Interview with Doug Stanhope: ‘If I could, I’d quit comedy’

By | May 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm | 3 comments | Features | Tags: ,

The scene opens: There’s a man impaled… “on a spinning dildo. He’s in a straight jacket, hanging upside down. The only way he can keep the dildo lubricated is to drink Castor oil out of a large rat feeder, so he shits himself greasy to keep that dildo lubricated. Because if the dildo ever goes unlubricated, his asshole will start to stick to it and then his whole guts will spit out of him like cotton candy.”

End of scene.

That’s when Doug Stanhope is jarred out of his latest murder fantasy—this time the victim is an audience member at one of the comedian’s shows who has decided to film the performance with his cellphone camera, instead of just enjoying the experience of being there live and in person. Stanhope can’t stand “tourists of life.”

And on his new album and DVD Oslo—Burning The Bridge To Nowhere, he’s all too happy to tell us about some of the things that go through his head while he’s onstage; the bit above can he heard on the delightfully titled track, “Spinning Dildo.”

I got to chat with Stanhope recently about his new project and thankfully I got to delve deeper into his mind. We talked about his mother, who he says offed herself after years of debilitating disease; we chatted about the concept of love and romance and why, despite him being such a celebrated figure in stand-up comedy, he’d be thrilled to never stand onstage again.

You’ve said more than a few times during your shows that your personal life is pretty good now and you barely know why you’re even doing comedy anymore.
Yeah, the more you say that, the more people show up. In my head I’m careening toward the bottom but in reality I’m doing bigger shows all the time. I’d rather do nothing. If I could retire I would. A lot of comics will say, ‘I can’t go two weeks without being onstage.’ I can go the rest of my life without being onstage.

On the new album, you tell the audience how much you hate recording CDs and filming DVDs, but compared to most comedians, you have a huge body of recorded work.
That’s just it. I’m writing out of a sense of fear. People will say, ‘Oh I heard that shit,’ so I need to make a new DVD, people heard it. I can’t go back to London without a new hour. So, it’s not joyous at all. I got the whole Dave Attell thing –not the self hatred, but the insecurity and the judgment you think is being passed that probably isn’t even there. People probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it. But in your head they are. In your head they’re all fucking critics and they know every fucking word you’ve said before and how you’ve said it.

That’s always the worst part about putting out any kind of recording. There’s always bits that are way better now. And then there’s the old bits you were doing so long that you have to get rid of them on tape, so that you’re now re-learning them so you can put them on tape, but you’re bored of them. Then you forget half the punch lines because you haven’t done them in eight months and you’re like ‘damn, everything sucks now!’ You don’t worry about that with a regular gig. You don’t sweat the gig. But this gig we did for the album we did it on 36 hours notice so I didn’t have any time to sweat it.

Yeah, I feel although all of your albums are pretty raw, this one is even more raw.
Yeah, it’s even more raw because it’s fucking Oslo and you’re just weeding through the material that will even work there. Half the shit you do doesn’t work in Europe even though they speak the language. In the States, if I’m going into a hole I could pull my head out of the ground. You can’t do that over there, because you get three minutes into a bit and you realize the payoff is something that’s completely American-centric and it’s going to fucking die and its three more minutes to you get to that part. And people are like, ‘no just do your material. We understand it. We have Friends.’ Yeah, just watching an episode of Friends really isn’t going to clue you into what I’m talking about. ‘We get everything American over here’ they say. Not at all.

It is what it is. I’ve never liked anything I put out. By the time you put it out you’re so fucking tired of doing it. Inherent in getting it polished is getting sick of it. It gets to the point where it doesn’t make sense anymore, you don’t know why its funny or why people are laughing and then you start hating the audience; you become like Glenn Beck, you’re hating them for liking you.

You do a long bit on the new album where you basically deconstruct the traditional idea of what romance is…
Yeah, romance and love isn’t predicated on fucking. They’re two different things. You can be romantic, but it has nothing to do with buying diamonds and fucking one person for the rest of your life and all this fucking madness.

You’re in a longterm relationship. So, what is romance to you?
I don’t know. We have a great relationship. We’re very juvenile. I lure her into the bathroom after I’ve taken an horrific dump under the guise that one of the dogs is bleeding from one of his paws or something. I buy cap guns and shoot them in her face. We’re fucking silly and ridiculous. We get along great.

How long have you been together?
Almost six years. There’s no jealousy problems. We actually like each other. There are so many people who are with someone they never fucking hang out with; most relationships are so fucking duplicitous. Most people live in them rather than admitting that their relationship is going nowhere. And they end up like your fucking parents, staring at each other in a cold gloom—‘Well, I have to go to work… well, I have to clean the house.’

My mother married my father because it was what you were supposed to do. And then later in life when we were kids he told us, ‘I think your mother married me because it was the thing to do. He was a very simple and sweet guy. It was the early ’70s and I asked her about that. And she said, ‘yeah, that’s it. It was the thing to do.’ It’s incredible to me, the things that people do, just because its what people before them did. We’re the only people alive right now. We can make up our own rules. This entire world could be different by just deciding its different.

Like, hey we’re alive. Why do these rules apply? Those people are dead, they had a reason for this. Even the Founding Fathers shit. Well, that might have worked at the time but it’s a different world. We’re alive so let’s fucking start from scratch. It would be great if generations started by themselves— like when the last guy dies, that’s when the first kids are born and everyone starts from scratch.

I know you read about that teen from Oregon who killed himself onstage after an open mic performance. As soon as I heard about it, I thought of you.
Yeah, I just wanted to repeatedly post it online for people who missed it. And the song he sang too… “Sorry About The Mess” is the name of the song he played. It’s fantastic. It’s horrific and sad. But Jesus, if there’s a way to go… it’s everything you want to do to an audience.

You mean horrify them?
Yeah! People say to me, ‘oh you speak truths onstage.’ Bullshit, I’m not changing anybody’s mind onstage. But to horrify someone like that; that could change someone’s life. I think it’s fucking beautiful.

Yeah, I thought it was very “Stanhope.”
Too late now. It’s already been done. There’s really no ballsier move. My mother killed herself, and that was the single bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone ever do. And it came from a scared woman. I’m doing a bit about it. She had emphysema and was dying and drowning in her own fluids so she ate a shitload of morphine and said goodbye. I have to make a bit out of it. Make it funny. I’ll leave it at that. I’ll save the details.

You were close to your mom, right?
Yeah, but I really didn’t like her much towards the end. She became a horrible, horrible person– for whatever reasons; they might have been good. She wasn’t evil. But when she said it’s time for me to go, there was no one saying, ‘but you have so much to live for!’ She couldn’t even leave the house to continue her hoarding. She was a hoarder but she didn’t have the fucking lungs to go to the dollar store. Between back pain and that, she was just physically a fucking wreck and that lasted for like a decade.

But she was the one person who was talking me into doing comedy before I even tried. I’d call her on the phone being all goofy and shit and she would say, ‘you should do this onstage. You’re funnier than these fucking people on TV.’ She was always behind me. But how you could die at 63 and not have a single friend in the world? When she died, there was no one for me to call– other than my brother, who she called before to tell him, ‘this is it.’ How do you not have anyone in your life? There’s a reason for that. I was the only person she liked, to my detriment. She thought everyone else was an asshole. She would complain about the way my brother was raising his kids. I was like, ‘hey mom, you really shouldn’t be talking about how to raise kids.’ In hindsight we turned out well in spite of a lot of it. But, I don’t want to Margaret Cho-up your interview.

How do you mean, by talking about your mom so much?
Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about it. I hate when people onstage talk about ‘my family is so crazy, my mother is so this’….no one wants to hear that. But may be it’s ok if we kill her at the end of the bit.

I have a feeling you’ll figure out a way to talk about your mom in a way no comedian has before.
Fortunately, I’ve never had a child. Because that always destroys a comic. Louis C.K. is probably the only comic I could name off the top of my head that’s had any material about being a parent that I’ve laughed at. Where it doesn’t seem like it’s ruined him. Almost every comic, once they have kid, you used to like them and now you don’t. It’s like friends; once they have a kid, you can pretty much count on a card at Christmas. Why is he sending me cards? I used to get my coke from that guy and now he’s sending me cards?

Talking about your crazy family is like airline material. There’s no way you can do airline jokes. I’ve done a couple. But as soon as you say ‘airline,’ you’re hack. It sucks when there’s something that’s eating your soul but you can’t do it because it’s hack.

That’s one of the problems living out here [small town in Arizona] in the middle of nowhere and playing rock clubs. I don’t see comics on a daily basis. I don’t know what’s being done. I’m not involved in comedy so it fucks with your head. You’d see that in Carlin in later years. He’d have some fucking fantastic bits but then it would be like, ‘is he doing a Crocodile Hunter bit?’ And of course, he’s the king so we’ll let it slide; you didn’t hear that from Carlin. Let’s just hear the good part again. Because you know Carlin wasn’t hanging around the Improv drinking cocktails saying, ‘oh yeah I’m working on a bit like that, too.’ I’m out of the loop like that.

Which is good in a lot of ways.
Yeah, I mean I don’t really have my finger on the pulse. Jo Koy is a good reference for unfunny comedy these days even though I’m not sure what he does. I saw 30 seconds of him on a commercial once. That’s the only Comedy Central I watch—whatever commercials you get as you’re going back into South Park, because I’ll fast forward through most of them on DVR. And I see a commercial: ‘hey next week on Comedy Central, it’s Jo Koy’… and you’re like, well there’s a new reference for who sucks.

It was like that for Frank Caliendo for me, too. I used to tape the Fox football pregame show when he was part of that just so I could watch him so I can hate him. So I could feel the comedy bitterness. It’s always fun to have someone to hate. I don’t mean any of it. I never did call Kyle Cease back. He sent ingratiating emails, and I know that I would fall for it. So I just ignored it and let the whole thing die. I’m not a guy who’s thinking this whole fucking business makes any difference.

It’s fun to snipe about stuff. It’s fun to have a rivalry with Dane Cook, if you can call it a rivalry. For me it was a fun Yankees vs Red Sox kind of thing. We met at the San Francisco comedy competition in 1995. I had that garage band attitude, like, ‘I knew he sucked even before you knew who he was. You guys don’t even know, jumping on the band wagaon saying Dane Cook sucks. I was saying that even before anyone knew who I was talking about.’ But he was always there. From the competition, then to Variety’s Top 10 Comics to Watch, it was me and Dane Cook. At the Man Show auditions, it was down to me and Dane Cook and another guy before Joe Rogan got the ok to get out of his contract and do it.

Dane Cook was always kinda right there. It was fun to hate Dane Cook. It’s not my style of comedy. It just boiled down to that. ‘Oh, You don’t like zucchini?’ No, I don’t. ‘Well fuck you, what vegetable to do you like? You don’t know vegetables!” It’s not really personal. But it’s fun to make it personal. And I hope I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings too bad by saying Kyle Cease’s mother should die or whatever.

It’s so ridiculous. We’re just fat girls singing karaoke. That’s all we are. Everyone. We’re just fat girls trying to get attention singing karaoke. Who gives a shit? It’s so dumb. I want it to be fun again. It’s no fun once you take it seriously.

I’m having fun when I’m not doing comedy. I can quit this. That’s the only thought that keeps me going. It’s that thought that makes me happy— just walking away from it. Just quitting.

For more info on Doug, check out dougstanhope.com. To order the new CD/DVD, just click the image below.

About the Author

Dylan P. Gadino

Dylan is the founder and editor in chief of Laughspin. He launched Punchline Magazine in 2005 (which became Laughspin in the summer of 2011) with childhood friend Bill Bergmann. Dylan lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and two sons. He hopes the Shire is real.

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