Comedian Doug Stanhope makes his living going into dark places and making people laugh. Even a cursory glance at his act -- which has included a lengthy reflection on helping his ailing mother commit suicide -- demonstrates that the man has little time for fear and that he can wring laughs out of the worst subjects.
But in light of the news that Stanhope's neighbors, tenants, and close friends Amy and Derrick Ross, better known as Bisbee-based Americana duo Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl, had passed away in the 24 hours leading up to our Tuesday, October 15, interview, we fully expected that Stanhope would postpone our interview, set up last week by his manager Brian Hennigan. Instead, he wanted to talk.
Answering the phone from New York, where he was scheduled to perform, Stanhope explained that he intended to record a new podcast for his site after our interview, a follow-up to last week's "Cliffhanger" episode. Recorded on Friday, October 11, the last episode features Derrick Ross as Stanhope's guest, discussing Amy's kidney dialysis treatment, battle with lupus, and her pending open-heart surgery scheduled for Monday, October 14.
In trademark Stanhope fashion, the jokes are of the bleakest nature. "Will Amy die or not die?" Stanhope asks in the podcast episode. "Will Whiskey Girl die by the time we do the cliffhanger podcast?" Ross, for his part, is just as black coffee with his wisecracks, noting that he wouldn't be able to go on living if Amy were to die. It is a blunt and chilling listen in light of Derrick's reported suicide and Amy's death in the hospital, though Derrick's slapstick ode to Beyonce, which closes the show with "redneck Jedi" gags, is brutally funny. It would seem that the mysterious Facebook posts that announced the couples' passing, with snappy "hey guys, bad news" and "enjoy every sandwich" quotes, were indicative of their sideways humor.
Our 45-minute conversation with Stanhope covered lots of ground, and a forthcoming blog post will feature our discussion about addiction, Dr. Drew Pinsky, and Stanhope's unique comedic approach, but his thoughts about the passing of the Rosses are presented here.
Obviously I wasn't planning on discussing the passing of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl with you. I was planning on talking about your work in advance of your Stand Up Live show. Yeah, I'm still having to fucking do all this. Just did an interview, gonna do a podcast, and do a show. I can put on the bullshit face. I just don't have anything to say about that other than it's fucked up.
I understand. My deepest condolences. I didn't know Derrick or Amy personally, but I saw them a handful of times living here in Phoenix. Oh, they're fucking great. My girlfriend [Amy "Bingo" Bingaman] wanted to go see The Wall for her birthday and I didn't want to go . . . but instead I had Whiskey Girl and Nowhere Man [perform it]. They learned the entire fucking thing and did it at our house for a surprise party. They had a full band, even the bullhorn parts. [Laughs] They learned the entire album just for her birthday. Just fucking amazing.
That's remarkable. It's so weird when something like this happens. I had heard reports that Amy wasn't doing well but . . . She had lupus. She had lupus forever. Three times a week, she'd go for dialysis. Then she just had some infection. They thought they might have to do open-heart surgery. I don't know if you've listened to the podcast yet.
No, I haven't yet. It's pretty fucking creepy, because Derrick says, "If she does die . . ." We called it the "cliffhanger podcast," because we taped it Friday and said, "We don't know what's gonna happen," just goofing, not really any actual thought that she was gonna die, and he said, "I think I'd just kill myself; I don't think I could do it."
How long have you lived in Bisbee, Doug? Eight years.
I imagine that in a town like that the sense of community is really strong among creative people. Oh, yeah. I had to post on Facebook for people to not come by . . . otherwise that place would be overrun right now, and my girlfriend does not have the fucking mental stability to handle 60 people in the house grieving.
You're not home right now. No, I'm in New York. She decided not to come because Whiskey was sick. We got the call right as we were leaving to go to the airport that she died. And then, yeah . . . Drank through that on a couple of flights, and now I have to do a fucking show in two or three hours.
There are moments in your act where you address . . . Horrible things? [Laughs]
Yes, you address some dark stuff. If there's a comedian to go up three hours after they find out two of their best friends are dead, I'm the guy. [Laughs] I'm cut out for it better than most. If I had to go out and pull out a puppet, it would probably be difficult.
If you had to do a quick little skit or whatever. Brian Regan would probably cancel the show. I'll just say that. [Laughs]
I've got to be honest: I can't think of a comedian who wouldn't. I didn't expect you to take the call. You make it a point to go dark places, but I imagine there's usually a lot more time passed between the jokes and tragedy. They say comedy is tragedy plus timing. You've got the tragedy here, but the timing isn't lined out at all. I've got a friend that helps me out and watches my house when I'm on the road, when Bingo goes with me. I had him go over immediately because it was only Bingo [there], who has fragile mental health anyway, and the screaming grieving mother who found him. They live right next to us. So I had him go over while the cops were there taking statements, and I called [him] and said, "Hey, while the cops are there go out and slowly start hammering in a 'For Rent' sign on the front lawn." So, we're trying to crank up the gallows humor early. We didn't actually do that, but it was a funny thought.
To be able to laugh about it is obviously a coping mechanism. Today it definitely is.
I know it's a difficult day, and I want to thank you for speaking with me. Those are the days you seem to have more to say that is pertinent. I was going to cancel all the fucking interviews today, and I said, "No, no, let's do the interviews; let's do the podcast." Sometimes you're just saying the same fucking things you say every interview, because nothing is new. You've just been saying the same shit on the road, so now let's do the same interview again.
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Again, my condolences to you and everyone in Bisbee.
Maybe I'll make it funny by the time I get to Phoenix.