At this point, do you really need us to write an intro for this interview? Did you see the headline and giant photo above? Right. Doug Stanhope. If you don’t know who he is and what he’s done, chances are you’re not reading these words right now, anyway It’s enough to say this: We talked with Stanhope this week, and his new hour-long special Before Turning the Gun on Himself premieres tonight on Showtime at 10 pm ET. The album is already out, and you should buy that if you haven’t already. Cool? Cool. Ok, here’s how our chat went down. Enjoy!
Talking about this new special, do you see it as a departure in any way from your previous work?
They all suck as far as I’m concerned. Not necessarily, I’m not drunk and yelling again. It’s a departure from the one previous which I hated, so I don’t hate this one. That’s a departure.
What did you hate about the – you’re talking about the Oslo special, I assume?
Yeah, it seemed like a funny idea at the time, but the material was nowhere near ready. Six months later, it would have been a hell of a lot better.
I was really interested in the disclaimer you offer at the beginning. You talk about how another audience had no idea who you were and you were trying to, in this new special, avoid the bullshit pretense of that other setting.
I still like that idea. I like taping without telling people, “Hey, you’re coming to a live taping.” You get a more honest reaction. I probably shouldn’t have done it in Norway. Probably shouldn’t have done it then.
What kind of challenges did you confront in Norway?
I wasn’t ready to go to a DVD. We had an opportunity to film it, I said, “Fuck it,” and we did it. The material wasn’t nearly done what it should have been.
Right. I’m hoping you’re happier with this next special! I was listening to the digital version and one of the things that interested me about it was when you say that “the whole changing-the-world thing” never kicked in, and then you ask if your career in comedy has been worth it. It got me thinking about the role of comedy in a world that’s gone awry – do you think that ideally, comedy can improve the things that you pretty consistently rail against?
I’ve always taken the opposite point of view, that comedy is impotent in that it makes people laugh and blow something off rather than effect any change. “Ahhh, what are ya gonna do?” “Ahh, fuck it.” Let’s just joke about it. Unlike music in the sixties, the battle cry.
It helps us live with the shittiness rather than adequately deal with it.
In that case, do you imagine anything else – if not comedy, how do we fix the stuff that’s going on? You rightly point out a lot of flaws about our culture that could be fixed.
I’m trying to focus more on problem-solving, rather than just go, “Ugh, aren’t we fucked?” There should be some way of having some kind of armchair revolution where you’re too old to get tear-gassed or WTO riots – it’s gonna be something. You gotta at least fuck up the system to, if nothing else, just satisfy your soul.
That kind of thing, that police state clamping down thing, is really becoming the norm.
Yeah, that’s why you gotta get people like Anonymous and LulzSec. That’s really been inspirational. They are fucking with the system with a sense of humor. It probably won’t change a lot, but it’s gotta be satisfying on some level.
I think those are fascinating groups.
And Scientology, and stuff. I just read a great book called Inside Scientology, and leaving the religion and silliness of it aside, the tactics they used to get that thing going – it’s just really interesting. It made me focus more on how to actually accomplish something, even if it’s fucking ridiculous.
They’re a pretty terrifying and brilliant organization.
The way they put that together: abusing the legal system, harassment, intimidation tactics. Fucking gorgeous. It’s like a blueprint of how to start a cult. You can sell anyone whatever religion you can make up on the fly, just call it a belief for people who are desperate to believe it. It’s just, how do you get the whole institution going?
They’ve certainly accomplished that, they have more money than God now.
You’ve been doing comedy and criticism for years, is there anything that, in the course of your time as a comic, you see as more harmful or deadly than anything else?
What always makes me crazy is overpopulation. I have never understood the desire to keep breeding. The idea that – I’ve said it a million different ways – there’s a million different things wrong with it. But, what’s the expression? My vocabulary is shit right now. The idea that people have “dear children,” that that’s something that you just, no matter what your circumstances in life – I don’t know, I’m being fucking long-winded and going nowhere.
Man, just the thing with Octo-Mom – that was pretty awful. But we can move on from kids if you want!
It’s awful for her, it’s awful for fucking third world people who don’t have food. How many fucking decades are you going to see starving children on TV? Well, why are they having children? No one seems to ever question that. Why do you have kids if you can’t take care of them, as if it’s some right you think you have? In Westernized cultures, you can have as many kids as you want, but I have to fucking pay for them. If you can’t fucking teach your kids, why is their public education? Fuck you! You should be able to afford that out of your own pocket before you have the kids. These are things I’ve said a million different ways, but funny.
It is a problem that doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
Being on the ugly side of 40, I don’t really give a shit anymore. It’s everyone else’s problem.
Passing the torch of misery on, I guess!
Thinking long term about the change in the comedy scene since you started out, one of the more recent changes that we’ve been grappling with at Laughspin is the crazy blowup of podcasts, Twitter feeds, YouTube accounts, and engagement with social media. What are your thoughts on that development – do you see that engagement as a good thing for comedy?
Yeah. I’ve noticed that recently – I’ve always seen in the 10 years of going to the UK – people get mad at comics now, which is kind of great. The whole Dan Tosh thing, the Tracy Morgan thing, the Dane Cook thing recently, them having to apologize – over in the UK, it’s like that, where someone says something onstage and, all of a sudden, it’s national fucking news because someone’s bent out of shape. You’d never see that in the States unless it’s someone like Michael Richards, because he’s high profile. Really high profile. And now, all of a sudden, “He said such and such in a club in Arizona!” We’re getting noticed. It’s just so cheap that they apologize. It makes me crazy.
I can’t think of a time where you’ve apologized for your comments onstage.
I can’t remember a time when anyone noticed over here. That’s the thing. No one’s ever going to say, “Hey, Howard Stern should apologize for something,” because he has a reputation for saying that every day. That’s why the whole Tosh thing was weird. If you’ve ever watched [Tosh.0], some random aside saying, “Oh, rape’s always funny” – he didn’t even have a bit, he was replying to someone in the audience. If you’ve seen the show – I haven’t seen much of his stand-up – but Tosh.0 is fucking brutal. He says a million things every week that are far more caustic than that. And that’s the one they go, “Oh, you should apologize.”
It seems sort of weird in context. Maybe it is a medium thing – he’s in an intimate club space making those comments directed at someone rather than on a TV show where there’s more distance.
Yeah, and it was all based on some chick’s blog, as if that’s accurate journalism. It’s still telling that comedy’s coming more into the mainstream.
Do you think that seeing those kinds of things on blogs, Twitter, and stuff like that – is that helping spread the word about your own comedy to people who might not otherwise gravitate towards it?
Of course it helps spread the word, but it’s the shelf life of that word that’s the problem. There’s a million things on any given day that blow up on Twitter, but it’s going to be immediately replaced by something else. You’re not going to get any long term, hardcore fans off of a good tweet. Or a scandal.
The longevity of any news on line is pretty short.
I just watched a documentary about – I forget the kid’s name, the “Leave Britney alone” kid?
Oh yeah, Chris Crocker.
Yeah, they did a documentary about him, about how he’s now washed up. That seems like it happened 20 minutes ago. And there’s already a documentary about the rise and fall of this kid.
The 15 minutes of fame have become 15 seconds now.
In addition to your stand-up work, I wanted to ask about your performance on the second season of Louie, which was really provocative and widely acclaimed in reviews of the show and from Louis himself. What was that experience like? How did you prepare for that kind of role?
When he called me about it, he said, “Hey, do you act at all? I know your stand-up but I can’t find any thing on YouTube of you acting.” And I said, “No, I don’t. I suck at it.” And he goes, “Well, would you?” And I said, “Yeah, but I’m telling you up front that I suck.” If that weren’t Louis being there and knowing him, I probably would have sucked a lot more.
I thought it was totally brilliant and well-acted, so you did something right.
Thanks. I think I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.
Oh, I was just going to ask if the experience made you want to pursue any other acting gigs!
I’ll only play that character. [laughs] I don’t care what show it is, I’ll be Eddie-about-to-kill-himself. I don’t care if it’s Two and a Half Men.
Sure, Eddie-about-to-kill-himself walking through the background of Always Sunny.
That’d be great! Final question: I was reading an interview that my editor did with you a year ago, just before the Norwegian special was released, where you said you’d quit stand-up if you could. I’m curious if you still feel that way.
I’m really kind of doing nothing. It’s not like, “Ah, shit, I’ll go down and do a set.” If I’m doing comedy, I’m on the road. I did go onstage at a random skeptic’s convention in July, but I’ve been off the road since April. I never thought, “Fuck, I gotta get onstage.” The whole ego part of it is gone for me. “Oh, I killed, how about me.” I really hate that part.
No longer fresh?
It’s just the whole “look at me, look at me” thing.
It just seems to be inherent to any gig where you’re onstage and performing.
Yeah, I like performing, I like being out, I don’t like the adulation. People like me for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes I focus too much on the negative part. I should have more fun, shouldn’t I?
Doug Stanhope’s hour-long stand-up special Before Turning The Gun On Himself premieres tonight at 10 pm ET on Showtime Doug kicks off a tour on Aug. 7. Check out all the tour dates here!