Interview: Doug Stanhope
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Usually drunk, sometimes mumbling to the point of incoherence, Doug Stanhope is rarely less than hilarious on stage. The controversial American comic has been gaining massive momentum in the UK recently thanks to his appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, and his heavily politicised and expletive ridden live act is nothing if not notorious.
TNS spoke with Doug Stanhope on the phone as he vacationed in New Mexico before his UK tour in March and April. Hanging around a car park to get a signal, in his own words “looking like some kind of predator”, we spoke about his popularity in the UK, his first acting experience on US show Louie and some odd fans:
Given that you reputedly hate being in the UK, is it a bit of a double-edged sword becoming more popular here?
(Laughs) Of course. I try not to complain about it and every time I come over there I swear I’m not going to bitch about it... and I end up bitching about it. It’s usually ‘cause I’m in London for long stretches of time, which is just unbearable. This tour’ll be a lot more fun because it’s like the road should be, where you go to some town you’ve never heard of, you scream and yell drunkenly into a microphone for an hour and then you get the fuck out of town the next morning.
Have you been offered any TV projects in the UK at all?
Yeah, I don’t know how but I always end up filming some thing or another when I’m there. Usually things I’m ashamed of and will never watch, and hope no one else ever sees. Except for Charlie Brooker, that was fun.
In Burning Bridges to Oslo (Stanhope’s latest live DVD), I noticed that you had a lot of fans who were shouting things like ‘Doug Stanhope is a legend’ and it seemed like you’ve got a bit of hero worship nowadays. Is that something you feel comfortable with?
I’d feel a lot more comfortable with it if I thought I had a place to lead them (laughs).
Does it impede your comedy to an extent if everybody there is such a loyal fan?
Well no, not if you’ve seen me suck over there (the UK). When I suck over there it falls apart and burns brightly. Over there I’d much rather have the psycho fans. But yeah, it’s always creepy. You always think if someone’s that built up on you that you can only let them down. You can’t become bigger in their eyes but you can certainly become a lot less significant. You never want to hang around with them.
I remember we were in London on one of the first times, I think it was at the Soho theatre, and some kids came into the building we were staying right near the theatre. They followed us into the end of the apartment building, and then they were going door to door, knocking on doors trying to figure out which one we went into. We finally just came out into the hallway and went like ‘OK, come on’, because we were trying to go have a drink and we were trying to wait for them to leave. We finally took ‘em out for beers. We’re just quiet normal people after a show and their expecting fucking Hunter S. Thompson. I mean, you just watch their faces drop with disappointment. I’m just having a quite fuckin’ cocktail after a show.
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You get compared a lot to people like Bill Hicks and George Carlin. Is that a comparison you’re comfortable with?
It’s a very flawed analogy just because I’m not really like him at all. So I don’t mind being compared to him in that I see on some level why you’d say that, but if a Bill Hicks fan read that and came out thinking I was going to be like Bill Hicks and I’m not... I mean Bill Hicks was very staid, sober, prepared, plotting... my act is fucking chaos and drunken and stuttered and, you know uh, without good source references. I might be wrong about a lot of things.
I used the Queen mum as references for fuckin’ years over there before I finally filmed that Charlie Brooker show and I’m doing a bit where I have some reference to the Queen mum, and they go, ‘You know she’s dead’. I thought the Queen mum was just a reference to the Queen, I thought that’s just what you called the Queen! I didn’t know it was the Queen’s mother. And for fuckin’ years know one ever told me I’m wrong and I’m embarrassing myself on stage...
You’ve made jokes in the past that are highly opinionated. Are there any you would go back on now?
There’s probably stuff I was wrong about. I don’t know if I’d necessarily go back on any of it. I probably should have researched it more. You know, I’ve said a lot of libertarian stuff. I don’t know, ‘Oh well you’re a libertarian, well then what about this?’ Well I don’t know about that. I fall into libertarian category on the stuff I agree with, but the stuff I don’t know I still don’t know. So yeah, if people ask me I say you should just take my fuckin’ opinions with a grain of salt and research them, because I don’t (laughs).
Do you ever get a lot of arguments after the shows that you do?
I did when I used to, uh, talk to people after the shows but once I cut that out the arguments stopped. (Laughs) They seemed to decrease by 100%.
(Laughing) It’s funny that. You made your first acting appearance in Louie as well, which made me a fan of Louis CK...
Yeah, I really like his stuff. He’s one of the few funny guys who can talk about his kids without you turning off the television. Usually child birth is the death knell of any good comedian. “Yeah remember that fifteen minute chunk I had about fuckin’ whores, yeah now it’s about how babies are like little drunk people.” Boring! When Louis CK says his seven year old daughter is a c**t, alright well now I’m listening.
Would you consider acting again in the future?
I should really quit while I’m ahead ‘cause I’m really not a good actor. I got lucky on that one. I’d never make a living out of it. It’s really terrible work. It’s long hours and usually for very little pay off compared to what you can do in an hour on stage.
In your comedy you always make jokes about being out of material or being sick of being a stand-up comedian. Do you get bored of it? Do you still get that rush or is that just a part of the act?
I don’t get a rush like I used to at all. I’ll be happy that I didn’t die completely (laughs) but that’s about as much of a rush as you get. But that‘s like in anything in life that you’ve done repeatedly. I don’t know what anyone’s done for twenty years that they still go 'wow! That was great!' You ride the fuckin’ same rollercoaster every night for twenty years and there’s gonna be times when you’re going down the hill just drumming your fingers on the safety bar. I know people hate to hear that. I wish I could lie. People wanna believe that this is as fucking great for you as it is for them, but it's not.
Doug Stanhope will be touring the UK in March and April. For more details and for tickets, go to www.dougstanhope.com