”I’m Doug Stanhope and that’s why I drink.”
Most fans of comedy would agree that Doug Stanhope is one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time. A legendary road comic with some of the best drink and drug-fueled stories ever told, has garnered the respect of his peers and a loyal fan base without ever becoming too mainstream. As fellow stand-up legend Louis C.K put it: “The fact that he is not hugely famous is a choice entirely his own”.
His intelligent, dark, and often offensive brand of humour has been hugely influenced by his, some might say strange, relationship with his mother Bonnie. ‘Digging Up Mother’ chronicles Doug’s life, from the troubled early years growing up in Paxton, Massachusetts, through to the professional drunk/comedian he is today whilst also shedding light on his ever evolving relationship with his mother.
It is rare to find a book as honest and as frank as this one. The first chapter, in which he describes, how he assisted his mother commit suicide through a morphine overdose sets the tone perfectly. A harrowing, somewhat unsettling opening but, thanks to Doug, makes you laugh your balls off throughout. Shouting at your terminally ill mother, ”Hey, Ma! Wait!! They found a cure!” after she’s just downed enough liquid morphine to take down the entire New Zealand rugby team, whilst getting blind drunk and watching Bad Santa (her favourite movie) is exactly the kind of adult I want to be.
I have honestly never laughed as much reading a book in my life (except maybe The Da Vinci Code or The Bible). From discovering a ‘woman of the night’ was actually a man to combing through vomit to find a tab of LSD, to his correspondence with ‘Death Row Victor’, it is full of insane, wonderful and sometimes beautifully hilarious moments. The book also has some gross out moments too; Doug’s description of how the much older Cookie ‘cleaned’ herself during a threesome with Doug and her husband still gives me nightmares. I will never look at a cookie the same way again.
Bonnie Stanhope’s story takes up a lot of page time and that is not a bad thing at all. She is an incredibly interesting woman, who had her fair share of troubles too. A hoarder/former porn reviewer/big rig driver/cat toucher who clearly loved her son (maybe too much). Her troubles with men, alcoholism and anxiety are well documented and you really do start to care a lot about this woman whom you’ve never met. Her diary entries are so frank and brutal that it can leave you feeling quite emotional. Don’t worry though; Doug brings you back every time.
It’s also a good book for showing just how difficult a job being a stand-up comedian is. Sure you can go to an open mic night, do well and take it from there, but to be one of the best like Doug you need to put in some incredibly hard hours. The constant touring and living out the back of your car is not something that springs to mind when watching Michael McIntyre pretending that he’s funny.
All in all, a truly wonderful book from one of the greatest comedy minds the world has ever seen, with an ending that I will admit, brought a tear to my eye. The story of Doug’s life, and his mother Bonnie, is incredibly engrossing and is one that I will be going back to time and time again. I wish I could do it more justice but i can’t: I’m not a great writer. Doug is though. Buy his book. Hell, I’ll let you borrow my copy. That’s how much I want people to read it. If not, check him out on Netflix: ‘Deadbeat Hero’ or ‘Beerhall Putsch’ will not disappoint you.