If you're a true fan of stand up comedy, then you've probably heard of Doug Stanhope. Stanhope is the personification of anti-hack. Everything that comes out of his mouth onstage is real, daring, and bound to upset several people. The guy is not afraid to tackle any subject, whether he's saying "Fuck the Jews," or bad mouthing the Royal Family in London to where people are throwing bottles at him, there is a purpose to his comedy, and it often crosses the lines that society has drawn. Doug is in Chicago this week and called me to discuss his drinking, the turmoil he endured at the Man Show, his recent role on FX's "Louie," what he's found upsets the most people, and the expectations people have for his performances now. You can see Doug this Wednesday (Oct. 5th) and Thursday (Oct. 6th) at Mayne Stage in Chicago (FOR TICKETS). You can also buy his latest CD/DVD "Oslo - Burning the Bridge to Nowhere" at his website. Throughout the interview, I have included a few of Doug's most viewed and most controversial clips on Youtube.
Where and when did you start doing stand up?
I started in Vegas in 1990. Just doing open mics. It was not something I ever really considered doing for a living. I just did it to see if I could do it. And 21 years later, here I am. A shriveled wreck of a man, waiting for Monday Night Football.
Did you start working clubs a year or so after doing open mics?
Vegas is different from pretty much anywhere else in the country, in that it was really no step up, the clubs on the strip wouldn't touch locals, they were importing all their acts from LA. So it wasn't till I moved to Phoenix like six months later that I started getting work. I got a gig as a house MC at a shitty, failing comedy club in Phoenix. That introduced me to road comics, who introduced me to agents and bookers and shitty one-nighters.
When you were an MC did you ever have to adjust your material or style for a headliner? I can't picture Doug Stanhope doing that.
I don't remember a lot of it. I just wouldn't get booked. If that was going to be the situation, I already had an act that they just wouldn't have booked me. If I was featuring, I was featuring with someone else dirty. They'd go, "Oh, we can't work you with any clean guys." So there's not a lot of times I remember headliners giving me shit, but I'm sure there were occasions where they said, "Don't say fuck," and I'd have to pull different jokes out. I don't know anyone that's played by their own rules one hundred percent for their entire careers. I get lots of emails from comics saying, "Dude, take me on the road, nobody will book me cuz I'm too dirty," and ninety-nine percent of the time... "Click on my link man. Look at my Youtube stuff." And they're saying you're too dirty because no club owner wants to say you're not funny, you're not right for the room, if you're dirty that gives them a perfect excuse, but they're really saying you're not funny. Most people aren't funny, most people that try to do comedy aren't good at it. That's why open mics aren't popular.
You were on "Louie" recently, how did you get asked to be on the show?
I had just come back from a London tour and I had a voicemail from Louie, just asking me if I did any acting, and I told him I don't because I suck at it. He said that it wouldn't really be that much acting, just be yourself. Which when you see the part that I'm playing (laughs)... it's kind of insulting.
Were the lines written or improvised?
A lot of them were written, some stuff was improvised. I only watched it once when I was so drunk I knew I wouldn't remember watching it. I really don't like watching myself. So I waited till I was blato drunk when I got back from this tour in London and had it on the DVR. I just wanted to see what material they used because I did a bunch of stand up and I just wanted to see what ninety seconds they took out of it. Some stuff was improvised, but most of it was written.
When you first get the script are you like, "Wow, Louie really has a dark impression of me..."
I don't think it was completely based on me. He actually said it was kind of a conglomeration of several people. But that's certainly the reputation I have and do nothing but promote.
Were you happy with your performance?
I'm not a real big fan, myself. It wasn't as bad as watching my comedy. When you have to edit a DVD, you are so fucking sick of saying those jokes by the time they're ready to put them on a DVD and the last thing you ever want to do is sit and watch them. It wasn't as bad as suffering through my set, because I only taped the show once, so it was more interesting. I just see my head on a fucking 55 inch TV and I just want to kill myself.
You have a very loyal fan base, have you ever found yourself writing for your fans rather than for you?
When I was in the UK, I'm playing there way too often, and half of the stuff I write naturally here doesn't translate over there. So over there you spend a lot of time watching the fucking BBC and you're trying to come up with an opinion or jokes about Libya. I don't give a fuck about Libya. I just need something to fill the time so I don't have to repeat myself. I don't write stuff I don't believe just to get a laugh. But a lot of times I find myself forcing myself... The BP Oil Spill, who gives a shit? I don't live on the fucking Gulf Coast. It's not something that affects my day, or makes me angry. And most of the time, when you're watching the news to get material it's because you're not doing enough with your life. I find myself in trenches of sloth for long periods where I go, "If I'm not taking enough chances in the real world where I have to go to CNN to get material, it's pretty bad."
You go out of your way to have local comics open for you, were there guys who were cool to you when you were starting?
Yeah, a lot of guys. Captain Rowdy, who you've never heard of, a lot of guys you've never heard of. I was in Arizona for about a year and a half, and then I just lived on the road for three years. Left all my shit in either storage or at my dad's house, till I moved to LA in 95.' Shitloads of comedy clubs, feature sets, sleeping on a lot of fat girls' couches. My life before that wasn't that much different, it's not like I gave up a lot to do it. You see guys that are 31 years old, working for some corporation somewhere in human resources and it's a big ordeal for them to go, "Shit, do I just quit work and try to do comedy full time?" I was already a slob living on fucking couches anyway. So it wasn't a big step for me.
Working on the Man Show with Rogan, did the way you guys were treated turn you off from working in TV in general?
Yeah, it was so pathetic. It was endlessly, nightmarishly, jaw dropping... the bureaucracy. I mean people think of censorship as a list of words that you can't say, but it was just ideas and everything. The whole phoniness, it was more so than the cliches you see of silliness in Hollywood. It was even worse than that. You turn in a bit and they go, "You can do this, but don't do this, this, and this. We're going to cut that out, and don't do that," and you go, "Well those are all the punchlines... You just cut out all the reasons that this is funny, so there's nothing left to do." Then you wind up with the fucking plan B from whatever writer... "Oh we're going to do the Man Show Shopping Network." "Oh God! What?!" They whittle it down over a series of days or weeks till there's no time left for options. "So okay, we're just going to tweak that," or "We're going to have to cut that out." It's not all at once where you go, "Okay scrap it, let's come up with a new idea." It's just finger-fucking the minutia. "Lawyers said we can't do this," "We can't do that because a sponsor could get put off," "Standards and Practices says this," "The executive producers don't want this kind of a theme..." "What the fuck!" The first TV show I did was a hidden camera show, the first series I was on. We were doing gorilla stuff with an eye glass cam where me and the producer, who was also a fucking heavy drinker like myself, and a camera man just decided where we wanted to go, would fly there, and then just start going out and fucking off. That just spoiled me completely. "Yeah! TV is great!" And we would go out and film all this dumb shit, get a shitload of footage, FedEx it back to the office, go get hammered at the hotel, wake up the next day, and do it again. So it gave me this painfully blissful, but false illusion of what television was like. Then you get on the Man Show, you do some horrible shoot and it's fourteen hours and there's twenty-seven kids on set just to change the fucking ice in the cooler, and it's just over-produced and nobody gets it.
Did you get a lot of backlash over your "Fuck the Jews" bit?
No, not in the least. That was like making fun of Asians. It's like making fun of lawyers, or white people.
What bit of yours has upset the most people?
It's always the silly ones. It's always something that you never expected. I have a whole set full of fucking rape and genocide, aborton, child molestation, and just as an aside I say "cleft palate" and then you're getting hate mail about "cleft palate." "That? That was the thing?" Well that was their thing.
I interviewed Dave Attell this summer and he said you're the best because a lot of comics say they don't care, but you really don't care. How long did it take you not to care?
I still care. I think I care more now. Now that people have expectations. It was wasy to not to care when you were just some nameless fucking twelve hundred dollar a week act at a comedy club. They have to put a comedian in at the comedy club. People were showing up to see comedy and not you, it was easy to fuck off then because I could blame the audience. "Hey it's your fault for not putting any attention into what you're doing on a Friday night. You have no idea who you're going to see." Now those people know who they're going to see, so there's expectations.
Because of the expectations is it less fun now than when you first started?
Everything gets less fun the more you do it. Rarely does it happen where I come home with a story I haven't had before. "Oh you're never going to believe what happened on the late show." "No, I can believe it." Anything you do for 21 years is not going to be as much fun as when you started.
Everyone knows you're not a fan of Observational Comedy, how do you feel about Alternative Comedy?
I think it's just more clicks than a type of comedy anymore. Any business you're in, people are just going to group up by like minds. I have nothing against it. I've been doing gigs on my own for so long, I only see comics if they're opening for me. I don't live in a place that has comedy. I feel removed from the business. I watch it on TV and I have no idea who these people are.
On Maron's podcast, you mentioned how you and Rogan don't talk anymore... I know you two got along very well. Is it the nature of the business where you lose touch with people?
I've lived in the middle of fucking nowhere for the last six years. I'm a hundred miles from the closest airport. So I don't see anybody and I really hate talking on the phone. It's almost like a lap dance. I hate a lap dance because I don't have the attention span. There's another girl dancing on another stage over there, but I have to stare at you, someone bought me a lap dance, now I have to stare at her for fucking two songs and I don't know how to react, I'm so distracted. I feel like I'm being rude by looking everywhere around the room. And that's what I do on the phone, if I'm trying to have a conversation just to talk, I'm looking at the TV, or I'm looking at my laptop, then I realize I'm not listening... I just fucking hate talking on the phone. I use it strictly as a means to communicate necessary information, then hang up.
And the lap dance isn't even the real thing...
I know, I'm a fucking forty-four year old man. I know that this as far as it goes. I saw your snatch, okay let's move on.
When you're in London ripping on the Royal Family and they're booing you and throwing bottles at you, do you feel like bailing for a second?
When I did those two music festivals, we knew going in that it was going to be a fucking nightmare. I didn't know how it was going to be a nightmare, but I knew it wasn't going to work. If you're not there to see me, you're probably not going to like me. It's like fucking Death Metal. If you go out to see live music and it's Death Metal, most people are not going to like it, if they don't already have an affinity for it. Going to do a music festival where people have paid money to see music for three days, then they're just sitting in the comedy tent because it's the only place to get out of the rain... Yeah I'm not going to work there. But a check is a check.
Do you just power through a gig like that?
Yeah, you know it's going to suck so you drink till it doesn't hurt and then you go out and try to make a fucking flaming disaster out of it. I'd rather have them throwing fucking plastic bottles at me than being bored. Hate is a form of entertainment. Look at most of what's popular on TV. Half the fucking reality shows are only on the air because there's an asshole, you hate that guy. Fucking Storage Wars, you hate that one guy that's always goes "Yeaah!" Gordon Ramsey in Hell's Kitchen, you watch it because he's a fucking asshole, or Simon Cowell is an asshole and you watch it to hate. So there's a big market for it. I'd much rather have them chucking bottles at me and leaving with an opinion than rolling their fingers and waiting for the next thing.
A fan on Facebook wanted to know what percentage of your shows you've been blacked out for?
Not many, I'm a pretty seasoned drinker.
Do you drink everyday?
I drink pretty much everyday. I'm not doing Jager Bombs at the house. Last night we actually were doing Jager Bombs at the house and this morning I go, "What the fuck were we doing Jager Bombs at the house for? This ain't a fucking show." But that was this rare occasion where a young comic from Tuscon came down. We have Football parties every Sunday and Monday, and we ended up staying up and drinking till five o'clock in the morning. So I'm a shivering wreck of a human being right now. Generally I have cocktails and put on dumb TV, it's not a raging out of control thing, but it just so happens you're catching me on one. Football season gets a little ugly.
What do you love and hate about Chicago?
The traffic is fucking unbearable. There's no good time to fly in there. It's horrific. But it's a great drinking town. A town that makes you want to go out. Usually I stay at the club I played and hang out in the green room and drink after people leave, then hit the hotel. But Chicago... it's kind of like San Francisco, it makes you want to walk around and do shit. Chicago makes you want to hit bars, it's a great bar town.
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