Judge Ike Oden's ears are burning.
"It's a mixture of Fight Club meets a high school dance…and it might not look like your typical HBO special, but it's real as shit."—Doug Stanhope
Doug Stanhope (The Man Show) performs one of the rawest specials to come along in some time in Oslo: Burning The Bridge To Nowhere. Recorded in an abandoned chocolate factory in the suburbs of Oslo, Norway, the special gives Doug only 36 hours to prepare before the show. Even worse, the special's audience is a group of Norwegians who know English only as a second language. Not only is there a language barrier, but they're all uncomfortably seated in folding chairs chaotically arranged around the factory's small stage for the ninety-minute show. As a final hurdle, the whole affair is shot from the most unflattering, poorly lit angles possible. Stand-up fans be warned, this isn't Comedy Central Presents Doug Stanhope, but a beast of an entirely different sort.
As a fan of standup comedy, I get incredibly sick of overpolished, standard-TV specials that take comedians' acts, re-arrange them, layer audience reactions with post-production laughs, and censor jokes willy-nilly. Doug Stanhope's Oslo is the total opposite, a DIY special that revels in Stanhope's drunken, offensive vision of stand-up comedy. The man is in total control of his act, but that's the only thing he's allowed control of. The film crew, the audience, and the venue are his wild cards, making Stanhope's antagonistic brand of humor even more aggressive.
It isn't always funny, but that's sort of the point. We see Stanhope stumble a bit, but the pleasure of the performance is in his recovery. The guy can think on his feet and relishes engaging his audience one-on-one with in-your-face bravado. His material is rambling, edgy mixture of political, sexual and scatological subject matter. He tosses terms like "faggot" and "nigger" around liberally while exploring the nature of modern discrimination (giving it some added shock value). Stanhope isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but he has a strong humanist message, a unique view of the world, and a knack for combining personal philosophy with self-deprecating humor. Well, that, and he's funny as hell. If you dig angry comedians like George Carlin, Bill Hicks or Dennis Leary, Stanhope's Oslo is right up your alley.
The special's bizarro handheld-shooting style, often from profile or low angles, fits Doug's material surprisingly well. His subject matter is dark, bleak, and unrepentantly doubtful of any inherent goodness in humanity, so the harsh lighting and grungy décor creates the right atmosphere. The crowd gets into it too, much to the chagrin of Stanhope, who seems more comfortable being jeered than being the subject of adoration. That said, there's a lot to admire about his performance here, and given the nature of his international venue, it's a revelation he pulls of the majority of his jokes so spectacularly.
Roadrunner's CD/DVD combo is a nice set. Being a low-budget special, the video image of the DVD is far from superb, but that's sort of the point, isn't it? The low-tech, shot-on-digital look has more spark and vivacity than specials you're going to see on cable. The audio quality is a solid stereo track. Stanhope is a mumbler, so jokes sometimes get lost in the delivery, but the track does its job. The same can be said of the CD, which edits the special down a bit, but retains the vast majority of the DVD performance. Extras are slim, with only an introduction and a hidden deleted scene, but the special is so long one can hardly complain about a lack of content.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Roadrunner Records
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