Doug Stanhope, Hammersmith Apollo, London

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The Independent Culture

Just hours after Doug Stanhope left the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo, completing what could be considered a breakthrough gig, the man he tonight described as his only ever "hero", Charlie Sheen, was to play the first date of his ludicrously titled tour, My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Death Is Not an Option, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Sheen's evening would turn out to be a disaster, Stanhope's had ended a triumph.

The attraction of the hard-living multi-millionaire ex-sitcom star for the hard-living cult comic is Sheen's total disregard for fame. As Stanhope asserts, it is worth getting famous "just for one moment of being that guy".

Sheen may shine at contemptuous rebellion but Stanhope, notwithstanding his tendency to appear to get progressively drunk during his gigs and sometimes slowly recall material as if "buffering", is clearer in dispatching the targets of his ire. Tonight, they include art itself, thereby underlining his fascination with biting the hand that feeds him. Calling artists "as intolerant as the religious right", Stanhope despairs of ever collaborating with them (he lives in an artist community so he should know). In particular, he criticises playwrights who just "need a [real] job", calling the fourth wall they rely on "just rude".

Stanhope is in no mood for audience participation tonight. Strolling up and down the stage in his American football shirt he counters an interruption with: "You can shout but I will talk over you." It's as if the American is determined to shake off a too-ardent following.

Nothing is sacred, nothing is safe. Afflictions and addictions get owned by Stanhope and while some routines, such as the one about the impact of the n-word, come across as naive, he well knows what words are worth. Addiction itself, for example, is encapsulated as "things you enjoy doing more than life", a phrase greeted by howls of recognition.

"If there's a good thing in this life – but there isn't – it's love" runs another anti-pop psychology maxim that could sell alongside "carpe diem" on a postcard rack. If there's a comedian out there who is as notably quotable and as vital as Stanhope I haven't heard him or her yet. Compared to what is on offer, he's worth two-and-a-half men.