Doug Stanhope, Leicester Square Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

This is a man who once compared the workings of his mind to the chaotic sounds of a fairground, so it's a bit unfair to expect Doug Stanhope to gather his thoughts and theme his shows.

However, it's fitting that for a former US presidential candidate (for the Libertarian Party, until financial rules imposed by election law forced him to quit) one discernible theme in this 80-minute show is leadership. His message is that people can be led politically (sexually and romantically, too), but that leaders cannot, in themselves, lead.

Stanhope will be voting Obama, but only as a casting director would choose someone "watchable" for a long stint on our screens. "If you need a leader, hire a dominatrix," he splutters.

Al Gore, Stanhope says, never gave the real answer to that inconvenient truth: that overpopulation is the major contributor to our environmental woes. But Stanhope is on hand to elucidate: "The only reason to have a baby in those places [Darfur] is to eat it." He's clearly talking about Third World overpopulation, but a heckler demands to know where he's coming from. "What's my point?" repeats the incredulous Stanhope. "Incentive-inspired eugenics." It's a telling riposte.

He's less clear on how leaders avoid talking about issues. There's a clumsy routine about Sarah Palin and her Down syndrome baby. It's a lurid section, and it can't deal with real concerns. "If they [the politicians] aren't talking about the issues, why should I?" the comedian pleads.

Rather than his usual dishevelled look, Stanhope looks boyish, wearing an ice-hockey shirt and appearing suitably buoyant. His exuberance may have run away with him in his Palin routine, but the vitality of this engrossing comedian ranges over more pressing issues for his countrymen, such as free healthcare. Americans, he says, are always delighted when something is free but free healthcare will only encourage the obese to tuck in even more heartily. Besides, it would be just another example of the false hope that Stanhope says "we [the US] give our kids freely", as opposed to the attitude in the UK, which is: "Here's a Guinness, you're screwed."

There's a sense that Stanhope likes the straight-talking attitude of us Brits. On this night, there's every sign that the feeling is mutual.

To 23 September (0844 847 2475)

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