Michael Ian Black once described Doug Stanhope as comedy’s Charles Bukowski, likely because Stanhope is dark, offensive, vulgar, and sometimes downright brutal. His style is a mix of volatile social criticism and anecdotal humor taken to self-hate extremes. Past subjects have included abortion, his own alcoholism and self-defeating behavior, capitalism and how the US’s idea of poverty is radically different from other parts of the world (“Our landfills are third-world bling”), football, death, and everything in between. He has upwards of a dozen comedy albums and stand-up specials, a few books (with a third in the works), and, like seemingly all comics out there these days, a podcast (The Doug Stanhope Podcast).
I have a
soft hard, dark spot in my heart for Stanhope, who was the subject of my first-ever cover feature for the paper I used to work for in Tampa, Creative Loafing, and he gave a rather fun, informal, and acerbically enlightening interview that ruined many of the (not as fun) interviews that followed.
We chatted by phone again in conjunction with his upcoming shows at Neptune Theatre. He sold out Saturday night and added a second Sunday show, which should be on your radar, although if you offend easily, Doug’s humor ain’t for you. Check out the interview below...
A lot has changed, I presume, for you and for me since we chatted 13 years ago. Not that I matter in this conversation—I don’t.
[Dead serious] You always matter.
So how are you doing, what’s happening with you? How was your so-called “holiday” on Friday?
Oh, that’s like asking me about Easter or Arbor Day, or President’s Day for that matter. Valentine’s Day, because you’re only as good as the thing you bought her last.
So you’re working on a book (End of the World) that will go straight to Audible?
That’s what I’ve been working on, or not working on, since Memorial Day . I gave myself my own deadline, because Audible’s not really proactive. So I had Labor Day, since we’re mentioning every holiday, as my deadline, but briefly into that, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re thinking January 17 for a rough draft.’ I’m like, ah fuck, I got time. So then I waited for a new deadline, crammed for the exam with some Adderall. But it’s good, I like it.
I got the fucking nuts of it done, now I just have to go back and do rewrites for funny, I should do an Adderall run at this and then an edible run at this—I’m not even a pot guy, but when when I do do it, I get fucking silly, so maybe I can add some funny with edibles.
Isn’t recreational coming back up on the Arizona bill this year?
I don’t even know, I’m so not a pot guy. Everyone around me is.
We used to do football Sunday, for years, where, we’d just get hammered—starting at, when we are west coast time, 10 am until the late games, and then everyone would be shitfaced by the night game.
But then everyone stopped drinking and all the weed people came in. Football’s only fun ‘cause people yell at it, now it’s just, all people not watching it. The weed guy ruined a lot of things. Like making fun when you really weren’t having fun.
Really, I find it hard to give a crap if I’m not following one of the teams. Which is most of them.
For me, it was always about hosting. It was a reason to have a party. I stopped giving a fuck years ago.
Not to bring up a sore subject—maybe it’s a sore subject? ...
There’s no sore subject, but if there is one, that’s the one you start with. Lead with the meat!
You know, I feel like an interview with you is the opposite of the interview you do with a normal person, just ask whatever the fuck comes to mind, and you’ll probably be down with it.
If you want to start with, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ [laughing] That’s why I don’t do interviews.
So, Yang. I saw you endorsed him and now he’s out.
Yeah, I endorsed him because he followed me [on Twitter].
He was the funny guy, he was a great guy to watch, I’ve been watching the debates for no reason other than a reason to tweet. And then I saw that Dave Chappelle thing. [Chapelle endorsed Yang.] So I was like, all right, fuck it, I’ll root for you if you follow me, and he did.
Is there anyone else out there you give a shit about?
No, no. Again, I used that as an excuse to stop writing—the debates. ‘Oh, the debates are on, I don’t have to write tonight.’
I get that—when you're writing, everything else seems way more important than what you actually need to be getting done.
For me, it is, it’s all sports. I follow football based on who has cooler uniforms.
Who was it this year?
Well, I loved the Titans ‘cause I love an underdog, but they changed from the light blue to a dark blue and I don’t fucking care for that kind of shit. I’m a fanatic.
I realize you generally try to avoid discussing politics in your routines, but is this even possible with Trump being in office, because of all the byproducts and by-people of him being in there?
Well, you just want him to lose. He’s the Yankees. You want him to lose, you fucking hate him, I know people who are affected because of Trump, so, I tend to lend an ear to what they think. It’s terrible for fucking immigrants, women—women are always shit upon. They’re not deemed contained and separated from their children, if they’re white and American.
For years, I’ve really never said his name on stage, just because it feeds into … I think, if he was ignored, if you just took a one-week break, a press moratorium, where the media didn’t mention him once, he would implode. He’s in it for ego, and if you took that away from him?
I was a younger brother, and I would always fuck with my older brother, and my mother would say, ‘Jeff, if you just ignored him, then he’d stop.’ That’s a great analogy.
Do you have hecklers these days? Do you care about hecklers? Do you even acknowledge them?
My hecklers at this point are usually either fans who want to yell out some obscure reference from my podcast, or people who just get drunk too early, and they just can’t maintain. I don’t get angry hecklers, or very rarely; I miss that. No one spends whatever—I don’t know what we’re charging for tickets, but whatever it is, they don’t spend that money walking in with a bachelorette party randomly, like the old days. It’s usually people who are too drunk to not … if they do listen to the podcast, or they do know everything I’ve ever said, they want to have a conversation. My patter is conversational, so sometimes there’s no disconnect, like, Oh, okay, this is actually a show. It might sound like a conversation by design, but, it’s rhetorical. Don’t answer me.
You once said that you are only famous for the 30 minutes before and after your show, and only to the people who are actually attending the show. Is this still the case? You don’t get stopped on the street?
Well, depends on the market. If I’m in a suit, if I’m in a ridiculous suit, sometimes. But rarely. I’m recognized in Safeway here in Bisbee.
About those ridiculous suits, how many do you have at this point?
I can count them for you. [Goes into his closet and counts.] 49. But a lot of those aren’t in play.
That’s a fucking collection.
No, that’s a hoarder.
So how many are in play at any given time?
Twenty of those are in play. Some of them are disposable. I could wear that on the plane and just… leave it somewhere. It’s not great, I’m not gonna wear it on a special.
Have you ever found Seattle audiences seem more sensitive to your material?
That exactly goes back to your last question about people being upset or heckling. My audience knows what they're coming to see. If I was busking? Yeah, Seattle would probably be a lot more difficult place.
It seems like it’s more of a passive-aggressive dislike/unhappiness that you get here. We get letters whenever we do satire. People don’t get it. Or they just don’t think it’s funny.
And they heard that from someone. Fake outrage.
When my wife was in a coma in 2016, and I was writing shit, dark humor, like, hey save your thoughts and prayers and just write inappropriate jokes, ‘cause they help more, and a couple of low-level gossip websites picked up on that, and the story was, my comments outraged people.
But there’s no example of someone who was outraged. But that’s what they do, they say, ‘Oh people are outraged’ about this fucking thing you would have never heard about, and then other people make up opinions. So there really is no outrage most of the time.
But if it’s picked up by any kind of news source, people will pick one side or the other about the outrage that never really existed. I hate the fact that Trump coined the term ‘fake news,’ when he’s right—he’s not right in the examples he uses, but, yeah, so much of it is fucking fake. Just not what he talks about.
We have to get to Washington Federal and Amanda Knox.
Yes. Let’s start now.
Washington Federal, fuck Washington Federal. Washington Federal fucked me over, and I want to do an occupy Washington Federal thing that goes nowhere. But fuck Washington Federal. If you show me any proof that you’ve canceled a Washington Federal bank account, and moved your money somewhere else, I’ll give you something free at the merch booth and a hug.
But Amanda Knox. Have you seen the documentary about her [Amanda Knox] on Netflix?
I have not, I’ve been hearing a lot about it; it’s on my watch list.
I am fucking obsessed with her now, and I know she lives up there and she works for Innocence Project, which is my go-to default, if I had to leave any estate that I had left, whether it’s a couple of fucking chickens and some leftover Swedish meatballs, I would leave it to the Innocence Project, and now she’s working with them.
I want her at my goddamn show. I want to meet her.
It’s not impossible. She’s around. One of our writers interviewed her last summer. People talk about her still. But pretty sure it’s one of those instances where people only know the surface details—where people didn’t really read the news stories, but developed an opinion about them.
Didn’t we just talk about that?
When it was in the news, I had peripheral awareness of it. But I didn’t have an opinion, it was just some shit I didn’t care about that didn’t affect me. Then I watched the doc and thought, Oh fuck, this is fucking brilliant. The prosecutor who created his own masturbatory fantasy, it must’ve been a sex-drug thing. This doesn’t even add up. It also goes into forced confessions … I have a very hard time watching wrongly accused documentaries, where people were proven to be innocent. That’s why I like the Innocence Project. I can’t watch them, it just makes me angry.
You have a podcast. It seems like every comedian has a podcast. What’s the allure?
I’ve been out of the comedy scene for 15 years, living where I live [Bisbee, Arizona]. It’s a good outlet, it’s my open mic, it’s my reason every week, to have to talk about something.
Do you find yourself not talking about things because you’re like, Oooh I could use that as material?
There have been a few things where I’m like, all right, that’s definitely a bit. Or I’m like, ehhh they’ve already heard this, I did it on the podcast. And then my manager has to be like, ‘Listen, nobody listens to your fucking podcast.” Well, two of them heard it, just do the fucking bit.
When I talked to you so many years ago, you told me you favor live performance because it “disappears into the air as soon as you've done it.” Obviously that was well before we had video recorders in every single cell-phone …. Do you ever yell at anyone while they are recording you?
People have been a lot better on that, I could have done two full specials of all the different versions of ‘don’t fucking film me,’ of me shaming them… It doesn’t happen as much as it did.
But then someone gets drug out in their own vomit, in the middle of the show. Well, film that, put that on YouTube, that’s not part of my act. I’m trying to think of examples of people who got punched on stage or something and they go viral because I’ve made such strict rules about filming me. We had a—It’s in the book, but, we had a woman who claimed to have been assaulted by several men as security threw her out of the show, and that was the one time someone did film.
She posted to her Facebook that she’d gotten sexually assaulted. But one guy there, had the wherewithal, to record it; she was gently escorted out, and everyone was quiet all the way to the door, because they were so fucking happy that the woman wasn’t ruining the show anymore. And the friend of hers who was attacking me on social media apologized. Vindication.
Do you do anything to prepare for a show? How much of your show is impromptu, how much of it is completely worked out, or is all of it is worked out beforehand?
At this point, it’s all worked out and if improvisation comes into play, I’m fucking happy. That’s how the bits build. But it’s been so fucked up going between being on the road and working on the book, now I'm on the road, now it’s back to the book. It’d be easier if I was doing one or the other. My brain has the retention of a spaghetti strainer, so I work a lot more. But once I get into a groove, I’m like, I have a set.
What can Seattleites expect from your show at the Neptune? You sold out the first night so obviously people are excited about it…
Expect Amanda Knox to be at my show. And her husband.
I got Boise and Spokane to fuck up before I get to Seattle. [Spokane] is evidently a white supremacist tweaker town.
Well, we are a blue state because of Seattle. Most places elsewhere in the state are, not so much.
Those lines are getting so blurred. Like Big Jay Oakerson’s podcast, The Bonfire? Those New York guys have always been conservative, dumb-level… if you go dark, they call you alt-right. They are trying to force comedy into that same mold, comics are buying into it, it’s like, come on now, we’re the people who see through bullshit on both sides. Fortunately, I will never matter… I will never have to apologize because of a sponsorship. My audience is my audience and I don’t have to placate, I just assume they’ll show up.