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.
Have you seen videos of him actually jump up on stage and give instruction to his openers?
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…
Yeah, I heard about that, too. And he was really deadpan on that and serious about getting his career resurrected…
Yeah, he’s an insane person.
You did Marc Maron’s podcast [WTF with Marc Maron], did you catch any of Maron’s show with Gallagher?
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.
Yup, this is one of those.
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.
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.
Yeah, it’s definitely something I’d want to go watch now.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Do you know him personally?
(Mmm, hmm) He’s inspirational.
I was kind of wondering where that line was with him…
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.”)
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.
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.
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.
Yeah, but it’s ballroom…
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
Do you stay positive or…
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.
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…
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.
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.
Yeah, and they’re everywhere. But it’s the shithead you know.
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 focuses on this former LA policeman named Michael Ruppert.
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.
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.
Oh, I just put that on my queue. That’s in upstate New York or something?
Yeah, it’s absolutely disgusting. It just completely fucks up the ground water for all these people who live around them.
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.
Well, watch Collapse then. Because if you weren’t already depressed and borderline suicidal, that’ll put you right in the mood.
I’ll do it next. I just watched Bikini Radio.
What’s that one about?
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…
I go through spurts where I kind of watch these back-to-back-to-back then I just can’t take it anymore.
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?
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?
Yeah, like, what are you going to change? People don’t care.
I mean, at this point do you even have any kind of opinion on Egypt? Like, is that even a thought?
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.
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.
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.
Yeah, he kept trying to identify with you.
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.
That’s what he immediately went to was the Girls Gone Wild…
“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.
Were you sober at that?
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.
The not being able to drink.
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.
The Things I Had To Do Sober. I like that, Doug. That’s pretty good but it’d probably be a pretty short book.
Or One Cocktail Away from Being Gallagher.
…The Story of Doug Stanhope… I don’t even know where to go from there.
Do you want to talk about my belly button?
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?”
Yeah, British GQ.
What was the story behind that?
Yeah, just this guy…
All I read about it was that he was talking to you during some mushroom festival.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Just because of the food?
No, everything. Just the crowded and dank and ugly…
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.
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.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]