The fundamental difference between comedy and music is that everyone has made someone laugh. Whether you think you're funny or not, you've told a joke, you've taken a shot to the nuts, or you've made someone so uncomfortable they reacted with laughter just to break the tension. You may have picked up a guitar at a party or beat the hell out of a steering wheel when you just had to drum along, but that moment didn't make you a musician -- and, in the same way, being funny doesn't make you a comedian.
But more often than not, comedy gets grouped in with music, simply because there's nowhere else to put it. When I raise this point in an interview with comedian Doug Stanhope, he agrees. "It's funny you say that, because comedy is what gets all the people who really have no discernible talent but want to make the parlay 50 -- the fame and that -- a reality." As a comic who's been labeled "un-bookable" as often as "brilliant," there's none better to manifest such a notion.
Stanhope is nearing 50. He's been a comedian for more than 25 years, and he's the first to point out that his career is waning. "Anyone my age is on their way down, statistically," he says. He then rattles off a few names that may still be relevant, and challenged me to name just one more. On the spot, I blurt out "Bill Cosby," immediately realizing the error in my thinking as the sound of laughter comes through the speaker. "Bill Cosby is not relevant!" Stanhope laughs. "All of a sudden he goes out and tours now, and people show up because it's cute that an old man can make words. He hasn't been relevant since fucking maybe the early '80s." Stanhope is right: If a comedian isn't simply overlooked by that age, they're either not funny or ignored. But that's not all bad.
"The only good thing about aging is you honestly don't give a fuck," Stanhope explains. "You used to pretend not to give a fuck, but did. Now you don't. People still show up at my shows. It's like Pearl Jam: You don't know a song they have done in the last twenty years, but they get a dedicated audience. They show up."
Stanhope's comedy defies categorization. One could label him as political, satirical, insult, blue or even black. "I do not know if that is someone kidding, or if someone means 'black comedy' as in 'very dark comedy.' Or if someone is being funny and saying that I am a Def Jam act," he jokes.
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