Doug Stanhope on offensive comedy
31 January 2011
RICKY Gervais doesn’t expect to be asked back to host the Golden Globes, after he annoyed Holywood A-listers by making jokes at the expense of Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr and Bruce Willis, among others.
But who cares? For me personally, a tuxedo-clad circle of malignant egos patting each other on the ass for pretending to be other people couldn’t be offended enough. I am not against actors giving themselves awards any more than plumbers or dental hygienists, but I think such events should take place in some rented banquet hall of a Holiday Inn Express.
Accusations of “offensiveness” have also been levelled at Frankie Boyle, and those do interest me for many reasons, all of which are juvenile. Nothing makes me happier than to hear about a rift between comedians taken out on the internet for all the world to see. I scramble to my laptop to read every word in anticipation of choosing sides on something that has nothing to do with me. Boyle is currently being investigated by the media regulator Ofcom over a joke he made on his Channel 4 programme, Tramadol Nights, about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey. The show also attracted complaints over quips about cancer victims running marathons, and supposed racial language in a gag about the Aghanistan conflict.
But Boyle is no stranger to controversy. Last April, he made some jokes at a show about the fine people afflicted with Down’s Syndrome only to find that a woman in the front row had a child with the same condition who made it known that she was none too pleased with the material.
Let me take a moment to say that any place where an audience member getting bent out of shape at a comedy gig can make national news is a fantastic place to be a comedian. Far more intriguing to me than the event in question would be to know how exactly it became a story. Did people rush into the streets calling 999? “Come quick! A woman’s been upset down at Ha Ha’s!” Were news crews dispatched to the scene? How did they find this woman? Were witnesses rounded up? I suppose we will never know.
But news it became, with people coming out of the sewers to berate or defend Frankie Boyle. Then another comedian – Mark Watson – became involved by suggesting on his blog that perhaps Mr Boyle did cross a line by picking on someone weaker than himself. He referred to Boyle as “rich, successful and physically healthy” to which Mr Boyle responded by calling Watson a “sellout” and a “c***”.
Any of these claims could be true as I don’t know either comic personally nor do I assume that either would want me named as sitting in their corner. I will try to remain neutral on this while clearly and loudly defending Frankie Boyle and not that other guy.
But honestly, the person who should be taking the brunt of all this is the woman who complained. All the while that I am getting vicarious thrills from the comedy infighting, it’s glaringly apparent and off-putting that nowhere in the reams of blog and news coverage did anyone take that woman to task.
Everyone instead questioned good taste versus bad or free speech against common decency, yet all of this responsibility is heaped on to the shoulders of the comedians and none on a random audience member who – for the price of a ticket – can wander into a dark room, stir up a ruckus and blend back into the sofa never to be heard from again.
How does the audience fall under the illusion that they have some right to not be offended? Certainly you have the right to not be harmed; but offended? Imagine the number of subjects that might offend any single individual and multiply that by the number of people in any given audience. Subtract all those topics from any given comic’s set list and what do you get? Mime. That’s what you get and possibly what you deserve. I’ve been booed for wearing the jersey of an offending sports team and then won the audience back with rape jokes. Who can tell?
The mother in this instance – Sharon Smith – was evidently having a fine time listening to Boyle’s show up until the point where he sat on her specific sandwich with the Down’s Syndrome jokes. Boyle is known for an extremely caustic brand of humour so it’s safe to say it wasn’t all bits about children’s television programmes and railway journeys up until that point.
People such as Mrs Smith like to wear their hardships like a crown of thorns. They define themselves by their misfortunes because they can get sympathy from them. I was a victim of this or a survivor of that. They use their trials and tribulations in place of unique personality traits. Sympathy is just another form of attention and everybody loves attention – so if you can’t get on Pop Idol, get cancer. And never go out in public without wearing the ribbon on your chest.
This is why humour is such a danger to them because if humour can diffuse the subject matter, it will diminish their sense of martyrdom. It threatens the very foundation of their identity. Media coverage like this only supports and fuels that delusion.
The fact is that really no comedian sets out to offend you. Some comics enjoy the challenge of taking a subject that is likely to be found offensive and trying to make it funny – but the object is still to make you laugh. Offence is only a calculated risk. It’s highly unlikely that a comedian whose only goal was to repulse you would ever make it past an open-mic stage, far less build a long career of touring theatres and television appearances. The jokes in question didn’t ruin the show – you did.
Like it or not, some audiences and audience members just plain suck. Theatre folks are keen on saying that there is no such thing as a bad audience, but theatre audiences have different expectations and actors are not held responsible for their own lines. If I went to see King Lear and yelled out “That’s not funny, my FATHER WAS BLIND!” – no newspaper headline would read: “Shakespeare ruins random man’s Friday night out.” Nor would any newspaper print: “Humourless mother of Down’s child spoils an evening of comedy.”
Worse still is that this Mrs Smith is quoted as saying that the material was “very childish, playground stuff, really”, and that she’d have more respect if the jokes were “clever or funny”.
So now we have a woman in the national spotlight who is upset, not at the fact that a comedian made jokes at the expense of the disabled, but at the quality of the jokes about the disabled. I’d like to hear some of the Down’s Syndrome jokes that Mrs Smith finds hilarious or high-brow.
A few years back I had a show in Edinburgh where – after I’d touched on everything from abortion to child molestation – an audience member flew into a teary rage when I casually mentioned the drug ecstasy. Her sister had died while taking the drug and the mere mention of the word had her screaming across the venue at me as though I was the one responsible for giving her sister that bad batch. I doubt very highly that if Mrs Smith had attended that show that she would have shared in the lady’s outrage. In fact, she probably would have been pissed off at this outburst screwing up my joke. So if Mrs Smith doesn’t feel compelled to take umbrage with everything that someone could find offensive, why should the comedian?
I’ve been in Frankie Boyle’s shoes more than enough times to share his odours. People get offended at a word without looking at its context. I had Ofcom problems myself after being hustled out of a BBC 6 radio interview cut short after I’d made a joke about Sarah Palin having two retarded children – one with Down’s Syndrome and one who volunteered for duty in Iraq. Some Mrs Smith summarily called the word police and filed a complaint.
Does it matter that the word “retarded” isn’t offensive to me? Just down the road from me in Douglas, Arizona, you can still find the DARC – the Douglas Association for Retarded Citizens – open for business with a large, proud sign out on the highway. The NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – is still the name for the largest civil rights organisation for ethnic minorities. Yet calling people retarded or coloured remains objectionable.
I’ve used the expression “Paki” on stage in the UK in an observation about words which are considered abusive abroad yet have little or no meaning whatsoever at home. A haemorrhoidal anguish blanketed the audience so heavily that it overrode the entire point and joke altogether. I was the only one who wasn’t squeamish, if only because I haven’t had a lifetime of people telling me that word was disparaging. Shortening Pakistani to “Paki” seems as normal to me as shortening “Timothy” to Tim” or Scientologist to “dipshit”.
People hear a buzzword or topic and start heading for the door before any context can be realised. If you say “f*** abortion” you’ll have a pro-lifer leave because you said “f***”. Whether the question is being too offensive or too banal, the answer is that playing to the audience rather than playing to your own instincts will always be a losing proposition.
There is no such thing as laughing at something you shouldn’t. You should laugh everywhere you can find even the slightest glimmer of humour. Life is a series of heartache, tragedy and injustice, punctuated by a few cocktails and that one trip to Reno. The more you can laugh at the ugliest parts, the better off you are.
It is embarrassing that it is necessary to continually point out that comedy is not only subjective but possibly the most subjective of all the “art forms”. Mrs Smith referred to what she considers “playground humour”. If there is no place for playground humour in this world, then you are saying that nobody born with a playground wit has a right to laugh. I hope that her Down’s Syndrome child can eventually learn to cultivate a taste for the layered, intellectual depths and sarcasm of a comic like Stewart Lee rather than the “pull-my-finger” fart jokes that now probably make her face light up like an angel.
(To be clear, this was no jab at Down’s Syndrome people. To date, nothing has repeatedly made me laugh – from my earliest recollections to this writing – like the sound of a turbulent, wet, angry fart. I double over in fits every time and I do so without any shame whatsoever.)
Some folks like to say “Well, that is simply not funny” about something, as though “funny” had some overlying barometer or science – like saying “that isn’t a martini” or “that isn’t water- soluble”. You may not find a comedian funny but if that comedian has the tenure, the audience and the success of someone like Frankie Boyle, it’s clear that enough people disagree with you that your opinion is really of no significance. Go out and find someone more to your liking. He won’t miss you when you’re gone.
What has always twisted my spine in hate and will seemingly continue to do so is the fact that one contentious piece of material from a comedian can cause such an uproar, yet the masses of tired, pedestrian comedy that is dumped regularly on the populace never causes any furore anywhere outside the green room door. If there is cause for outrage, it shouldn’t be when people are occasionally offended but when they are repeatedly bored. One comic getting into a heated altercation with an audience member will make every newspaper, yet 300 ticket sales every night for months at a suburban Jongleurs would barely make a Twitter post.
And that is what will be the eventual downfall of stand-up comedy as a respected artform, far less a lucrative business. Comedians, venues and media, all catering to the Mrs Smiths of the world. Just like back in the good ole US of A.
Doug Stanhope performs at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, on March 22 as part of the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival. The Sunday Herald is the festival’s media partner.
Things I Had To Do Sober: an interview with Doug Stanhope
February 14th, 2011
It’s hard to know where exactly to start in terms of introducing Doug Stanhope. With two decades of flight time already logged in his career as a stand-up comedian, the man’s long since established his voice amongst the infinitely vast sea of artists in the medium. Yet while Nashville Standup calls him one of “the top five working comics of our time,” to the uninformed he might still be either one of the dudes from The Man Show or the guy from Girls Gone Wild (“Show us where babies feed!”). But if that’s the Doug Stanhope you know however, sadly, you don’t really know Doug Stanhope.
Early on last year the comedian continued his recurring spot on BBC Four’s Newswipe with Charlie Brooker: Stanhope, the American correspondent, delivering his own caustic take on a number of issues ranging from the fear mongering of the news to population control as means of environmentalism to the media’s role in capitalizing on personal tragedy. Each of his segments found Brooker introducing the him as an “American miserablist,” “embittered comic” or simply a “drunk,” and opens with the same single line from Stanhope, “I’m Doug Stanhope, and that’s why I drink.” If you project all of the above onto a stage and add a microphone, cigarettes, liquor, beer and a lifetime of profanity and sexual exploits, you might begin to have a better idea of what Stanhope’s act’s about.
While his 2010 ended on a positive note—Stanhope was named the flagship artist for Roadrunner Records’ new Roadrunner Comedy imprint—2011 didn’t exactly get off to the best start for the comedian. A recent trip to Costa Rica quickly devolved into a nightmare as Stanhope and his party had their luggage stolen (including passports, wallets; everything). Shrugging off the debacle, Stanhope called it a “clusterfuck” that he’s moved on from. Clearly the event didn’t crush his spirits too badly as he still found it in him to host an epic party recently that was just winding down by the time I caught up with him. “We’re just coming off of an eight day Super Bowl party,” Stanhope remarked during our introduction. “Yeah, it was pretty destructive.”
What might be the most endearing aspect to the man is that aside from all of the drunken ramblings, vulgar stage banter and polarizing cultural observations, he’s still just another individual battling his own personal struggles while still trying—as we all are, I suppose—to avoid being consumed by the growing instability of the world around us. Like many, he goes through dramatic bouts of uncertainty and depression but he’s also fully aware that you just have laugh at what you can along the way and move on. That, and he’s been known to pull some pretty fearless stunts. In our discussion we touched on a variety of dark subjects including the difficulty in maintaining positivity in today’s political landscape, but we also had a few laughs; many at the expense of Gallagher. The comedian also talked about his perception of the worldly traveler, being mentally bogged down by his Netflix queue and the humor yet to be found in a Blue Collar Comedian. Stanhope will be opening his forthcoming tour with a date in Chattanooga, Tennessee this Thursday before hitting Nashville on Friday for a show at Exit/In. Opening for him that night will be the Mattoid.
“He’s a guy from Finland, he’s a musician, he’s on the bill. But he’s out of Nashville. Yeah, it’s very funny; I haven’t worked with him for a while: it’s fucking great. It’s not a comedy act but he’s just inherently funny. A very thick Finnish accent and he’ll do—as well as original stuff—he’ll do, you know, Lionel Richie, [Very thick accent, singing] ‘Hello, is it me you’re looking foooaaa?’ I think he’s moving back to Finland, but he says that every time I talk to him.”
(While that’s where conversation began, Stanhope recently made reference on his Facebook page to an article in the Stranger which reviewed one of Gallagher’s performances in Seattle. The aging (self-proclaimed) comedy legend has made news in recent years for the increasing number of hate-based jokes in his act which often focus on race and sexuality. This seemed like as good a place as any to dive in.)
Doug Stanhope: I met that guy, he came to a show years ago, probably in the ’90s; late-’90s. He showed up at Zanies Comedy Club when we were working. It was a three show Saturday and he came to the early show which was like 6:30 or something, and he paid to get in because the manager didn’t know who he was. And walks directly in kitchen where all the comics are and introduces himself and tells us he’ll be watching our act, like that’s something special. And he’d give us all a free joke. He was going to watch our acts and he asked the other comic if he’d be more comfortable if Gallagher came back for a later show, as though people are nervous to be performing in front of Gallagher.
Chris DeLine: Have you seen videos of him actually jump up on stage and give instruction to his openers?
DS: No, but he was yelling out instructions to us. And everyone was half-trashing him. He walked out during my set. I was telling a story about a hooker, and some line about how I went from not wanting to jerk-off to some movie to spending 185 dollars on some hooker… Anyway, it was the 185 dollars—he yells out in the middle, “Why 185 dollars?” I go, “’Cause it’s a true story about an actual hooker that I spent 185 dollars on and that’s not a joke. That’s why.” Then he walked out, so… Last time I did Stern he was on right before me…
CD: Yeah, I heard about that, too. And he was really deadpan on that and serious about getting his career resurrected…
DS: Yeah, he’s an insane person.
CD: You did Marc Maron’s podcast [WTF with Marc Maron], did you catch any of Maron’s show with Gallagher?
DS: No, I didn’t know he had Gallagher on. I gotta check that out. I’ve heard the Dane Cook, the confrontational ones; Robin Williams.
CD: Yup, this is one of those.
DS: But I want to see him now. Like, I always hated Mike Tyson until he went crazy and started biting people’s ears off and shit, then I loved him. I would really love to see a Gallagher show now. Now that he’s truly fucking flipped his lid and gone insane.
CD: Maron was just asking him about, y’know, what exactly are these examples that people keep harshing you about? That you’re supposedly homophobic and racist and all this and Gallagher keeps coming back and saying “I don’t have any homophobic jokes.” But then you hear this review of it and every last thing is about gay-bashing. I don’t understand the guy.
DS: Yeah, it’s definitely something I’d want to go watch now.
CD: I guess, from your perspective—since you’re not really the cleanest act in the world—where would you kind of draw the line as far as what would Gallagher have to do to be over the edge? Like, what’s too much?
DS: You can’t fake that kind of crazy. I wouldn’t be watching it for his act, I’d be watching it just to see a fuckin’ human being function in that type of world. Coming from where he came from and [being] so delusional about it and half fucking losing his mind… There’s a book called The Comedian as Confidence Man by Will Kaufman and the subtitle is “A study in irony fatigue.” And it talks about all these American humorists from Ben Franklin all the way up to Bill Hicks who hit a wall where they were tired of having to hide under the mask of comedy. Like, they’re saying serious things that they believe in, but as soon as they stop making jokes then they’re no longer a comedian, they’re just, y’know… But as long as they’re making jokes no one takes them seriously and they hit that wall. And he’s in this bizarre spectrum of that. He’s still gonna smash melons but he wants to rail against the government… But he still has to smash melons! It’s fucking brilliant. Just the horror show of real life on some retarded plane of existence that we live on.
CD: Yeah, it completely makes sense to him. That’s the scary part. Like, he doesn’t come off as thinking it’s remotely absurd that he’s doing that.
DS: Exactly, and that’s what you can’t fake. Most comics are pretty fucking dull when you hang out with them but that guy is a certified absolute fucking nut job.
(In light of Gallagher, the discussion then turned to focus on the struggle for comedians to stay relevant. Stanhope began to explain how those who are able to do so are those who are constantly refining their material and working it on the road and in clubs.)
DS: Other guys like Ron White see it in a way that you shouldn’t look at it and he’s pissing away his fuckin’ Blue Collar Comedy money… Driving around in his tour bus draggin’ his fucking Bentley on the back, just laughing his ball off.
CD: Do you know him personally?
DS: (Mmm, hmm) He’s inspirational.
CD: I was kind of wondering where that line was with him…
DS: I was talking to him and he’s got a bunch of guys that I know writing jokes for him, and writing material, and I go to him, “You’ve been buyin’ a lot of my buddy Andy’s jokes.” He goes [deep Texan drawl], “Yeah, what we do is we buy really good material from really good comics and then, uh, we take the teeth out of it so it’s not funny any more. And then I deliver it to my audience and they applaud.” Like, completely shameless, doesn’t give a fuck. He could care less about all the nonsense and the pride and the ego. I think his quote was “You can’t buy a boat with art.”
(Which reminded me of a commercial I saw for Larry the Cable Guy’s new Only in America show on the History channel, to which Stanhope replied, “Whatever gets him through the day.”)
DS: Again, I have no hostility toward any comedian even if I say I do. It’s only the audience that laughs at it that gets my dander up.
CD: Well, rightly so. I mean, I’m confused: On one hand you’ve got that guy and he makes a movie [Witness Protection] and nobody goes to see it—the movie fails horribly—and yet he keeps getting work. So you have to question who’s actually paying to watch it.
DS: Yeah, it’s not just comedy. It’s entertainment all the way around. Like fucking Dancing with the Stars. Like, who ever watches dancing? I mean, I understand like MTV fuckin’ hip hop whore dancing that teenagers would watch it just for the free boner.
CD: Yeah, but it’s ballroom…
DS: Yes! That’s like the number one fuckin’ blockbuster show and it’s fucking baffling. The entire world is baffling to me. I can’t wait to come home and not talk to anyone.
CD: Do you stay positive or…
DS: No, I’m a roller coaster. I’m a drunk, so… I wake up afraid and fuckin’ morose and remorseful. I’m a socialist then I drink my way into a fucking libertarian asshole.
CD: I was watching your interview last year with Alex Jones on his show and you mentioned living on a fire escape down Arizona. [Stanhope lives in Bisbee, Arizona near the Mexican border; a town he referred to as American's fire escape.] That’s not a joke then, that’s serious? Do you legitimately want to get the hell out of Dodge if things get to a point…
DS: No, no, no, no… I’m going down with the ship right here. As much as I have problems with this country it’s familiar. And there’s no place I’d ever been that I’d rather be for more than a week.
CD: I’m kinda with you. I think it’s a great country at the end of the day. It’s just we have a lot of shitheads here.
DS: Yeah, and they’re everywhere. But it’s the shithead you know.
CD: That’s right, the shithead that welcomes you back. On that note of kind of waking up miserable, have you seen this documentary called Collapse? It’s, um… kinda focuses on this former LA policeman named Michael Ruppert.
DS: I don’t know that I’ve seen Collapse. He’s the one that ratted out the CIA? I’m a sucker for any conspiracy theory stuff like that.
CD: It was maybe about a month ago that I watched that then I watched… I don’t remember what this other one was called [Gasland] but it was about just the heinousness of the natural gas wells around the country.
DS: Oh, I just put that on my queue. That’s in upstate New York or something?
CD: Yeah, it’s absolutely disgusting. It just completely fucks up the ground water for all these people who live around them.
DS: Yeah, that’s mostly what I’ve been doing for the last few months. Just watching documentaries on Netflix about how fucked up the world is.
CD: Well, watch Collapse then. Because if you weren’t already depressed and borderline suicidal, that’ll put you right in the mood.
DS: I’ll do it next. I just watched Bikini Radio.
CD: What’s that one about?
DS: It’s about the A-bomb we tested on the Bikini Atoll. It’s only 56 minutes long, but get that on Netflix. It’s all footage from back then…
CD: I go through spurts where I kind of watch these back-to-back-to-back then I just can’t take it anymore.
DS: Yeah, I do that to the point where I’m easily depressed and terrified to go outside. Yeah, and I believe in half the shit. Like, I watched Loose Change again and I was back in that head space. But I don’t care. I get to the point where yeah, the world’s fucked up and everyone’s conspiring against someone at some time on every level of society and that’s just how it is. Whether they’re high level government officials of if they’re fucking Safeway managers, you know?
CD: Absolutely. And I felt the exact same thing when I was watching that thing with Alex because like you were saying on there, he’s got this impossible wealth of information and when you start calling all that out, it becomes like: who the fuck cares?
DS: Yeah, like, what are you going to change? People don’t care.
CD: I mean, at this point do you even have any kind of opinion on Egypt? Like, is that even a thought?
DS: Yeah, well, what are they going to do? They’re going to get other power mongers to take his [Hosni Mubarak] place. No one aspires to those positions without some kind of blood lust. And power corrupts, et cetera, et cetera. As long as people want to be led they’re going to get leaders that are shit. And that’s not going to change.
CD: What was your reaction when you got asked to go on Red Eye. I really don’t know Fox’s angle with that and it seemed like an odd pairing.
DS: I kinda wanted to trash it, and then… I really fucking hated that show. It was just so fucking goofy. The guy was so overly nice to me.
CD: Yeah, he kept trying to identify with you.
DS: So I still have a sense of regret for not fucking just douching the whole show. Like at the last minute… I had sat there writing jokes about all the news stories of the day, assuming that’s why I was on. And then they go, you’re on as a special guest. Instead we’re going to talk about all the shit that’s on Wikipedia.
CD: That’s what he immediately went to was the Girls Gone Wild…
DS: “So, you have a weird belly button…” What?! I’ve been fucking writing jokes all day and you’re going to talk about my belly button. That’s why I should never do anything sober.
CD: Were you sober at that?
DS: Yeah. Then I went back to the hotel and they didn’t have a bar. The bar was closed for renovations. That sucked. That’s how I remembered that day.
CD: The not being able to drink.
DS: Most of what I’ve done is kind of a blur. Things I had to do sober. Maybe that’s a title of a book.
CD: The Things I Had To Do Sober. I like that, Doug. That’s pretty good but it’d probably be a pretty short book.
DS: Or One Cocktail Away from Being Gallagher.
CD: …The Story of Doug Stanhope… I don’t even know where to go from there.
DS: Do you want to talk about my belly button?
CD: Maybe I’ll save that for when you’re in town and we can talk on a more personal level about that. The intimacies of your naval cavity… There was something I did want to ask you about—I couldn’t find anything about it online. There was this GQ article called “Is This America’s Most Depraved Man?”
DS: Yeah, British GQ.
CD: What was the story behind that?
DS: Yeah, just this guy…
CD: All I read about it was that he was talking to you during some mushroom festival.
DS: Oh, no, there was supposed to be this giant mushroom/hallucinogen festival with all these different acts and comics and we sold all these tickets then the whole thing went bust days before it’s supposed to happen. He was supposed to meet me down there for it. And there were no plane tickets—he bought his own plane ticket on GQ’s dime and ended up hanging around at some fuckin’ swinger resort for three days. All by himself with a bunch of fuckin’ homeless swingers.
CD: I don’t mean to sound negative on this, but I wouldn’t really trust people to be able to pull off a whole festival who are basing half of it on mushrooms.
DS: Exactly. The Stripper’s Real Phone Number Festival.
(Which led to talk of his current round or performances that will lead him to the UK in March.)
DS: London and Manchester and I don’t know; Nottingshire; Hampsterham. Nothing makes my stomach roll over and squirt acid like the thought of going back to the UK.
CD: Just because of the food?
DS: No, everything. Just the crowded and dank and ugly…
CD: Do you ever get much time when you’re on the road over there to actually take in a bit of the cities you visit.
DS: There’s nothing I’d want to see. I have preconceived notions about Europe; about pretty much everywhere I’ve been. I’ve almost never been surprised. Like, “Oh, this is way better than I was expecting.” Nope, this is exactly what I was expecting. Every reason I moved out of New England times ten. But with way smarter audiences that have way higher expectations… Half your material’s not going to work because it’s America-centric. And the fanbase I have is very tenacious and they’ve heard every fucking word I’ve ever said. So you’re constantly in a struggle. If it weren’t for the UK I might be fuckin’ Ron White. If I could get away with it I might get that lazy.
Photo: Jim Didriksen Doug Stanhope: 'I'm a generous, good-hearted, overly polite citizen' The controversial comic claims that, despite his reputation for heavy drinking and caustic comedy, he’s a decent American guy
7 March 2011
Doug Stanhope’s manager tells The List ‘that the later it gets in the day, the better he is at the interview.’ So at almost midnight, when it’s early evening out in Arizona, Stanhope comes to the phone. ‘Oh he likes me to be drunk,’ he announces, with a loud laugh. ‘That’s a great manager. He’s got a point, I’m far more animated. Words come to me quicker when I’m liquored up. There’s not a whole lot of jobs where that works; where you just show up hammered and that’s not only accepted, but encouraged.’
Alcohol and Stanhope go together like coffee and cigarettes. Like his chain-smoking comedy forefather Bill Hicks, the American stand-up’s routine is normally caustic, political, and heavily drunken.
‘I can’t remember the last time when I did a set sober,’ Stanhope confesses, as a microwave pings somewhere nearby. He adds Baileys to his warmed-through coffee, and carries on. ‘I’m not out till 4 in the morning doing ecstasy after shows anymore. I can’t do that and be funny the next night. But onstage, I’m always drinking.’ So his exaggerated, boozy persona isn’t just for show then? ‘Oh no, unfortunately it’s a necessity. I have a difficult time in social situations. It’s agony, forcing conversations. Give me five or six beers, though, and I’m way less fearful.’
This fearlessness definitely shows in his comedy. Gang-rape, 9/11, suicide, paedophilia – all are fair game to Stanhope. In fact, Fun With Pedophiles: The Best of Baiting, a book he wrote in 2006, should illustrate where he stands on political correctness. ‘There is no such thing as laughing at something you shouldn’t,’ Stanhope wrote recently in an article for a Scottish newspaper, in defence of Ricky Gervais’ feather-ruffling Golden Globes speech. ‘You should laugh everywhere you can find even the slightest glimmer of humour. Life is a series of heartache, tragedy and injustice, punctuated by a few cocktails and that one trip to Reno. The more you can laugh at the ugliest parts, the better off you are.’
As far as Stanhope is concerned, the really offensive comedy is the stuff full of stark generalisations, and hackneyed old clichés. ‘You know, that “us guys do this, them women do that” shit. At best it’s boring, at worst it’s horrific and the guy will die a tragic death onstage.’
Stanhope publicly defended Frankie Boyle after he attracted controversy for ‘offensiveness’ in his recent Channel 4 show Tramadol Nights. Although he isn’t sure whether he’s ever seen Boyle perform (‘I might have met him,’ he offers. ‘We might’ve been best pals and I was drunk and blacked it out, but as far as I know I’ve never seen him live’), Stanhope is a firm believer that comedy should avoid mediocrity at all costs. ‘What has always twisted my spine in hate,’ he wrote, ‘is the fact that one contentious piece of material from a comedian can cause such an uproar, yet the masses of tired, pedestrian comedy that is dumped regularly on the populace never causes any furore.’
His pull-no-punches, provocative approach to comedy has earned him a loyal fanbase in the UK, where he has played several sell-out, five-star review runs, and become an Edinburgh Fringe stand-out hit for his obscene, razor-sharp rants. While he’s looking forward to playing to a receptive crowd, he and his partner, Amy ‘Bingo’ Bingaman, are less than keen about spending time in Britain. ‘Bingo kinda feels the same … joy about the United Kingdom as I do,’ he explains, before a loud voice echoes from the background, ‘We hate it!’
During the conversation Bingo drops in several times to snatch the phone off Stanhope. ‘Is he calling me a retard again? Don’t write that!’, she squeals. ‘Sorry,’ Stanhope corrects. ‘Put “moron” in your paper, or “rubberhead”?’ Then there’s a pause of a minute or two while they both laugh like drains. They’re clearly very comfortable together, and Stanhope is happy for her to tag along on tour, and in the case of a 2008 Time Out article, join him and a journalist on a three-day Jägermeister and coke bender. ‘I get along a lot better when she’s around,’ he shrugs.
The couple have been together since 2006, which may or may not explain what Stanhope calls ‘a toning down’ of his lifestyle, and a move from LA to suburban Arizona, where they now live. ‘I’m not going to say I’ve mellowed, because that’s a faggy word. But I really enjoy my home life, we’re “at-home” people.’ Despite his taboo-battering schtick onstage, Stanhope says he is a ‘good-hearted, generous, overly polite citizen’ for most of the time. Which would explain his embarrassment when a recent gathering at his house attracted police after complaints of ‘profanity’.
‘There were seventy or eighty of us, drinking beers and grilling burgers. We had a band playing outside, but then one of my female comedian friends, Kristine Levine starting doing stand-up. I guess we shouldn’t have had the PA system rigged up …’
Neighbours four blocks away called the police while Levine was midway through a routine about the damage that childbirth had caused her. ‘I mean, we can hear our neighbours talking on their porch at night,’ Stanhope says, wincing at the memory. ‘So every time she said “fuck” I was cringing. I guess I got a sense of what those nervous club owners must feel like when I’m onstage?’
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Tuesday 22 March, 9.45pm; George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Saturday 9 April; The Lemon Tree Lounge, Aberdeen, Thursday 7 April.
If Doug Stanhope were president
Photo - Olaf Heine
Doug Stanhope is touring the UK this month. Considered by many to be the best comedian working in the world today, he has been justifiably compared to Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Fearless, provocative and above all downright hilarious, in 2008 he ran for President hoping to get the Libertarian Party nomination. With mantras like, "The problem with this country is that old fucks vote. We got shit to do. Old folks don't - the only thing they have to do is judge you, and vote," it is perhaps unsurprising that he failed. GQ asked him what he would have done in his first two years in power…
On the first thing he'd have done as president
"I would have let a lot of people out of prison. I would start scaling back, I'd fire lots whole branches of government. I would bring troops back from every corner of the world. Politics is fucked beyond parties. With flat-form issues, people should be figuring shit out for themselves. I think I'd make a better terrorist than a president. I'm putting all my motivation into the wrong avenue."
On drug wars
"It's simple: you legalise drugs. If all of a sudden fucking Walmart has mushrooms, pot, in a whole aisle, then there's no financial motivation for drugs gangs to be beheading people. Then proper crime and robbery, which should be illegal, we focus on that."
On gun control
"I don't have a gun. But I think they level the playing field. I accept that there's really nothing you can do about it. It's like nuclear weapons; if they exist then eventually other people are going to have them. Maybe just take away people's motivation to use them."
On the Arizona shootings
"I don't think the Tea Party and Glenn Beck are responsible for one man's mental illness. He [Jared Lee Loughner, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' alleged assassin] was a psychopath. They didn't even know if the congresswoman was dead or not when they started saying that this was the result of volatile political rhetoric. What the fuck are they talking about? Every logical faction has come out and said that this psycho didn't watch the news, he wasn't a political junkie, he was far beyond that. We have to tone down political rhetoric."
On Sarah Palin
"I hate her in the same way I hate a book by its cover. It's her pandering, Fifties sitcom character persona. It is nothing to do with what she's saying because anything those people are saying is trying to dupe the masses on some level. The fact that a personality like that could be taken as anything other than cartoonish is worrying. Like Bozo the Clown, "It's time we should all vote, kids!" and then people saying, 'You know what, that guys really got something.' It's a fucking clown with floppy shoes and you're taking him seriously?"
On gay marriage
"I couldn't possibly explain why the common person would be against something like that. It's all rooted in sexual hang-ups. The whole institution of marriage itself really has no place in a progressive society. I don't know why anyone would want to get married heterosexually, so why they'd be against homosexual marriage is flummoxing. I only use that word when I'm talking to someone from the British press."
"I believe that everyone should be treated as an individual. Women should be treated equally in the right to vote, sure. But if I'm paying to see a comedy then I just want to see who's funniest, with everyone treated equally. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, I should see a woman this time because I saw a man last time.' It's hard to have blanket opinions."
"It works. It's better than spending all night in a bar with a chick you pretend you like who you're never going to call again and break your heart. It's better to beat off to some porn. Save your time and then get back to something constructive instead of worrying about a boner."
"Why do you believe it and what's your motivation for believing in it? I don't even believe in the shit I say for a full 24 hours. I would love to have a consistent viewpoint of my own. It would be nice to have that solid, stiff head that said, 'Well, I'm a Democrat and that's because I believe, and my parents believe, that we should have some kind of social safety net.' They don't ever look at the flaws: you get her pregnant, you marry her. That's just what you do. I'd love to have that shallow, unquestioned belief."
"I thought he was cool to watch, on the same level that you'd say, 'Steve Buscemi, yeah, he's cool to watch.' The whole cool thing has just died. He's become boring. All the speeches are the same. He's just become the hack president."
On what the UK does right
"Nothing springs to mind that's not petty. [Long pause] You've got public transport. I'm just saying it's available. I have cab money."
On what would make him happy
"Quit comedy. That's my fantasy. To just take off my apron, throw it down in the kitchen and say, 'Fuck you, I quit,' and walk away. There's no better feeling in the world. I don't get a buzz from it at all, it's just that there's nothing else that I'd rather do. It's something you do feel trapped in doing. Doing stand-up takes the fun out of being funny. Every time you think of something funny, you're not enjoying it, you're not laughing at it, you're rooting for a notebook and thinking, 'How do I squeeze this bit in, and segue into that?' You're watching another comic and you think, 'Goddamn, that's funny,' but you're worried you should have thought of it. It's business. I'm sure on some level it's like doing porn. You think: 'Why couldn't have I blown a fucking load like that when I was recording?'"
Doug Stanhope is touring the UK until 9 April. dougstanhope.com
I hate having to uncensor shit from magazines... especially ones which are supposed to be for men. For fuck's sake.
‘If I could, I’d quit comedy’
Dylan P. Gadino
May 12, 2011
The scene opens: There’s a man impaled… “on a spinning dildo. He’s in a straight jacket, hanging upside down. The only way he can keep the dildo lubricated is to drink Castor oil out of a large rat feeder, so he shits himself greasy to keep that dildo lubricated. Because if the dildo ever goes unlubricated, his asshole will start to stick to it and then his whole guts will spit out of him like cotton candy.” End of scene.
That’s when Doug Stanhope is jarred out of his latest murder fantasy—this time the victim is an audience member at one of the comedian’s shows who has decided to film the performance with his cellphone camera, instead of just enjoying the experience of being there live and in person. Stanhope can’t stand “tourists of life.” And on his new album and DVD Oslo—Burning The Bridge To Nowhere, he’s all too happy to tell us about some of the things that go through his head while he’s onstage; the bit above can he heard on the delightfully titled track, “Spinning Dildo.”
I got to chat with Stanhope recently about his new project and thankfully I got to delve deeper into his mind. We talked about his mother, who he says offed herself after years of debilitating disease; we chatted about the concept of love and romance and why, despite him being such a celebrated figure in stand-up comedy, he’d be thrilled to never stand onstage again.
You’ve said more than a few times during your shows that your personal life is pretty good now and you barely know why you’re even doing comedy anymore.
Yeah, the more you say that, the more people show up. In my head I’m careening toward the bottom but in reality I’m doing bigger shows all the time. I’d rather do nothing. If I could retire I would. A lot of comics will say, ‘I can’t go two weeks without being onstage.’ I can go the rest of my life without being onstage.
On the new album, you tell the audience how much you hate recording CDs and filming DVDs, but compared to most comedians, you have a huge body of recorded work.
That’s just it. I’m writing out of a sense of fear. People will say, ‘Oh I heard that shit,’ so I need to make a new DVD, people heard it. I can’t go back to London without a new hour. So, it’s not joyous at all. I got the whole Dave Attell thing –not the self hatred, but the insecurity and the judgment you think is being passed that probably isn’t even there. People probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it. But in your head they are. In your head they’re all fucking critics and they know every fucking word you’ve said before and how you’ve said it.
That’s always the worst part about putting out any kind of recording. There’s always bits that are way better now. And then there’s the old bits you were doing so long that you have to get rid of them on tape, so that you’re now re-learning them so you can put them on tape, but you’re bored of them. Then you forget half the punch lines because you haven’t done them in eight months and you’re like ‘damn, everything sucks now!’ You don’t worry about that with a regular gig. You don’t sweat the gig. But this gig we did for the album we did it on 36 hours notice so I didn’t have any time to sweat it.
Yeah, I feel although all of your albums are pretty raw, this one is even more raw.
Yeah, it’s even more raw because it’s fucking Oslo and you’re just weeding through the material that will even work there. Half the shit you do doesn’t work in Europe even though they speak the language. In the States, if I’m going into a hole I could pull my head out of the ground. You can’t do that over there, because you get three minutes into a bit and you realize the payoff is something that’s completely American-centric and it’s going to fucking die and its three more minutes to you get to that part. And people are like, ‘no just do your material. We understand it. We have Friends.’ Yeah, just watching an episode of Friends really isn’t going to clue you into what I’m talking about. ‘We get everything American over here’ they say. Not at all.
It is what it is. I’ve never liked anything I put out. By the time you put it out you’re so fucking tired of doing it. Inherent in getting it polished is getting sick of it. It gets to the point where it doesn’t make sense anymore, you don’t know why its funny or why people are laughing and then you start hating the audience; you become like Glenn Beck, you’re hating them for liking you.
You do a long bit on the new album where you basically deconstruct the traditional idea of what romance is…
Yeah, romance and love isn’t predicated on fucking. They’re two different things. You can be romantic, but it has nothing to do with buying diamonds and fucking one person for the rest of your life and all this fucking madness.
You’re in a longterm relationship. So, what is romance to you?
I don’t know. We have a great relationship. We’re very juvenile. I lure her into the bathroom after I’ve taken an horrific dump under the guise that one of the dogs is bleeding from one of his paws or something. I buy cap guns and shoot them in her face. We’re fucking silly and ridiculous. We get along great.
How long have you been together?
Almost six years. There’s no jealousy problems. We actually like each other. There are so many people who are with someone they never fucking hang out with; most relationships are so fucking duplicitous. Most people live in them rather than admitting that their relationship is going nowhere. And they end up like your fucking parents, staring at each other in a cold gloom—‘Well, I have to go to work… well, I have to clean the house.’
My mother married my father because it was what you were supposed to do. And then later in life when we were kids he told us, ‘I think your mother married me because it was the thing to do. He was a very simple and sweet guy. It was the early ’70s and I asked her about that. And she said, ‘yeah, that’s it. It was the thing to do.’ It’s incredible to me, the things that people do, just because its what people before them did. We’re the only people alive right now. We can make up our own rules. This entire world could be different by just deciding its different.
Like, hey we’re alive. Why do these rules apply? Those people are dead, they had a reason for this. Even the Founding Fathers shit. Well, that might have worked at the time but it’s a different world. We’re alive so let’s fucking start from scratch. It would be great if generations started by themselves— like when the last guy dies, that’s when the first kids are born and everyone starts from scratch.
I know you read about that teen from Oregon who killed himself onstage after an open mic performance. As soon as I heard about it, I thought of you.
Yeah, I just wanted to repeatedly post it online for people who missed it. And the song he sang too… “Sorry About The Mess” is the name of the song he played. It’s fantastic. It’s horrific and sad. But Jesus, if there’s a way to go… it’s everything you want to do to an audience.
You mean horrify them?
Yeah! People say to me, ‘oh you speak truths onstage.’ Bullshit, I’m not changing anybody’s mind onstage. But to horrify someone like that; that could change someone’s life. I think it’s fucking beautiful.
Yeah, I thought it was very “Stanhope.”
Too late now. It’s already been done. There’s really no ballsier move. My mother killed herself, and that was the single bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone ever do. And it came from a scared woman. I’m doing a bit about it. She had emphysema and was dying and drowning in her own fluids so she ate a shitload of morphine and said goodbye. I have to make a bit out of it. Make it funny. I’ll leave it at that. I’ll save the details.
You were close to your mom, right?
Yeah, but I really didn’t like her much towards the end. She became a horrible, horrible person– for whatever reasons; they might have been good. She wasn’t evil. But when she said it’s time for me to go, there was no one saying, ‘but you have so much to live for!’ She couldn’t even leave the house to continue her hoarding. She was a hoarder but she didn’t have the fucking lungs to go to the dollar store. Between back pain and that, she was just physically a fucking wreck and that lasted for like a decade.
But she was the one person who was talking me into doing comedy before I even tried. I’d call her on the phone being all goofy and shit and she would say, ‘you should do this onstage. You’re funnier than these fucking people on TV.’ She was always behind me. But how you could die at 63 and not have a single friend in the world? When she died, there was no one for me to call– other than my brother, who she called before to tell him, ‘this is it.’ How do you not have anyone in your life? There’s a reason for that. I was the only person she liked, to my detriment. She thought everyone else was an asshole. She would complain about the way my brother was raising his kids. I was like, ‘hey mom, you really shouldn’t be talking about how to raise kids.’ In hindsight we turned out well in spite of a lot of it. But, I don’t want to Margaret Cho-up your interview.
How do you mean, by talking about your mom so much?
Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about it. I hate when people onstage talk about ‘my family is so crazy, my mother is so this’….no one wants to hear that. But may be it’s ok if we kill her at the end of the bit.
I have a feeling you’ll figure out a way to talk about your mom in a way no comedian has before.
Fortunately, I’ve never had a child. Because that always destroys a comic. Louis C.K. is probably the only comic I could name off the top of my head that’s had any material about being a parent that I’ve laughed at. Where it doesn’t seem like it’s ruined him. Almost every comic, once they have kid, you used to like them and now you don’t. It’s like friends; once they have a kid, you can pretty much count on a card at Christmas. Why is he sending me cards? I used to get my coke from that guy and now he’s sending me cards?
Talking about your crazy family is like airline material. There’s no way you can do airline jokes. I’ve done a couple. But as soon as you say ‘airline,’ you’re hack. It sucks when there’s something that’s eating your soul but you can’t do it because it’s hack.
That’s one of the problems living out here [small town in Arizona] in the middle of nowhere and playing rock clubs. I don’t see comics on a daily basis. I don’t know what’s being done. I’m not involved in comedy so it fucks with your head. You’d see that in Carlin in later years. He’d have some fucking fantastic bits but then it would be like, ‘is he doing a Crocodile Hunter bit?’ And of course, he’s the king so we’ll let it slide; you didn’t hear that from Carlin. Let’s just hear the good part again. Because you know Carlin wasn’t hanging around the Improv drinking cocktails saying, ‘oh yeah I’m working on a bit like that, too.’ I’m out of the loop like that.
Which is good in a lot of ways.
Yeah, I mean I don’t really have my finger on the pulse. Jo Koy is a good reference for unfunny comedy these days even though I’m not sure what he does. I saw 30 seconds of him on a commercial once. That’s the only Comedy Central I watch—whatever commercials you get as you’re going back into South Park, because I’ll fast forward through most of them on DVR. And I see a commercial: ‘hey next week on Comedy Central, it’s Jo Koy’… and you’re like, well there’s a new reference for who sucks.
It was like that for Frank Caliendo for me, too. I used to tape the Fox football pregame show when he was part of that just so I could watch him so I can hate him. So I could feel the comedy bitterness. It’s always fun to have someone to hate. I don’t mean any of it. I never did call Kyle Cease back. He sent ingratiating emails, and I know that I would fall for it. So I just ignored it and let the whole thing die. I’m not a guy who’s thinking this whole fucking business makes any difference.
It’s fun to snipe about stuff. It’s fun to have a rivalry with Dane Cook, if you can call it a rivalry. For me it was a fun Yankees vs Red Sox kind of thing. We met at the San Francisco comedy competition in 1995. I had that garage band attitude, like, ‘I knew he sucked even before you knew who he was. You guys don’t even know, jumping on the band wagaon saying Dane Cook sucks. I was saying that even before anyone knew who I was talking about.’ But he was always there. From the competition, then to Variety’s Top 10 Comics to Watch, it was me and Dane Cook. At the Man Show auditions, it was down to me and Dane Cook and another guy before Joe Rogan got the ok to get out of his contract and do it.
Dane Cook was always kinda right there. It was fun to hate Dane Cook. It’s not my style of comedy. It just boiled down to that. ‘Oh, You don’t like zucchini?’ No, I don’t. ‘Well fuck you, what vegetable to do you like? You don’t know vegetables!” It’s not really personal. But it’s fun to make it personal. And I hope I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings too bad by saying Kyle Cease’s mother should die or whatever.
It’s so ridiculous. We’re just fat girls singing karaoke. That’s all we are. Everyone. We’re just fat girls trying to get attention singing karaoke. Who gives a shit? It’s so dumb. I want it to be fun again. It’s no fun once you take it seriously. I’m having fun when I’m not doing comedy. I can quit this. That’s the only thought that keeps me going. It’s that thought that makes me happy— just walking away from it. Just quitting.
Fresh, fun and caustic
Stanhope kicks off cross-Canada tour in Halifax
Jun 30 2011
The last time comic Doug Stanhope performed in Halifax, he hardly got to see the city by the light of day. A delayed train from Montreal forced him to dash from the station directly to the venue (the now-defunct Jokers Comedy Club) to make his early set, ducking the sun’s rays like a vampire with a fast watch. A 6 a.m. flight the next morning meant seeing dawn through the Stanfield International Airport’s departure lounge windows.
This time the caustic comedian gets a whole day to depressurize before stepping onto The Seahorse Tavern stage on Wednesday night with a headful of scathing broadsides at the general state of humanity. But aside from recovering from a trek beginning at his home in Bisbee, Arizona, just above the Mexican border, he’s not sure he’ll be using his time to gather up Halifax-themed material.
"Generally, I’d probably just get the same stuff that any out-of-town guy would come up with," he reasons. "It’s like in Minneapolis; they put a comedy club in the Mall of America, and everybody that goes there will do mall jokes while the audience and the staff just roll their eyes.
What Halifax will get is a fresh set from the fevered imagination of the former Man Show host, kicking off his cross-Canada tour here after taking a five-week break. "This’ll be my first show since . . . well, I can’t remember off the top of my wormhole-riddled memory. Five weeks off, I might as well be starting over, and I love that. I love those first shows back when you have all the enthusiasm in the world because you’re not burned out anymore. They’re a lot more genuine too, compared to those shows at the end of a road trip, where the bits might be more polished, but you’re kind of on autopilot, working from your telemarketer’s script. First gig back, it’s like the first day of school."
The Seahorse will also be Stanhope’s first gig after throwing his annual massive Fourth of July at his Bisbee compound, which rivals his annual Superbowl bash for drunken revelry. You can go to Stanhope’s online journal at www.dougstanhope.com to see how that last one turned out — the first comment of the police officers who responded to the noise complaint was "First of all, why weren’t we invited?" — and Stanhope says he’s got a lot to live up to.
"We’re just setting up the house now. I’ve got one of those gargantuan, white trash plastic swimming pools, it’s going to be fun. We’ve cleaned the house, stocked the bar, I’ve got 80 pounds of meat in the freezer, we’ll have 50 people staying over, and on the fifth of July it’ll be, ‘Wake up and get the (hell) out of the house, I’ve got to get on a plane to Halifax. Everybody out, get in the cab, I gotta go.’ "
Stanhope’s appreciation for performing in far-flung places doesn’t end in the corners of North America either. His latest release is the CD/DVD Burning the Bridge to Nowhere, recorded live in Oslo, Norway.
It’s the inaugural release for the new comedy arm of heavy metal label Roadrunner Records, putting the comic in the same stable as Megadeth and Rob Zombie, and giving him an extra level of exposure. "I’m happy they were interested, but I don’t know if labels really mean anything anymore," he says of his new home. "If I know Dave Attell’s putting out a new CD, I’m not interested because it’s on Comedy Central Records; I’m interested because I know the artist.
"But Roadrunner has inroads with the metal audience, and if there’s anyone that’s my audience it’s probably them. I get a good mix of people, but I do see a lot of that middle contingent of fat guys in trenchcoats with black T-shirts."
Photo by STEVEN MECKLER The funny angry drunk The generic pablum of stand-up gets a well-deserved punch in the face from Doug Stanhope
July 7, 2011
If you give yourself a minute or two, the similarities between stand-up comedy and blues music runs rampant. When it’s served up raw and from the gut, it can provide a deeply rewarding experience. But sadly, most so-called comics who’ve graduated from the water cooler to the clubs will come across as tepid as a John Mayer riff. For every Carrot Top, Gallagher, Dane Cook, Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Foxworthy and thousands of other sweat acts that prove to be as funny as a school bus fire, there may be one comic hanging in the wings that dares to be different and strike out from the pack.
In the past few decades, there have been some truly great ones: Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Patton Oswald, to name a few. If I continue to drive home my home-baked correlation of comedy to the blues, then surely comedian Doug Stanhope’s full-throttled, fearless, bold and barbed tirades would be the direct corollary to the power, vitriol, danger and might of troubadour bluesman Howlin’ Wolf.
Stanhope’s comedy will definitely push some buttons but never stoops to mere shock-jock fodder, with a brilliant brain working behind his acidic tongue. If there is a sacred cow in arm’s length of his ever-present beer bottle, he’ll tip it over, but he never comes across as a mere barstool prophet. Stanhope possesses the iron cajones to truly say what he means and mean what he says, but most importantly the man is truly, side-splittingly funny.
The Mirror talked to Stanhope over the phone from his home in Arizona.
Mirror: I saw you last year at Katacombes and your set ended once you became too drunk to continue.
Doug Stanhope: Well, that’s how they usually end. It’s kind of like ultimate fighting, where I have to tap out when I finally feel I’m unable to defend myself anymore.
M: You also set up an opposing party at a car wash directly across from the Just for Laughs festival a couple of years ago. How did that happen?
DS: My manager just went on Google street maps and found a place that was directly across from the Just For Laughs hotels. It ended up being a stroke of luck too, as that was the place where the cops go to get their cars washed, so we kept the party going without a complaint until the early morning. It was a fucking great party: we got a beer company to sponsor it, so it was free beer all night and people were doing ecstasy, so I was pretty happy.
M: I think booking gigs in backyards and renting out car washes is also pretty indicative of you not playing the standard comedy game of shouldering up to booking agents, trying to get your five minutes on a talk show or hustle a sitcom.
DS: Oh yeah, my new DVD was a gig at an abandoned chocolate factory in the bad part of Oslo, Norway. In Hollywood, there is definitely a game to play, and if you really wanted to play it I don’t think it would be very hard. My manager lives in L.A., but he has no ego and he’s always said it’s like playing with children. These people are easily played, but if you just want to stick to stand-up comedy it’s completely different. To make a living in stand-up comedy, you really just have to be funny.
STRENGTH THROUGH TRANSVESTITE HOOKERS
M: The world of stand-up comedy is chock full of mediocrity. What type of comedy really insults your intelligence?
DS: Well, almost anything on Comedy Central. Most comedy is pretty much rubbish. I’m past the point of begrudging other comics. Mediocre comedy sells because most people are that benign and they want that pablum.
M: I think the reason you resonate so well with your audience is you remain brutally honest during your act. Do you ever feel vulnerable?
DS: I don’t really feel weird about exposing my life to other people because I’ve always lived like that. I almost feel protected by being that open with people. I had an experience with a transvestite hooker, and I talked about that onstage the night after it happened because I knew if anybody found out about it they would bust my balls relentlessly and I wouldn’t be able to live it down. It was like when Charlie Sheen got busted with hookers and he went into detail about what he did with them and how he had them dress up as schoolgirls and nobody really cared. When Hugh Grant got busted with a hooker, he was remorseful, and that’s when they pounce on you. If you don’t show weakness and just admit “Yeah, I fucked a man in a wig,” there’s no problem.
M: It seems as though you really enjoy pushing people’s buttons.
DS: Yeah, and I kind of miss that, as I’m not playing as many comedy clubs as I used to. And when you play those clubs, you still play in front of your own audience, but you do get people who wander in thinking all comedy is like Jay Leno or some sort of general product. When they see people who are doing something different than what they expect, they get offended and I can really love the fact that I ruined their night. I’m not the kind of guy you would hire to entertain during your 50th wedding anniversary or your bachelorette party.
M: There was a live bit from Austin, Texas on YouTube where you mentioned that some U.S. troops are assholes and a woman who had a son serving in Afghanistan got really offended.
DS: I loved that—it’s probably my favourite thing up on YouTube. She was drunk and calling me a racist or something. There is nothing I love more than idiots getting upset, because then I get to ruin their night. I really get off on that, and when that happens it’s what I consider to be a fantastic show.
DUMB MAKES YOU CRAZY
M: Is it hard when you introduce a new bit and the next day it’s up on file sharing sites?
DS: Oh yeah but it’s unavoidable. That’s why I’ll undress anybody from the stage who’s staring into his phone and not at me.
M: A common thread with a lot of your bits is railing against apathy and knee-jerk reactions while encouraging people to think.
DS: For years, I’ve tried to get people to think, and after a while it was just making me crazy with people remaining as fucking dumb as ever. The simple fact that I still have to tell people that Christianity and marriage are utter bullshit is baffling to me. If you put together all these things that are commonplace in the world and widely accepted yet are so absolutely retarded and nonsensical, and realize that it will never change in our lifetime, it can drive you crazy.
M: But it seems your anger is your muse.
DS: Oh yeah, it definitely is and it doesn’t take much time to work it up. I don’t always need to be topical with my anger because I’ve been doing bits on Dr. Drew for three years now, because it’s something I don’t lose passion for. Even if I gave up comedy and got a day job working a cash register at a restaurant I’d still be yelling about Dr. Drew and his whole sham of cottage industry rehabilitation. That guy is such an asshole and I don’t know why people don’t see that.
M: Well, you have been an unapologetic drunk and drug user. How important is it for you to get fucked up during a show?
DS: I rarely do drugs at all any more as they don’t really fit into my schedule. I can’t really be doing mushrooms and trip my balls off for eight hours anymore because I have to make it to the airport to get to the next gig. I can’t remember the last time I did a show sober, though, so yeah, I drink at every show because it helps the show. If I don’t drink, I’m completely stiff and way too self-aware and my brain works against me and it’s just not creative. Most of the time, though, I’ll drink pretty responsibly so I don’t get too wasted. Occasionally I’ll get too fucked up, but it’s rare. And it’s not like people who come to my shows are expecting professionalism.
M: There’s been a lot of Internet scuttlebutt, though, that you may be drinking yourself into an early grave. Have you heard rumours about your early demise?
DS: Oh yeah, every time a comic dies I get flooded with emails asking me not to die, but what these people don’t understand is that when I’m at home I’m not exactly pounding back Jägerbombs to get through Celebrity Apprentice
Doug Stanhope – “Loser, shitbag, washed-up comic” Stanhope tells us of suicidal fans, prison audiences and angry, wet farts
Monday, August 8, 2011
Leading London audiences into battle once more, tirading US comic Doug Stanhope is performing stand-up at the Leicester Square Theatre, 2 August – 3 September 2011. By the time I interview him, he’s already incensed the spirit of Mary Whitehouse on BBC 5 Live by saying ‘putty up your front hole’ (in reference to the issue of overpopulation) and offending the Down’s Syndrome Association (read his response on his blog).
We chat for a bit and I slip in my disclaimer that this may not be as slick an interview as he’s used to because I’m a bit nervy. He suggests I have a cocktail. He’s a career-drinker, famously necking beer and Jägermeister throughout gigs. It’s only 2.30pm and I’m a cheap date, so a red wine spritzer takes me through to this interview’s low-brow end.
There are six or seven people I know of who have got tattoos of me, and I’ve had a couple who’ve killed themselves… Now I want to see if someone in Iceland will commit a felony just to make it to my prison show
I remember a time around 2006 when there was only one shaky YouTube video of you, and I telling people “Listen to Doug Stanhope, he’s great”. But, here in the UK at least, it was really hard to find much of your work online or for sale. Then your profile went through the roof. Now you’re really well-known, people will travel far to see you and you’re not playing to random comedy clubs or the so-called ‘fluffered’ TV audiences anymore. So does it feel like you’re preaching to the choir a bit now?
Oh yes, certainly. No question. I don’t think there’s any way to undo that, and I don’t know that I would, either. I do miss the random comedy club crowds where people would just show up for a birthday party or a company Christmas party and have no idea who they’re there to see. That’s when I’d get big confrontations from audience members. But it’s also a challenge to find your own audience’s boundaries and limits. Which is pretty tough to do with my audience. I’ve dissected my audience down to such a niche, core group. They’re pretty much un-offendable.
I was looking at your Facebook page recently and noticed that your number of ‘likes’ had increased by over 300 within a week. [almost 43,000 at the time of writing]. Who are these people? Do they scare you?
Yeah. I don’t know. Well I couldn’t put “Have a nice day” on Facebook without comments quickly turning into in-fighting. They trash each other. They’re animals sometimes. But those are just the Facebook fans. I’ll have the random doctor or lawyer too but they’re not hanging around on Facebook all day.
In the past you’ve asked fans to post stuff to you. Has anyone posted anything that’s particularly scared or pleased you?
Well I got this letter, or book that had a letter in it. I was reading the letter on stage last night. This kid had sent me this letter before he killed himself. It said, “By the time you read this I’ll be dead, and just wanted you to know etc etc”. He ended the letter with “By the way, it was a painless death by helium”.
But didn’t you mention something about a fan killing themselves with helium a while ago?
Yes, but this was a new guy. I do already have a bit in my act about this, about a fan who killed himself with helium. Kill yourself in a different way if you want me to write a bit about you. He was this 23 year-old kid facing eight years for child pornography charges. We checked out the story and verified that he really did kill himself. [Pause] So yeah, that’s my fanbase!
Do you get hate mail?
I get hate email. People don’t go that far out of their way to post hate mail. It’s so easy to publicly hate people now. Some awful song was playing on one of the music channels while I was flipping through the TV this morning. It was so bad I had to go look the person up in case I could post some shit on her Facebook page. I had to fight the temptation not to find them on Facebook and tell them they suck. It’s so easy to show hate on the internet.
Tell me about this gig you’re doing in an Icelandic maximum-security prison.
Oh yeah, well we were just going to go over to Iceland because we’ve never been and wanted to go. The mayor of Reykjavik is a comedian who ran a joke campaign to get elected. I was trading emails with him and making plans to meet him in Höfði house where Gorbachev held his summit with Reagan 25 years ago. He asked if I wanted to do a show over there and at first I didn’t want to because it would just screw up the vacation. But then we came up with the idea of doing a prison show. That’s not like doing a normal show because there are no critics, no fans. I could pretty much do anything there, for a goof.
We’ve created the ‘Stanhope Defense’ ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stanhope_Defense ) – nobody will be able to get into the show unless they’re in prison. I want to see a fan who’ll go that extra step of committing a crime so they can be put into prison, just so they can see the show. There are six or seven people I know of who have got tattoos of me, and I’ve had a couple who’ve killed themselves… Now I want to see if someone in Iceland will commit a felony just to make it to my prison show.
It sounds like you’re carrying out a lifetime experiment to prod humanity, just to see what it’ll do next for you.
In this case, yes I am.
After your ‘Americana’ slot on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, did you notice a difference in your reception from UK audiences?
We definitely saw a spike in UK ticket sales after that. There’s certainly a difference between UK and US audiences – UK audiences are far more polite. It feels almost like you’re doing theatre when you’re here, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Then again, this show is in a theatre. They listen more, but there’s not as much rabble-rousing as goes on in US shows. It’s probably better overall, but you have to acclimatise when you come back here. You have to remember, “OK, they’re just going to clap and then shut up and stare.” It’s not as interactive.
There were some dicks in the audience at the show I saw in Leicester Square last year. They were shouting and interrupting you.
Yeah, it can get like that. There’s a difference though between dicks and an interactive audience. I don’t get heckled as much as I get people who will yell out old bits that they want to hear. Dumb shit like that, which fucks up the timing of my shows.
Are you appearing on Louis CK’s show, Louie?
Yes, it’s the tenth episode, called ‘Eddie’. I’m no actor though! I warned him going in, but he said “I wrote this part with you in mind, so you wouldn’t really have to act that much”. The part is a loser, shitbag, washed-up comic. A suicidal, drunken mess of a comic. So I didn’t really have to act much.
Is there anything funnier than a wet, angry fart?
NO! There’s nothing that’s ever been funnier or consistently stayed funnier than hearing a bowel-wrenching wet fart. It can make you laugh over and over again. There’s no comedian that’s ever been able to do that. Nothing has ever been funnier from day one. For every single day of over 44 years of my life, it has stayed just as funny as ever. I never want to become so clever that I can’t appreciate a wet, ugly fart.
I don’t think I can better that question. We’ve peaked.
I think I’m coming to your show next week.
OK well I’ll try to be funny that day.
And I’ll try to fart.
Doug Stanhope’s DVD Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere is out on 3 October 2011.
Doug Stanhope at Leicester Square Theatre Sarah Kendall witnesses the booze-fuelled tornado of genius that is Doug Stanhope live.
04 August, 2011
When my fellow contributor Mike caught Doug Stanhope at his Leicester Square Theatre run last year, it was as a previous devotee, a category I gather most of the audience for tonight’s gig also fall into. Surrounding me as we file into the Main House’s always enjoyable plush cushioned seats are a majority of men in their twenties and thirties, scruffily dressed and carting armfuls of pints, no doubt over the moon to see their comedic idol.
My companion for the evening and I don’t exactly fall into the hard-drinkin’, red-blooded male category (although I am in possession of a particularly toxic hangover, so I guess that’s one out of two), but we needn’t have worried about gender discounting us from the outrageous fun of a Stanhope show. The comedian’s caustic wit, fierce intelligence and unmatchable talent for angry ranting render every subject an occasion for tearful hilarity, from the mundane to the obscene.
It’s the latter, though, that’s obviously and famously the comedian’s specialty – in 2008, he set up a charitable fund to pay for Bristol Palin’s abortion, and was booed offstage at a festival in Ireland for claiming the local women were “too ugly to rape”. The breadth of X-rated subjects he covers in tonight’s performance are mostly too filthy to mention in detail – there’s a lot of in-depth description of his bowel movements, and a brilliantly insane closing bit on the worst-hit victims of the economic crisis: prostitutes.
Strangely, though there’s certainly a lot of potential to offend, I don’t find myself anything other than utterly entertained by any of it, which surely must be what allows Stanhope to sell a 20-plus date run almost to capacity year after year. Something in his manner, the elaborate construction of his builds and punchlines, and the way he raucously sells himself on stage allows him to get away with saying things that no other comedian, certainly no English comedian, would get within a mile of. As he himself says at the beginning of his set, if you say something with conviction, you can get almost anyone to buy into it.
That conviction is helped along by booze, and a lot of it, courtesy of the friendly theatre bar maid who supplies mid-set Jagerbombs that Stanhope says have become “like a pacifier to me now”. Watching the comedian slowly inebriate himself is a separate, fascinating study in itself, as he starts off shaky and husky-voiced and builds to a confident, outlandish conclusion, much like a cocktail party when you’re three drinks in and the banter is flowing perfectly.
Amongst Stanhope’s many sardonic observations of the night is one on “just how fucking lazy songwriters are”, having to fill only three minutes with seemingly endless repetitions of a chorus compared to his own hour of varying, original material night after night. It’s appropriate considering how much the performance of a truly seasoned professional like Stanhope makes you realise the breadth of talent, intuition and timing needed to pull off a good comedic performance. Say what you will about his unconventional subject matter, but there is definitely method in the madness.
Doug Stanhope is at Leicester Square Theatre until September 3rd.
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