This interview with Doug Stanhope was conducted in 2012 leading up to the last presidential election. Sadly, nothing’s changed. Except maybe Doug’s clothes.
Too often, the body of work by a stand-up comedian is measured by how far he or she has gone with their public display. The basic wish to entertain with humor becomes riddled with goals of getting on a sitcom or landing a movie role. Doug Stanhope has no such aspirations.
Stanhope just wants to make people laugh in as personal a way as possible, and he has continued to do this time and again while staying under the radar of public opinion. That radar has resumed blipping, however, as The Man Show veteran and Louie phenom has released his 10th comedy album and 2nd CD/DVD set with Before Turning the Gun on Himself…, a live taping of his act in Salt Lake City. With an abrasive, yet down-to-earth persona, Stanhope shines not only in jokes, but his entire stage presence.
What makes him genuine, however, are his antics off the stage. Such real-life jokes as pretending to be John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols) in an accidental interview and setting up a public, online celebrity death pool are just some of the ways that Doug never shuts down his humorous view of the world, and his eagerness to share it.
We were able to speak to Doug Stanhope as he had just arrived in Denver, CO for a show, to affirm this. Here’s what happened.
Doug Stanhope: Aw fuck, I have an interview right now?
Patrick Emmel: Yes, you do.
Doug: Fuck. I’m drunk as shit. I fucking turned on the garbage disposal looking for the light. I’m about to go do something bad. There’s a training seminar. I just checked into this hotel in Denver. I’m drunk as shit.
Patrick: Did you make it to the training seminar?
Doug: No no, I’ve just been sitting outside trying to listen in on what it is. I can’t hear, but it’s the AIARE training session.
Patrick: Oh, you want me to look it up for you, don’t you…
Doug: Yes! Because I’m gonna cook beef stroganoff, and I can’t do the interview and cook beef stroganoff when I’m trying to figure out if I should go in there. You know that scene in Fight Club where he puts a gun to the guy’s head, making him cry and then says, “Hey, tomorrow your life will be better”? I don’t want go that hardcore, but I want say, “Hey, you’re fucking wasting your time at these dumb self-help seminars on a Friday afternoon.” But I don’t know what AIARE is. If it’s the cops, I don’t want to fuck with them.
Remove outer carton and place in microwave. DO NOT PEEL OFF THE FUCKING PLASTIC FILM. I already peeled it off! GODDAMMIT! Alright, I’m gonna have to set it back on. Heat on high for approximately 4 minutes. Remove from sheet lightly? Please hold. If I don’t eat, I’ll die.
Patrick: No problem.
Doug: Try to find out about AIARE. By the way, it’s Wildfire brand beef stroganoff. It looks nothing like the beef stroganoff I was built on. If I’m dead, it has nothing to do with the coke last night, it has nothing to do with the airplane cocktails, nothing to do with DELTA fucking me over. That’s my next call. I’m all worked up and angry, but I’m gonna take it out on the AIARE training session in Denver.
Patrick: It’s the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. How about that one?
Doug: Avalanche Research?
Patrick: They’re learning about snow. In Colorado. You’d figure they know enough about that.
Doug: Alright, we’ll talk about that at the end of the interview.
Patrick: Well, before we played the who’s who game, I was going to ask if this was John Lydon, because I heard that interview. Hilarious, dude, hilarious. How did you come up with that?
Doug: (laughs) You can chalk that up to being fresh out of bed, not knowing what the fuck I was doing. I took the initiative when it was way easier to go to sleep. I figured it would be way easier to wake up and pretend to be John Lydon to have something to put up on my website than go back to bed and have my website barren like an old woman’s vagina for another three months. I had to force myself to be vaguely fun again.
Patrick: Yeah, that last bit at the end of the interview where you say, “Yeah, just play the first cut” when they ask you what song you want to hear from the new album. That was great.
Doug: (laughs) “What was your favorite one?” “Oh, it was the first one!”
Patrick: So you’re in Denver now for a show, obviously. Where do you put Denver on the scale of cities you like to perform in?
Doug: Denver’s great. Denver sucks for routing. I love playing Boise. Portland. Salt Lake. I love all the Mid West shit you can drive to. That’s when it’s fun, when you can do three weeks and have your friends with you. Now it’s waking up at 6am for a 7:30 flight and then you’re flying with stops, it sucks. It’s boring, like those guys we’re going to go fuck with at the Avalanche Center. All the fun parts of comedy are fucking off, goofing around, hanging around with comics. Who gives a shit about jokes and other people’s happiness? It’s about us having fun.
Patrick: It’s funny that your voice mail is the happiest I’ve ever heard you, and it was as simple as “Hey, it’s me! Leave a message.” Was that a joke?
Doug: You know, I goofed on someone else the other day for their voice message. They did it once years ago, and they still don’t know what it says. I have no idea what my fucking voicemail says. I’ve had this number for twelve years.
Patrick: And you were happy that long ago, huh?
Doug: I was that day.
Patrick: Back to Denver… that city, and Colorado in general, must have crawled up the ranks of favorite gig spots because of the legalization of marijuana.
Doug: Yeah, but they better not get their hopes up. It’s like medicinal marijuana. They made that legal and then everyone in the world could get a card for a migraine or an eyesore or a pimple or herpes. And then the Feds started coming down. That’s why you have to vote Libertarian or anti Tea Party. It’s not legal federally, but everyone goes, “Oh, toddlers can smoke pot.” It doesn’t matter what the states say if the Fed can come fuck you. So what you need to do is start a dick-slapping contest by saying “Oh, local cops and state police don’t have the balls to take on the Feds.” That’s how you get it going. It’s just like MMA. There’s a million ways you can do this rather than sitting in a park with a sign.
Patrick: Did you incorporate a few bits into your set because of this and the election?
Doug: Well, I just came from Washington to Colorado, so I guess I should put a couple jokes in the set. (laughs) I’m not a marijuana user, so I always feel kind of fraudulent. I applaud this, I do recreational drugs, but marijuana’s never one of those. People think because I talk about drugs, that I smoke pot. But I don’t. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, and I’ve talked about it, but they go, “Alcohol is so much worse” as if that’s going to make marijuana better. Don’t compare it to that. Compare it to, “It’s your fucking choice, it’s your body.” “But alcohol causes so many more problems and diseases and deaths.” “Oh, OK, you’re right! We’ll make alcohol illegal, too.”
Patrick: Well, back on the election… how about that Gary Johnson? I know he only got around 1% of the popular vote, but it must be a step in the right direction for the most jaded Libertarians.
Doug: First off, I’m not a party member. I stopped doing that. The Libertarian Party is a problem in and of itself, in that it’s a party that has a dogma. Ron Paul, he got a lot of heat when they start going to the party dogma. “Well, you wanna legalize all drugs.” You’re immediately curtailed by, “Did you ever do heroin? Alright, whatever.” What you need is an independent running under Libertarian principles. That’s the only way that’s going to work. Let’s say, years ago, Jesse Ventura before he went and did the most ridiculous conspiracy shows in the f**king world and ruined his credibility, but someone like that. Someone who has a strong personality. Gary Johnson doesn’t. He’s a sweet fucking guy. He’s way too honest and real. That will kill him. You need someone who’s naturally more vibrant that can pragmatically espouse the ideals that are important in the moment. It’s like asking Romney, “Hey, you’re a Mormon? Do you wear that weird underwear?” “I’m not that Mormon.” “Then you’re not really a Mormon, so you can’t run under the Mormon ticket.” As Joey Diaz would say, “I’m from the church of what’s happening now.” The Church of What’s Happening Now ticket with Libertarian principles would work.
Patrick: Did you like any of the 3rd Party candidates?
Doug: I fucking love Gary Johnson! I think he’s fucking brilliant! He needs to be Cyrano de Bergerac whispering in the earphone of the peppy guy. Slouched shoulders, looking hungover and defeated, that’s how Gary Johnson looks. The sad, sad fact is that the president is an extrapolation of a high school president or student council. People want an idol. They want royalty. They don’t want a public servant. Hell no. They want someone to clap for and go, “Oh, he touched my hand at the rally!”
Patrick: They want celebrity presidents, huh.
Doug: Yeah, that’s what they want. And it’s grotesque, but if you want to make changes you have to play into it.
Patrick: OK, we’re going to move away from politics for a bit. I noticed that New York City isn’t a stop on the tour for you. Don’t you like us?
Patrick: (laughs) Why not?
Doug: Haven’t I made that perfectly clear?
Patrick: Yeah, I think so, but I’m a New Yorker, I like to be tortured. We need you as an enema, Doug.
Patrick: Before Turning the Gun On Himself…. It sounds like a punchline to a joke where you’re talking about the happiest guy ever. How did you come up with that line?
Doug: That’s the most commonplace line in media. Google search that. It won’t be more than two links deep that you see an article about a guy that killed a lot of people, “before turning the gun on himself.” Search it every day. It’s a common news line.
Patrick: I noticed that, on the DVDs, you walk through the crowd to get on-stage. Did you do this to give off an aura of being a regular guy that tells jokes, or were you just walking from the bar in the back?
Doug: I wanted to play a small place in Salt Lake, and I had to walk through the crowd because my manager picked shitty small. That was my only beef with the whole DVD, was that the venue sucked. But I like small crowds. I watched Jim Norton’s special, his first one. I thought it sucked because the crowd is clapping over Jim Norton, who’s going to be brilliant if he’s in a small room. But they have a lofty 1500-seater. That’s not where good comedy is. That’s where a play happens. That’s where Freddie Mercury might thrive, but not good, gripping comics. I like walking through the people when it’s not 1500 people that are fucking choreographed to clap a lot during a Showtime special. I wanted small, like 150 people there. I like walking through the crowd, I just wish that could happen organically. The most fun I ever had was working 100 people. It’s fun. It feels real. Then you get into big theater spaces and it sucks.
Patrick: Yeah, I’ve been to a couple of comedy acts in theaters, and you can barely see the comedian and his body language depending on where you’re sitting. It’s definitely not as personal as the small clubs.
Doug: It stinks. I’ve been to a few in cities where it’s a smash and grab. “Alright, let’s run in here and make the money.” But I’d rather be in a 75-seat Lenny Bruce theater, low ceilings, cigarette smoke, talking, where people are commenting back, on a low-level Baptist Church deck level, not hecklers.
Patrick: What does the term, “comic’s comic” mean to you?
Doug: I’m going to write down the first name I think of when I hear that, you write down the first name you think of. Give me the first initial.
Patrick: D as in “Doug”, but not actually Doug. (laughing)
Doug: OK, I was going with A.
Patrick: Alright…Dave Attell.
Doug: Oh, alright! Dave Attell. I was going with Andy Kindler. Andy Kindler is Dave Attell’s comic’s comic. Pretty much no one else but comics get Andy Kindler. Dave Attell still has crossover appeal, but Andy Kindler is the best comic’s comic; Dave Attell on a lesser level, because he still fucking crushes with audiences. The only comic Dave Attell does not appeal to, the only person he doesn’t appeal to, is Dave Attell. That’s his Achilles Heel. That poor prick. If I could come up with in a career that you came up with in a CD that you won’t release because you don’t like it, I would be satisfied with my career.
Patrick: Would you consider yourself a comic’s comic?
Doug: You’d have to ask a comic. I know on a rotten tomatoes scale that I do have more respect than not from comics, so that’s all I care about. I wouldn’t want to know the exact meter.
Patrick: I’m guessing you wouldn’t be caught dead calling yourself an artist due to your bit on art on the CD and DVD, but it seems there’s more at play here in your comedy than just the jokes on-stage. I’m talking about things like the interview that you planned to do with Howard Stern where you’re repeating the lines of your character Eddie on Louie…
Doug: (laughing) I actually asked Louie, I told him that that was my plan. I asked him if he wanted me to stop it and he goes, “No, we used to fuck with comics all the time back in open-mike days like that.” It gets to the point of, “This is for money! This is a big deal!” but it’s still fucking around. He was immediately, “No, I love fucking around.” I think I gained more respect for him just for that.
Patrick: Another point with the jokes off-stage: when you did the Iceland show for a prison. It’s like the opposite of how some comics will do a USO tour for the troops. Was that an inside joke?
Doug: I wanted to go to Iceland. I knew the story of the mayor, who was an Icelandic comedian that ran for mayor as a joke and accidentally won. So when someone brought up, “Hey, you ever been to Iceland?” I go, “No, I should go, I heard this story,” and I emailed him, he said he heard of me, we both had prison pen pals. I go, “I’d love to see Icelandic prisons,” so that’s what he did. He said, “We have shows here.” I would love to do a greatest hits album at a prison, but it’d have to be American. I already did Oslo, I fucked with English as a second language. Shit I did on early CDs that I’d love to do a DVD of those bits, but I wouldn’t want to do them for fans. So the only way I thought I could do a greatest hits album is to do it in a prison where they have no fucking idea who I am. I’d do what I consider the best of those old, early CDs before I did DVDs. A women’s prison would be even better, but it has to be English-speaking. So set that up for me.
Patrick: Alright, I’ll get on the horn with that. To continue on with these inside jokes that I’m apparently way off the mark with, what’s up with the coat on the DVD taping? You kind of look like you were the apathetic gong player for The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” tour.
Doug: I always wear thrift-store clothes. Right now I’m wearing a fucking blue leisure suit from the 70s, sprawled out with my gut hanging out of my T-shirt. The only problem with that, I wore that with a white cowboy shirt. It was a Navy admiral’s jacket and I wore it with a white snap button-down cowboy shirt. I liked the look! But my manager said I only had one of those dumb cowboy shirts. You don’t get two of a kind at the thrift store. He’s like, “You’re going to spill beer all over yourself and we have to shoot two shows.” And I said, “fuck it, who cares.” So I had to just wear a T-shirt under it. It stunk. If I had the cowboy shirt, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.
Patrick: It would have made more sense?
Doug: (laughing) No, it would have just looked better.
Patrick: So you had to pour beer all over yourself for that ending bit twice?
Doug: I’m not the one-take wonder that a lot of people think I am.
Patrick: I read in past interviews that you lost a little bit of respect for comics like Tracy Morgan and Michael Richards for having to apologize for their material. What did you make of Daniel Tosh’s semi-apology?
Doug: I talked to him shortly afterwards, and he’s like, “Thank you for understanding that was such a fink apology.” It was a non-apology. I don’t know how shit goes viral like that. It doesn’t affect him at all except gives him publicity, which is fantastic because I think Dan Tosh is really fucking funny. Dan Tosh is like Sean Rouse. Unfortunately, Sean Rouse will probably never get known as the dark version of Dan Tosh that he’s always been. I think it was beautiful with that non-apology. Dan Tosh trended on Twitter for 6 days. Hurricane Sandy was 30 hours.
Patrick: Did Dan Tosh’s situation make you think that shilling for Hollywood is still possible while keeping your ideals?
Doug: I’m in a perfect position. I don’t want to be more famous and I can’t lose sponsors, so I can say anything I want.
Patrick: That’s fair. So what’s next for you?
Doug: Going to bed so I can do a show!
Patrick: (Laughs) OK. Thanks your speaking with me, Doug!
Doug: Patrick, it was a pleasure.
You can watch Doug Stanhope’s latest comedy special, produced by Johnny Depp, on Seeso.