Many of longtime standup comedian Doug Stanhope’s lazy-ass fans, like my wife, will want to know if his new memoir Digging Up Mother: A Love Story from Da Capo Press is as funny as one of his standup performances. The answer is no. It’s much funnier.
I should confess—this review, while 100% genuine and inevitable, is first and most importantly a cheap ploy to try convincing Doug to read my forthcoming memoir Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison and hopefully provide a blurb and maybe even a little review if he likes its dark, depraved, shameless humor as much as I think he will. Maybe we can even do some readings/book signings together!—if you’re not gonna dream big as a writer, might as well quit now. Also I took (prescribed) Ritalin to help me concentrate enough to write this—if you’ve taken ADD meds you know why this matters.
With that out of the way, Digging Up Mother is fantastic. The humor lives up to Stanhope’s reputation for brazen, even blithe twistedness. The book describes his hilarious lifelong penchant for schemes, scams, pranks, and general tomfuckery, detailing literally dozens of them. The biggest laugh-out-loud sequence for me had to be his wedding day. His bride Renee got so hammered beforehand that her friends gave her ecstasy just to keep her standing. The best man was selected using video poker. Stanhope hired a “graphically obese” Elvis impersonator called Extreme Elvis. After the ceremony, most of the band stripped naked while performing, including Extreme Elvis—who urinated into a pint glass then guzzled it down, and plucked a backup singer’s tampon from her vagina and then chewed and spit it toward the fleeing audience. “The quality of the musicianship was being overlooked,” Stanhope writes, “people focusing more on Elvis jamming two fingers up his own ass, then sauntering through the crowd, crooning while he gently swirled those fingers in their drinks” (234).
Through it all, Stanhope somehow manages to touch the reader with surprising poignancy. Partly via his and Mother’s relationship and her supportiveness. Even when he was just the troublesome class clown: “Mother saw my humor and creativity . . . I was fortunate enough to have a parent . . . allow me the freedom to follow my own path” (29). Indeed, Stanhope makes clear that without her cheering him on, he may never have stuck with comedy. “She was my rock and my muse and my only fan that mattered” (162). Then there’s his doting affection for longtime girlfriend Bingo, a schizoaffective bipolar. Her mental illness—she once walked down the street naked in midday while talking into a banana, legitimately thinking it was a phone—doesn’t detract from his fierce love. “I wish my vocabulary held a better word than ‘love’ for all of the emotions I felt about her, how she made me alive. They don’t live in a thesaurus” (271). Digging Up Mother’s juxtaposition of the repulsive and the beautiful is exquisite.
The writing on a barebones level is top-notch. Dark little gems are peppered throughout the narrative, like “Anyone who says that suicide is never the answer hasn’t heard all of the questions” (179) and “Children are abhorrent to me and I believe abortion should be mandatory” (228). Though I’m sure he had a great editor, his narrative talents are abundantly evident. This is never a given—just because you can write an act that leaves audiences in stitches doesn’t mean you can write a book worth dogshit! If you’ve seen or heard his show Beer Hall Putsch, you know that Doug and Bingo helped guide Mother through her 2008 suicide as she quaffed Morphine and Black Russians, but his memoir fills things out superbly. Like how the mortuary people arrived the next morning and assumed Bingo, sprawled out on the couch in a Xanax- and booze-induced deadsleep, was the corpse—and went to take her body away. Nothing is sacred (nor should it be); Stanhope matter-of-factly writes of his limitations as Kevorkianist: “. . . the idea of holding up [Mother’s] deflated ass-cheek while she forces out a mushy yogurt turd . . . no” (4).
Doug Stanhope’s memoir is unquestionably one of the funniest books I’ve read. Its terrific writing and utterly unexpected emotional wallop make it that much better. I can only hope this isn’t the sole memoir he writes—I’m hooked. Read it with an unclenched sphincter and you will be too. Unless you’re a total pussy, of course.
Sitting front row at one of Stanhope’s shows at the Brea Improv in 2013, I offered him LSD during the show. I’m gonna go drop some right now to celebrate that I finally wrote this fucking review. I think Doug would be proud. Now he just needs to contact me about our epic mutual book readings!
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