An Interview with Doug Stanhope
Doug Stanhope has been drunkenly stumbling down the back roads and dark alleys of stand-up comedy for over a quarter of a century, roads laden with dank bars, prostitutes, cheap drugs, farm animals, evil dwarfs, public nudity, menacing third-world police, psychotic breaks, sex offenders, and some understandable suicides. With material ranging from true-life graphic perversion to volatile social criticism, Doug is vulgar, opinionated, brutally honest, shockingly uninhibited, and certainly not for everybody.
Victoria Holdsworth questioned him via email ahead of his new UK tour…
You have been described as depraved, rude, hostile, and raunchy. What the best description you have ever heard of yourself?
“Visionary douchebag” was my favorite quote from the UK press. I was also described as a “miserabilist” which I had to look up. Someone who is only happy when they are miserable. That description made me quite happy, which made me miserable. And then I was fine. I’ve also been described as being part of the lineage of great American comics who have turned their demons into assets.
Some people describe you as being part of a lineage of great American comics that turned their demons into assets. Is this something that you would agree with?
Yeesh. Guess I got a little bit ahead of myself.
You are searingly honest, both on and off stage, however are there any times that you have said ‘no, I can’t go there’ and draw an uncross-able line.
Yes. I did not risk a Bangkok prison in order to make fun of the King when I played Thailand. I had no reason to at the time. But I do now and you’ll hear it when I get there.
Who’s the funniest comedian you know?
A few years ago you said that you read a lot of other comedian’s books for inspiration and how to also avoid pitfalls. What’s the best advice you have gleaned that you have kept?
I find that writing drunk, re-writing the next morning sober and then punching it up when you’re drunk again seems to be a good system. The only difficulty is the sober morning writing, typing with the booze shakes.
You have published quite a few books yourself now, the last being, This is Not Fame: From What I Re-memoir. How much did you actually remember and why did you describe it as the book you really wanted to write?
The idea for the first book was something that my manager sold. I always thought the first book should be the best war stories. Writing about your Mother – whether you’re helping to kill her or not – seems like it should come down the line. But they’re both out there now. Read ‘em in whatever order you like.
“Doom is a daily prospect”
You have said that you hate sitcoms, despite appearing in the recently revived Rosanne. Was it a favour owed, and what’s the deal with all the revival stuff? Is there no good comedy left to make?
The fact that sitcoms – filmed with a live audience – still exist baffles me. And to actually be in them is even worse. There is nothing more antithetical to stand up than having to perform and ignore the audience in front of you. Plus, I suck at acting and when you blow a line, they have to do the whole scene again, forcing the live audience to fake laugh at the jokes they just heard. Over and over. I have no problem with revivals. There are far more channels and outlets now for content than there could ever be enough quality material to fill them.
For a comedian, what is the holy grail of a career would you say?
Why is there such a high correlation between depression and comedians? Discuss.
I don’t know that this is factual or anecdotal but I would assume that when your job is conditional on the approval of the general public, doom is a daily prospect.
You have toured extensively throughout the UK, where is your favourite location?
They are all pretty much the same to me. Except for London which is even worse. I like Scotland the most but I couldn’t tell you why. If I were in Glasgow and you told me I was in Leeds, I’d probably never catch on.
What’s the weirdest thing you have ever come across or experienced in the UK?
A guy trying to jump off a bridge in Edinburgh. He was very drunk and so was I, so I assumed I could talk sense to him. It didn’t work and eventually we had to subdue him. I assume he’ll be at one of my shows this tour with a large bouquet of flowers and a Thank You card.
What does the foreseeable future hold for Doug Stanhope?
Probably that same bridge.
images: Brian Hennigan