumb and Dumber” is absurd, yes, but the characters are deployed with such gleeful honesty that it’s difficult not to want to see them succeed. That the film is goofy and recognizes that it’s goofy is what makes it successful. So strap into the Shaggin’ Wagon, stock up on your Binaka, and please, be sure not to fall off the jet-way again.

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A Look Back At “Dumb And Dumber”

Seabass postI loved “Dumb & Dumber.” Absolutely loved it. I saw it at the perfect time in my life to truly appreciate its magnificent stupidity while also getting a hint that there was a thoughtful craft behind the crude humor, a quiet genius necessary for this kind of movie to work. That’s right, the perfect time in my life: adolescence.

Two years ago, after finishing the first season of “The Newsroom,” I was pleased to see a picture of Jeff Daniels dressed as his “Dumb & Dumber” character, Harry Dunne, on my newsfeed. Talk about timing, right? As it turns out, the actor went immediately from wrapping the most recent season of his amazingly well-performed – and somewhat serious – HBO drama to once again act the fool with compatriot James Carrey. Twenty years later.

I could have guessed, even before the teaser trailer was released, that this was going to be a throw-away nostalgia grab-bag, a “hey, let’s cash a check” kind of movie. Comedy sequels have this awful habit of ham-fistedly repackaging the same jokes from their franchise, recycling winning punch-lines and tropes. It is a stupid trick that rarely, if ever, works. This usually doesn’t prevent one or two sequels from dribbling out of successful film properties. Quite frankly, after twenty years of lying dormant, I’m surprised this one even got made.

I enjoyed seeing the characters again, and I dusted off my old VHS copy of the original “Dumb & Dumber,” a hunk of plastic I bought previously viewed from a supermarket in Kansas. If you put a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing about “Dumb and Dumber To.” It was just that forgettable. I laughed a few times, I think, but nothing really stands out. One might suppose that being forgettably bland is a notch above being memorably awful. And hey, I had an excuse to watch the original one more time, and that was enough to put a smile on my face.

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