If the depth of a relationship is judged by the number of cocaine-fueled stories shared, Doug Stanhope and Amy “Bingo” Bingaman are a match made in heaven. To suggest that the couple lives “outside the box” is an understatement. Before they jumped off a cliff to escape their pursuers, Stanhope compared them to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Stanhope and Bingo teeter on the precipice of anarchy and suicide, adventure and self-destruction, unable or unable to submit to society’s rules.
Doug Stanhope is a bitingly intelligent and nauseatingly dark comedian whose activities are even more bizarre than his stand-up routines. His cheerful cynicism has garnered him a legion of followers, but he’s no stand-up comic. Rather, the phrase “comic’s funny” appears in practically every description of him. “On the night I do the act,” Stanhope has said, “I’m only famous within 100 feet of my show.”
Bingo, his blue-haired, bipolar, schizoaffective girlfriend, has a dozen different personalities. Her outfits are all Tim Burton-inspired, and they go nicely with Stanhope’s wild-patterned, throwback suits and mismatched ties.
It’s simple to understand how they’ve spent over a decade together, and it’s difficult to imagine either of them lasting that long with anybody else. Stanhope’s followers were heartbroken about the couple’s brief breakup, which was publicized on Stanhope’s podcast after he screwed a stripper on a cruise ship while Bingo was still in their room.
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Bingo was already planned on leaving him for a desert hillbilly named “Washtub Willie” because their relationship was semi-open. Bingo returned to Stanhope after a few months of living off-the-grid with Willie, pooping in outhouses and hoarding wild owls, proclaiming that they were a package deal and that she couldn’t survive without him.
Doug and Bingo’s home life is unexpectedly charming, if not a touch odd. While most renowned comedians live in New York or Los Angeles, Stanhope doesn’t appear to be a fan of living in the city. Because he can’t stand the growth of “industry tools” and ladder climbing in Los Angeles, he moved to Bisbee, Arizona, a little border town.
Bisbee, a former mining town turned artists’ commune, is the kind of place where everyone knows your name (all 5,500 of them), and Stanhope’s “fun house” is the sole sports bar in town.
The pair lives in a compound with brilliantly painted homes, caravans, and tin palm trees, and the walls are covered in paintings of Bingo by artist Gretchen Baer, who considers Bingo to be her muse. Regular visitors include slackers, humorous losers, and the mayor of the town, who come to watch football in the “fun house,” listen to Stanhope’s podcast, play Bingo, and drink gallons of vodka sodas.
The estate also has a “suicide house,” where their former roommate Derrick committed suicide after his partner died of Lupus complications. Derrick’s mother, Charlotte, discovered the body first, followed by Bingo. She describes the incident as a “beautiful but terrible love story,” and she wears the gunshot-damaged wall as a necklace.
During Stanhope’s breakup episode, it becomes evident that the experience had a significant influence on her mental state. She admits to having major questions about the nature of her reality and, in a dark turn, tells the crew that she will have to kill herself at some point. Both fans and Stanhope were left wondering if Bingo will come back for the following episode towards the end of the show.
Fortunately, the two made later appearances in Stanhope, when she admitted to being heavily medicated but doing much better. When asked about dating Stanhope and having him publicize her personal life, she told the Guardian, “I had to own up to who I am, it’s out there.” It’s helpful now that I can discuss it; it’s not a big problem.”
Stanhope didn’t hold back the jokes when she fell into a coma after splitting her head following a cocaine-fueled seizure before her 40th birthday party last November, tweeting that Bingo “fell went boom.” “All I could think is that’s how she used to fake orgasms,” he added in a fuller explanation on his podcast. “BTW, Inappropriate jokes as welcome as hopes, prayers, wishes,” he tweeted afterward.
After a month in the hospital, Stanhope posted on his website, “Bingo on the mend,” informing everyone that she was fully conscious, making good progress, and would be returning home to heal. She’s generally remained hidden since the Bingo coma in 2016, as any over-stimulation would be harmful. In early March, she finally addressed her admirers directly, writing on Facebook, “I’m alive!” and thanking everyone for their help and support.
Stanhope has been chastised for his harsh approach to Bingo’s coma, but he deals with everything through humor. The more deeply affected he becomes, the more he clings to his sense of humor. Making light of an issue can both diminish it and provide consolation when facing it head-on is impossible. Stanhope’s mother committed suicide at the age of 63…with his help.
Stanhope’s memoir Digging Up Mother: A Love Story tells the story of Bonnie, his chain-smoking, pill-popping, job-hopping mother. Bonnie was a suicidal lady who did everything from truck driving to bartending to reviewing porn, a type of deadbeat Renaissance woman, or, as Stanhope puts it, “evil yet all heart,” according to his accounts.
His mother is responsible for his sense of humor. She started placing Hustler magazines about the house and taking him to see Richard Pryor as soon as he could read, not to mention AA meetings, where he’d listen to former drunks tell strange stories about their prior lives. Stanhope’s sense of humor had become so black by the time he was in elementary school that he was frequently sent home and placed in counseling.
Bonnie had reportedly discussed terminating her life frequently, especially after being diagnosed with terminal emphysema. Stanhope compares the sickness to “drowning in your fluids, like being endlessly waterboarded” in his book. When his mother eventually told him she was ready to depart the world, he arranged the proper medications, drove Bonnie to his house, and threw her a cocktail party to end all cocktail parties, complete with white Russians mixed with morphine and a fair dosage of ridicule, with the help of the the Bingo. If it had been written as fiction, it would have been the perfect death party for Stanhope and his mother.
Stanhope’s caustic humor, which makes Daniel Tosh look like Shirley Temple, is filled with silliness and crudity, as one might expect. His jokes are often so offensive that you have to put your food down to listen to them, such as his role in the film The Aristocrats, in which he manages to make the most revolting joke known to man even more revolting by telling it to a newborn. Then there are his exploits as a child molester baiter on AOL.
He’s no shock jock, despite everything. His jokes have a point, and it isn’t to gain attention. The twisted profanity and violence are rarely the joke’s purpose, but rather a means to get there. He discusses the distinction between a “mentally disturbed” individual (such as someone with schizophrenia) and a “mentally challenged” person in No Place Like Home (i.e. someone with Down syndrome). He imitates both of them inexcusably throughout the skit.
Now, a comic on stage saying “retard” and dancing around in an over-the-top impersonation is disrespectful. However, as the joke progresses, the audience is led to wonder why one impersonation makes them feel so much worse than the other. He concludes that, while society is generally compassionate, loving, and accommodating to the mentally challenged, it is immensely unfeeling, apathetic, and even hostile to the mentally sick.
Stanhope also acts out the ridiculousness of his gags. He ran for president in 2008 out of curiosity but dropped out after a month due to a mountain of paperwork. He raised over $100,000 for a woman in Oklahoma who lost her home in a tornado in 2013, not because he felt sorry for her, but because she informed a CNN reporter that she was an atheist when asked if she thanked God for her survival.
In a video he published following the gift, he explained, “Saying ‘I’m an atheist in Oklahoma is like yelling jihad at airport security.” Stanhope once performed in an Icelandic maximum-security jail, coining the phrase “the Stanhope defense” because the only way for his supporters to see the show was to commit a crime.
He begins a joke in “60 Inches of AIDS on Any Given Sunday” by whining about breast cancer awareness taking over the NFL and destroying his Sunday football. As he talks about watching the cameras pan across the players’ thighs in their skin-tight jeans, it takes a homoerotic turn and turns into a five-minute, incredibly violent football dream in which he rapes one of them. The joke manages to touch on the corporatization of charity, hyper-masculinity, and the underlying homosexuality and homophobic dichotomy in football in a twisted, immature fashion.
Stanhope’s comedy, whether in the shape of fantasy yarns about football fantasies or gags about his own, personal, real-life traumas, appears to work in the same way: if we could all just talk about the things that feel so weighty and unmentionable, they wouldn’t be such a huge issue. Perhaps then we will be able to face our collective challenges and the fears we have in our personal lives. Butch and Sundance were truly free when they opted to plunge off the cliff rather than resist the forces of the convention.
Gretchen Baer deserves special credit for the images of Bingo and the Stanhope property. Gretchen is a well-known artist and activist who is recognized for her vibrant oil paintings, bizarre art automobiles, and extravagantly themed musical, art, and political events. More images and original work can be seen on her website.