Friday, September 19, 2008

Shock As A Commodity

Charlie Sykes and Doug Stanhope traffic in a single commodity. They have nothing to offer for their pay except the attention of the public. They have each in their own way decided to maximize that attention by stretching the limits of the public's tolerance.

Stanhope makes his living touring as a "comedian" who deals in shock. He's taken shtick from Lenny Bruce and George Carlin and funneled it through a dark prism of Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison and then dragged it through the gutter. Stanhope counts as coup the number of patrons he can make walk out of a club at any single show.

Sykes thrives on the same anger vibe. He checks the pulse of his audience and dials down on the point where it's a single throbbing mass. Then he picks at a story that can easily be fit into one of his templates of outrage, twists the reading for maximum shock and then touches a match to bring fire to his airwaves.

Both are good at what they do. Stanhope keeps selling tickets. There are a cadre who hang on his every demented word. OTOH, I don't know anyone who's bought tickets to a second Stanhope performance. I'm not the target audience. Stanhope aims at frat boys and those who just don't think a fart joke is funny enough. At some level I'm sure he knows that his audience will outgrow his act but he knows that he has another class coming in right behind.

Sykes is probably the smarter though. He knows that if he plays his cards right his audience will never be satisfied. If he pokes and prods just right he can keep the indignation and fear stirred up until his base gets bored or dies. I'll also give Sykes credit for being the more subtle of the two. His style of pander does provoke the non-believers so often as Stanhope.

They do share the same reaction when they are called for their lack of decency, though. "It's a joke." "You need to get a sense of humor," they'll say. "You're not a victim. Stop whining." It's the typical taunt of the bully to put the blame back on the one he's attacked. In that sense Stanhope and Sykes are just two sides of the same die as Andrew Dice Clay and Rush Limbaugh, shock comics for a new millennium.

The difference is that Clay and Stanhope know that what there saying is valueless. Limbaugh and Charlie try to make us believe they're somehow informing us. At least until someone shows them up for the bullies they are.


  1. When it comes to squawk-show hosts like Sykes and his ilk - -

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it."
    - Upton Sinclair

  2. Wow, comparing a deranged idiot to Sykes. That's really going off the deep end.
    When one offers to pay for the abortion of a child, one ceases to become funny, not that he was funny before. The comedians you mentioned were actually funny. This idiot- not funny and pathetic.

  3. Yes, Dan. That's the point of the piece. Once Sykes stops delivering the attention of his audience to his advertisers he's DTR. Ask Belling about the TV show.

    Don't overfocus on the single thing Stanhope said. This is about selling outrage and Sykes is a master at that.

    Every one of those commedians knew how to take an audience to the dark side and make them devoutly uncomfortable. Hicks, especially had a hole in his soul that could stick an audience on their assumptions like a butterfly on a board.

    Stanhope can do funny. Hell, even mickey/gus can do funny. He, like Sykes, has made a studied decision to make outrage his main commodity.

  4. Be offended if you want but Doug Stanhope is the best comedian working today. His audience is small because he says what he thinks and he'd rather keep it that way than perform at a different Zanies every night.

  5. Brad, if his audience is small, he is not the best comedian out there. It shows that he really is out of touch.

  6. Dan, it's known as finding one's niche. He must be popular enough, otherwise he would have dropped the routine.

    You're just being a hater, which explains why you defend Sykes, another hater.