Arriving 20 minutes early instead of the suggested 60 minutes early, I walked into a sold-out, jam-packed Punchline Comedy Club in North Sacramento, which was quite a sight to behold. The backdrop of the cozy and intimate venue is a talented artist's rendition of the cityscape, casting Downtown Sac in a bold and vaguely neon light.
Seeing people in every single seat available reinforced my preconceived notion that Doug Stanhope is a comic genius, but I will admit it made me a bit nervous about getting a quality spot. In every other instance, I would have called ahead and let the management know that I was writing an article about the event and would appreciate whatever accommodations they could provide, but this is Stanhope, dammit, and I wanted to feel the experience like any other bloke who is willing to shell out good money to be reprimanded, marginalized, and, when the 45-year-old Arizona native is on his game, highly entertained.
I was led toward a tall, skinny wooden bar chair barely visible between two small circular tables featuring over a dozen folks. Luckily, everyone was cool, and a half dozen fellow patrons moved their tall chairs to accommodate me. Unfortunately, my chair was slightly less comfortable than a bicycle with the seat missing, and I had to readjust every two or three minutes throughout the course of a two-hour show in order to maintain proper blood circulation.
Stanhope came out after an oafish and self-admittedly strange looking gentleman named Junior had the crowd in the palm of his hand before descending into incoherent barks that were the unmistakable hoof prints of a comic humoring himself as 200+ waited politely to see the esteemed gentleman who would succeed him on this Tuesday evening.
The main event took the stage wearing his signature slightly-oversized plaid sport coat with a large, robust tie and reddish-orange pants. There were some clear moments of glory and pure, unfiltered truth, as seen in Stanhope’s lambasting of the cancer industry and its overabundance of fundraising and overall absence of breakthroughs, as well as the extended metaphor he skillfully and impulsively wove in response to an audience member defending the support of causes via bumper stickers.
The evening concluded with a graphic and drawn-out explanation of a bizarre fantasy wherein Stanhope had his way with what can only be perceived to be Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson – whom he described in vivid detail without naming – during a nationally televised regular season game.
The tale was the culmination of a night that featured a large handful of hints that Stanhope is quickly tiring of his annual grind. I sensed this as he looked directly into my eyes on various occasions throughout the night. I'm not sure if this was a result of me being positioned at a key 45-degree angle viewpoint or the bright white Lake Tahoe hat I wore glowing in the light from the lamp hanging above me.
Stanhope threatened to not return to Sacramento and essentially dared people to stop showing up to see him in the most polite and forthcoming way while laying into the region surrounding the club for being dull and boring. In truth, the club is located in the middle of a massive grid of commerce and industry, hardly the city's best foot forward in terms of culture. Nonetheless, the crowd applauded his razor wit and alcohol-fueled boldness throughout the evening as he threw back a variety of colorful drinks shuttled to him from the bar via a women named Bingo in a slick and shiny Mardi Gras feathered ensemble. Would I go see Stanhope again next year? Maybe. Probably. Well, yes. As long as I was given a comfortable seat.