Doug Stanhope has hosted a lot of rowdy parties at his Bisbee home, but it wasn’t until little-known Portland, Ore., comedian Kristine Levine came by that the police were called.
Seems Levine, a regular on the cable comedy “Portlandia,” has a bit of a potty mouth, and Stanhope’s neighbors didn’t appreciate what they heard coming out of that mouth.
“He said to me, ‘Do you know how many parties I’ve had at my house? Do you know how many times the police have been called? Never. Until now. You’re the first one. It wasn’t because of the noise. It wasn’t because of the band. It was because of your language,’” Levine said, letting out a contagious giggle that seems to punctuate much of what she says.
The police might want to be on standby Friday night when Levine performs her raw blend of profanity-laced, extremely off-color comedy at Plush.
“I am bringing my ‘A’ game to this thing,” she promised during a phone interview two weeks ago from her Portland home.
It’s her Tucson debut, and it’s courtesy of Stanhope, whose comic fortunes have risen significantly since the two met in 1999 at a gathering of comics in Los Angeles. Stanhope is presenting the show, and Tucson comedian Kevin William Lee is hosting.
Stanhope will do a few minutes to open the night, but it’s all about Levine.
“He’s doing a little bit, and I guess that’s going to be filmed for the BBC, and the rest is all my show. I’m doing an hour,” she said, sounding like she still didn’t quite believe that Stanhope, who was featured in Esquire magazine in October and in the New York Times in September, is opening for little-known her.
“This comedian in Portland said to me, ‘Hey, I don’t mean to be a (jerk), but why is Stanhope opening for you?’ I said, ‘I know. I understand what you’re saying,’” said the 43-year-old, who recently lost her longtime day job as the world’s best porn store clerk.
“I actually think everybody’s going to leave. I’ll be background noise as people walk out. I wouldn’t stay. After seeing him I would think, ‘(Expletive) it. How is it going to get better than that? She better be (expletive) funny!’”
Which is why she’s bringing her best material, covering all the happy little topics she explores: abortion, date rape, why dying is not a bad thing. Levine is best described as a cross between the domestic goddess of the double-wide, Roseanne Barr, and the legendary politically incorrect Lenny Bruce. She is oftentimes crass and ultimately daring.
“I choose to kick water up the hill,” she said. “I choose to make impossible things funny. It is hard and it doesn’t always work. But I feel like I have to do it because if you don’t laugh, you will cry.”
There’s humor in tragedy, she explained, then recounted her troubled childhood — raised by an alcoholic mom and a dad who didn’t really pay much attention — and even more troubled adulthood.
By the time she was 21 she was divorced — twice — and had two kids, one from each hubby. She later remarried husband No. 1, had a third child and tiptoed into stand-up comedy while working part time at the adult bookstore.
She never realized she was ignoring her husband — or that he was depressed and drinking heavily — until he came to her one day six or seven years ago and said he was leaving for Australia to be with a woman he met through Startrek.com. He returned three weeks later as if nothing had happened, and their lives spiraled even further downhill. He attempted suicide and was put in a hospital with padded rooms.
She divorced him. “For better or worse” couldn’t possibly include this, she reasoned.
“When you look at that you go, ‘Aw geez, that’s awful.’ But I think if I share it in a funny way or make light of it, I think it makes other people feel not so bad about where they are at,” she said. “We’re all hurting. It’s OK to just enjoy the ride, to just have a good time.”
Almost nothing is off-limits for Levine, including her children, who inherited their mother’s chubby physique and her sense of humor. Mom and kids do podcasts and the kids — her youngest son is 16 and lives at home; her daughter is 21 and lives in nearby Corvallis, Ore.; and her oldest son, now 23, lives at home while he goes to college — are oftentimes more profane than their mom.
But there was that one time not long ago when Levine went too far. She was in a small town in Washington state, telling a joke that had to do with child molesters. The audience groaned; one man gasped. She continued. He gasped louder.
She found out later from a woman in the audience that apparently the town was experiencing an especially high number of child molestations and was, in fact, holding a town meeting on the issue the very next week.
“So I don’t do that bit anymore,” Levine said with a pained laugh. “It’s just a good rule of thumb now: Wherever I go, I read the paper.”
Instead, she’ll stick to issues closer to home, like the one about how she lost her porn shop gig in August:
“This is going to sound silly, but I have just lost my passion for it … after 15 years. I just don’t have any love for the work any more,” she explained. “This is going to sound even dumber. I kinda used to feel like I was helping people. I was doing the Lord’s work. People would come in and sometimes you get regulars. It was just the home of the walking wounded. … After awhile, it just got to the point that I did not give any kind of a (expletive) about it. I did not care. It got to the point where I was openly insulting the customers.”
Levine jokes that she is giving Stanhope his big career break as her opening act on Friday. “I hope he gets famous from it,” she said, then burst into laughter.
Seriously, she said, if it weren’t for Stanhope, she’s not sure she would have had her comedy career.
“He has been one of my champions. I don’t know what I would have done without him,” she said. “I don’t know how I would navigate this comedy world without him.
“If it weren’t for Doug, I really wouldn’t have any kind of business sense. He knows all that stuff. I couldn’t have done anything without him.”