photo by Chris Saunders
This interview was originally posted on Punchline Magazine on Nov. 30, 2009
Doug Stanhope’s newly released album From Across the Street is exactly what you’d expect– that is, if you’re a sick and twisted human being.
How many comics today could get away with comparing themselves to the 9/11 hijackers? How many could ask an audience if love would still exist without monogamy, then let the silence linger for a few deafening seconds before bringing the house down? How many could seamlessly weave tales of humanity’s self-inflicted doom with kiss-and-tell stories about a transvestite hooker? How many could honestly say, “I don’t want the audience to agree with me,” and still be so beloved that they sell out shows across the planet?
Only one— Doug Stanhope, the best tightrope walker in stand-up today. A refreshingly caustic and endlessly intelligent showman, Stanhope compares his act to fetish porn: Not for everybody, but those who like it will come a long way to see it. His latest album, From Across The Street on Stand Up! Records, is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that’s equal parts terrifying and gut-buckling. Catching up with Punchline Magazine on a recent East Coast swing, Stanhope talked about why he’s comfortable right where he’s at: on the fringe.
How’s South Florida treating you?
I haven’t done anything yet except sit in the hotel and get room service. I’m in Orlando tonight, Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow and Tampa on Saturday, and then going to the Bucs-Saints game on Sunday.
What’s the occasion?
I’ve probably been to a half dozen games in my life, but it worked out that the Bucs are at home against my favorite team on my girlfriend’s birthday.
Why the Saints love?
Always the perennial losers.
But they’re 9-0. (Now 10-0.) Haven’t they forfeited the underdog status?
It’s a cake-and-eat-it-too thing. But over the years they’ve been one of the all-time losers and I grasped onto that early on. Like the Patriots. I fucking loved the Pats, and then they became the Dallas Cowboys of the last decade and now it’s hard to root for them. But there’s always a Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions. I was a Cardinals fan anyway before the Super Bowl last year so that was one of the best Super Bowls ever, but if it continued as a trend it would lose its fun.
A lot of people want to see victories as an extension of themselves. ‘Hey, I bought merch so I’m part of the team!’ You didn’t win anything. We’re all out a hundred bucks for going to the game. I have no problem changing allegiances even mid-game if someone I’m rooting for is losing. I’ll go to the concession stands and change jerseys, especially if the Bucs are wearing those old orange ones. I’ve got my Ricky Williams Saints jersey ready. He’s my favorite athlete ever – he chose to get high and quit. That’s a fucking hero.
He’s gone on record that he’s going to retire in 2010, you know. He’s already a licensed massage therapist.
That’s awesome. That’s a hand release that would be scary.
Have you always been an NFL fan?
NFL all the way, and of course the XFL. Remember how that had great numbers on NBC the first week and then immediately nosedived? Everyone was stunned by the viewership of that first week. I was a big Vegas Outlaws fan, and my best friend in Alaska and I became mortal enemies before the season even started. ‘Fuck the San Francisco Demons!’ We started a rivalry before they even could. We went to a game in Vegas and left somewhere in the third quarter because we were the only ones who were enjoying it for its camp value. There were fights breaking out in the stands with complete pumpkin-headed drunkards. We were scared. We just assumed everyone else was there for the same reason as us – morbid tongue-in-cheek humor.
Do you subscribe to any stadium etiquette standards?
More often, I have to curb myself. There’s a town of about 6,000 in Arizona called Bisbee that has some baseball team slapped together in a makeshift league. They draw maybe 50 or 60 people a game, and we’ll go and get hammered and heckle and have to tone it down. Coming from my world, you forget what people’s boundaries are. Even when I’m performing to a mixed crowd, you have that given of, you came to my show and even if you don’t like it, you had to expect it. At the game, you don’t even have that, and people get really, really irritated quick. But I try to put thought into my heckles. It’s all in context of being entertaining.
Along those lines, you mention frequently onstage how your act isn’t for everyone and how some people are going to get lost along the way. You seem to have come to grips with that. But was there ever a point earlier where that was isolating for you?
From what I remember, which is very little of anything, I remember getting more depressed when the club didn’t have your back. Not that people didn’t like you, it was when the club was on the side of the people. ‘You know what I did when I came in here; don’t turn on me because you got bad comment cards. If you want to play to the comment cards, play to the comment cards. If you want to play to the art, play to the art.’
When Mark Babbitt used to run the Laff Stop in Houston, that was an artists’ room. He was on your side. He knew what you were doing, and fuck the crowd if they don’t get it. He was willing to take a bad beat, which is probably why he’s not in comedy anymore on the business side. The owners who are the quickest to party with you and say fuck it if the crowd doesn’t like you are usually the quickest to get bought out by the Funny Bone later.
What’s on your Christmas list?
I’ve had everything I’ve wanted for a long time. I want something to want. I’m happy as shit. Complacency is the biggest obstacle to my career. Let’s see…house arrest is my future career goal. I’m way too good at doing nothing, and I’d love to have a reason why I can’t leave the house that looks like just total ambition. So, an ankle bracelet.
Have you heard your new album yet?
I can’t stand listening to myself, and I didn’t want to hear it and hate it. I’d rather assume it’s a way better product than go, ‘Ah fuck, I forgot to say that, that sounds stupid.’ I wasn’t gonna laugh at any of it. The best I could do would be to judge it poorly, so why put myself through it? There was no editing on this. We recorded one show and said it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I had to relearn material from a year ago that was ready to put on a CD then, and they actually originally titled this CD after one of the best bits from back then. It took two or three months for someone in production to realize I didn’t even do that bit here. They already had the title and the artwork to go with it, and they had to fucking change everything. I guess we’ll save it for next one.
You talk about Googling yourself and not being pleased with the results, an ego crime we’re all guilty of. Why can’t we help ourselves with that?
It gets to a point where if it affects you enough, you stop doing it. If my girlfriend had dumped me or something and I have the code to her voicemail and I call up and listen to find out who she’s fucking, and then I find out, oh, she IS fucking somebody…why do I want to know this? Same rules apply.
It’s funny, you think that all of a sudden because of the Internet, people think you suck. They didn’t think you sucked until the Internet started. It has softened me somewhat as a comic when it comes to certain things with blogging. If I put this shit on my website as updates, I’m no less guilty than everyone that I fucking hate and want to find and stab. I don’t think Glenn Beck is fucking ego surfing to find my blog, but Frank Caliendo might and he’s a nice guy. Just because he does a shitty Nicholson impression on Fox Sunday Football that annoys me for five minutes, do I really need to go hurt his feelings? I actually look forward to hating him on Fox Sunday Football.
It’s different when someone else is doing it.
I was just on a plane and there was this stupid baby across the aisle next to a fat woman with her dog in a carrier. The little baby was leaning over and playing with some stuff that wasn’t hers, just playing with this woman’s pocketbook, and I said, ‘Sic your dog on her!’ The fucking mother leans over and gives me this awful death look. I told my girlfriend, if I’m ever in a place where I’m on private planes, I’m going to rent a baby. I need that outlet of hate. That’s a sad, sad awareness.
Greg Behrendt used to have a line in his stand up where he said, ‘I’m just smart enough to realize how stupid I am.’ I hate the fact that I’m aware so vividly of all my flaws and how hypocritical I am. It makes you think too much. Stupid can plow through.
Will your Libertarians ever break into the mainstream?
No. Not a chance. It’s a very idealist theory and party, but it relies so heavily on having faith in human decency, which the fucking best ecstasy can only keep you believing in for so long. As an independent, I think you could get a lot of libertarian ideas through if you didn’t have the label of libertarian, because once you have that stamp on it, it’s open to all the dogma of the party. But if you had a Jesse Ventura personality, you could easily get elected on ideas that are popular if you didn’t have to answer for the other ideas that are unpopular.
Is anybody doing that now?
So what have you thought of Obama so far?
Adorable. Cute as a button. But they’re not doing anything that affects any meaningful change. To quote something I’ve said in act, he wants to close Guantanamo while at the same time, 600,000 nonviolent drug offenders are in American prisons. That’s not even an issue he’s dealt with. It’d be like in 1840 if Monroe got elected president and everyone was happy that he was fixing cotton prices yet no one sees slavery as an issue. To even address it, they look at you like you’re some nut job.
All the major problems are not even issues that are being dealt with. Overpopulation is something I’ll never stop talking about because it’s the root cause of almost every hot button issue. Some glutton with four fucking kids complaining about the economy: ‘Where’s my bailout?’ Shut the fuck up. You’re not a simple man in a simple home. The average cost of raising a kid to age 17 is $217,000, so don’t act like some small man getting shit on because you’re losing your job. You made a million-dollar proposition and you lost.
Is overpopulation something that has to be addressed at a government level, like in China? What will it take to change it?
Public scrutiny and shame. The same reason people don’t litter— people frown on you for doing it, not because it’s illegal. It’s why you don’t slap your fucking kids in public, because everyone looks at you like an asshole; everyone looking at you like a dick is far more effective than any legislation.
Is there anything going on politically right now that’s encouraging to you?
What could happen is not what’s happening. Globalization is a good thing, just from a completely retarded point of view because I don’t understand it. But global, if that means ending borders and the nonsense of nationality and heritage and tradition…all that’s hampering human progress. I kind of hope there is an Illuminati or a New World Order that’s keeping this shit together. There’s social engineering going on at every level, whatever your status is on the chain. You’re doing social engineering even if you’re a fucking Doritos driver and your boss is giving out the best routes to the guy he drinks with. So it’s silly to think that someone’s not doing that somewhere— some rich power brokers. Maybe they’re the only thing keeping us from having Kelly Clarkson as president and ‘Whoomp! There It Is’ as the national anthem.
I have hope for my own personal future because I stopped giving a fuck. I’m just trying to write more poop jokes, dumb material with no purpose. That makes me fucking happy when I do that. There are a whole lifetime of conundrums, and I’m fucking yelling about all this, and why do I care? I’m not leaving any people behind on this planet. I got a vasectomy and an abortion; what do I give a shit about the future of the world? When I check out, I’m bringing all my bags with me.
Why do I give a shit if people laugh at Dane Cook and fucking Jeff Dunham and Peanut? They’re laughing and I’m screaming at them, ‘Wise up and be as happy as I am!?’ I wouldn’t do that to a child that’s laughing and playing with an imaginary unicorn. ‘What are you, fucking stupid? There’s no fucking unicorn there! Go squeegee your third eye, as Bill Hicks would say. All my third eye’s seeing is hopelessness. Maybe keep some fucking glaucoma in that third eye.’ I’m going to write that down, actually. Any time I can get a jab at Bill Hicks, that makes up for some of the comparisons.
You get that comparison often?
In Europe I can’t help it in every single goddamn article. Of course I like him, but people show up and expect Bill Hicks because of a lazy journalist. People always put Hicks and Pryor together, and they couldn’t be more opposite. You could listen to Hicks’ whole discography and you’d know a lot of his opinions but you wouldn’t really know him personally. Pryor was all personal experience and not a lot of opinions. Both of them are great, but they couldn’t be more different and yet they get lumped in.
How much do you have to adapt to perform overseas?
Too much, in that I have to prepare and stick too much to scripted material just because I can’t count on going off half-drunk on some rant. It’s probably something I’ve said before and three minutes in I realize the payoff to this is something they won’t get or that won’t apply to them whatsoever. I don’t have the freedom to just know the audience will understand the references and the nomenclature. If I do it every two years, I’m usually good. That gives me enough material to work freely.
How is YouTube affecting the art?
It’s the worst thing for comedy. If people were just putting up old shit I’ve already released, I’d be fine with it, but now at any show you’ve got some sneaky cunt with a cell phone camera. I don’t know how long it took Carlin to make the seven dirty words, but if there was video footage of the growth of that every week, by the time it got great, you’d be so sick of it you’d write him off. It might have taken three months to perfect that bit.
Someone’s there in the front row but they’d prefer to watch it later on video so they stare through a cell phone camera for an hour? There are a million reasons it’s terrible. It kills punch lines. It doesn’t allow me to be as honest as I used to be. Say I was in a room with that kind of anonymity, I could talk about my girlfriend’s cunt sister, some whore I fucked last night when I was coked up and my girflriend wasn’t on the road with me. Because who’s going to tell? I’ve got some stories recently that I just can’t tell because they’re wicked illegal, and if they got taped I could get in a shit load of trouble. It’s disconcerting to be filmed. It’s like me coming to an AA meeting. ‘Hey, this guy has some great stories, stick a camera in his face.’
How can you stop it?
Educate the audience that it’s not tolerated and why it’s bad for the entire art form, because most people don’t do it to be dicks. They’re thinking they’re helping, and they think those YouTube stars are for them. ‘I got three and a half stars for my footage!’ I used to tell people to pour beer on any cameras, but once in Chicago, I gave a chick three warnings, and I seriously had people in the crowd dump beer on her camera. It was a standing-room only show, and it came from three rows back all over everybody and a near riot came out. I had to scratch the whole beer-on-camera thing. That’s just how my audience is. Once someone knows you don’t want to film, it adds value to any footage. Like back when people were bootlegging Zeppelin with actually a thing in your boot. It makes it way more valuable. The audience is a dildo. Never trust them.
Brett Favre is a perfect example I’ve been using of why you should never give the audience any credit. They’ll always turn on you. He went to Lambeau two weeks ago for his great return, and 60,000 fat fucking cheeseheads are jeering him. The only joy in their fat fucking stupid cheesehead lives is because of him risking his knees and his shoulder for stupid amusement in their sedentary lives. That’s every reason to hold the audience in contempt from the beginning. If they don’t boo me tonight, they’ll boo me in a year and I’ll go all Dennis Miller on them and start patting Sean Hannity on the back.
I just watched a Dennis Miller special and didn’t hate it like I expected to.
I never jumped on the bandwagon of dislike. He’s kind of like the Tommy Lee Jones of stand-up; he’s only got one fucking character. He’s like a Boston album, or .38 Special, or the Gin Blossoms. It all sounds the same, just don’t wait for the ballad or the power chords. It’s just one note.
On this album, you talk about sharing a shuttle bus with an older country club couple that was going to your show, and feeling bad being nice to them because you knew they were going to be disappointed by your act. Did you ever catch up with them after the show?
They actually left fairly early afterward, but they were happy. I did all that material in that show – of course it got punched up afterward, but the basic beats of the thing were there of having to be overly friendly to people you know are going to hate you. If I hadn’t done that and they’d just heard it on the CD, they might have hated it. But anytime you talk about someone in the show, once their ego is attached to it, they like it.
I did a show in Reno for a bunch of blue-haired people expecting to see Buddy Hackett, and it’s so easy to turn an audience like that around once you address it. ‘Hey, management thinks you guys can’t handle me. ‘Don’t do lot of blowjob jokes for the old people.’ Your generation invented the blowjob.’ Then it’s me and the old people against management. Comedy is such an easy trick. I think that’s why I started doing what I do. It’s so fraudulent.
For more info, check out dougstanhope.com. And buy Doug’s new album From Across the Street by clicking the image below.