"Most comics are pretty dark people," Doug Stanhope says.
Few comics are quite as dark -- or willing to get as pitch black -- as Stanhope. Our conversation with him, following the terrible news that his best friends and Bisbee neighbors Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl, had passed away, understandably went painful places. You can read that part of our interview here. But Stanhope excels at drawing out the humor inherent in the worst news; for better or worse, Stanhope is Arizona's gallows funnyman.
"A comedian's sense of humor, when he's hanging out with other comics, is usually as dark as it can get," he says. "Because you're almost like a porn star. [It's like] what sex must be like to a porn star -- anything simple is no longer funny. The shit you talk about in the green room would make most people unfriend you on Facebook."
We discussed Stanhope's objections to "celebrity doctor" Drew Pinsky, his appearance on Louie, involvement with The Man Show and Girls Gone Wild, and avoiding "preaching" during his shows.
Jackalope Ranch: You say stuff in your act that very few other comedians would say. You seem to be willing to go places few people are.
Doug Stanhope: That's the green room sense of humor. You figure, if that's what I laugh at, why not do that? I remember early in my career, working on my act, and [I'd] sit around with other comics and you'd have shit in your notebook that you would fucking gut-bust-cry laughing at, and you'd say, "You could never do that on stage." At some point, I figured why the fuck not? Why not do that on stage? That's what's killing you.
You spend a lot of time in your act talking about "recovery," and you often take on Dr. Drew Pinsky for his role as a "celebrity doctor." I was listening to the podcast you did with Dr. Drew, where you went on and actually talked with him. It was compelling. I tend to agree with your initial assessment of Dr. Drew -- that he's causing harm. I shouldn't say initial, because you never really came around to his side in that conversation. At some points it felt like he was arguing my points against him better than me. [Laughs]
The way he discussed being a part of [Celebrity Rehab] was really interesting. I despise it; it's a train wreck and not in a fun way. I despise it, but it almost seemed like he does, too. Yeah, there's a lot of deflection. "I didn't have anything to do with that; that was the producers." Well, your name is on it. The whole "boat riding" with Gary Busey. The one thing I didn't get in that was in my fucking notes was the whole Lindsay Lohan thing. I don't know if you remember. He was on some show and said that if he were Lindsay Lohan's father, he'd plant cocaine on her and then call the cops just to get her locked up for her own good. He's not some comedian where you say, "Oh, no, that's hyperbole." You're a fucking doctor. You don't say stuff like that.
You're pretty vocal about your beliefs regarding the process of recovery or the commercialization of it. Yeah, that cottage industry.
Your problem is with the cottage industry, not the idea of recovery? Oh, yeah, no. [My problem's] when you're using "God" as the pivot point -- something that I see as nonsense, utter nonsense -- and that's what you're using to treat a medical condition; what you call a medical condition. Sure, I think you should be trying harder. You say, "It works for some people," but it doesn't work for a lot of people because of that. Why aren't you trying to build a better mousetrap when you know that's so fucking flawed?
And that's just A.A. [There's more] when you start to get into who's profiting off this, turning every problem into some kind of medical condition that needs treatment you have to pay for. Hey, maybe you just need a good fucking cry. [Laughs]
Do you feel that same way about religion in general? Do you have a problem with people saying "If it helps you sleep at night, it's fine?" Yeah, I vacillate. The problem is, most people are fucking dumb, and they want to believe that. They want to have kings and queens, idols and gods. You see some of the places when you go on tour, and you're in the backwoods of fucking Illinois and it's nothing but flat shit nothing, and you know eight months of the year it's just going to be gray and sparse, and you have to go and fucking milk goats every morning, drive a tractor, or some dumb shit. Yeah, you might want to have a Jesus so you don't put a fucking gun in your mouth. Hopefully have a fat wife one day, in a passionless relationship. At that point you better be hoping there's something to look forward to later, because it ain't happening in this life. Get a fucking lottery ticket for hope.
I want to ask about Girls Gone Wild and The Man Show, both of which must have been, to some degree, difficult to reconcile with your style. You have the freedom to focus on what you want to do now but . . . Girls Gone Wild was something I did as a complete lark. I thought it would be silly to do. I did an episode of Jerry Springer right at the beginning [of my career], where I played a traveling salesman who's about to find out his wife is a titty dancer, and then I'm gonna find out, "Oh, no, she's also having a lesbian affair!" I thought that was fucking hilarious, just to be part of pop culture. I did the Girls Gone Wild the same way. I had no idea it would haunt me so badly. I wasn't envisioning a fucking year and a half of every single cable channel after midnight having some dumb shit I screamed drunk at a girl following me around.
But it has been something you've had a really difficult time shaking. Yeah, especially when I'm in some shit town on tour, when I show up to St. Stevens Point, Wisconsin, at like four, and it's a motel bar and restaurant and it says [on the marquee] "This Week: Doug Stanhope (The Man Show); next week, Dustin Diamond (Screech)." You want to be on that circuit and think it's a joke, but, no, you really are on the Screech/Skippy from Family Ties/Doug Stanhope junket. [Laughs]
But Beer Hall Putsch on Netflix: It's seemed to have done really good things for you. Yeah, it seems to be my most well received thing.
It's a good special. I would assume that for my audience, who probably has Netflix -- doesn't have $15 for a DVD or Showtime or HBO -- it's good. My audience [is] more than likely broke. [Laughs] The kid in The Misfits T-shirt, stumbling in to pay the last of his rent money for a ticket; I don't imagine he has all the premium channels.
Things like Beer Hall Putcsh definitely contrast with stuff like The Man Show. I'm probably the only guy who ever got a TV show and lost fans because of it. The underground kind of cult base I have, a lot of them dropped off because they saw The Man Show. It's fucking terrible.
I imagine doing something like Louie achieves the exact opposite, right? Yeah, yeah. Evidently [Louis CK] submitted that episode to the Emmys. I didn't win, but it's still kind of cool. I wasn't nominated, I should say, but it was nice that he had that much faith in it.
It was one of the most powerful episodes that season. Again, super-dark. That show gets pretty dark anyway, but then you showed up and took it to a new dark level. You're in an upcoming movie too, right? Finally Famous, written and directed by Chris Rock? I just had two lines and some riffing. It wasn't a major part.
Would you be open to that sort of thing? Doing more acting? Doing stuff like that, just small stuff. Louie, that was an anomaly. I didn't really have to act. I'm not a very good actor; I tend to freeze up on camera. I feel awkward. But when you're playing that part [a suicidal comedian], okay.
You don't know that you would do movies or take on bigger roles? The random things that come by, I like. Yeah sure, I'll do a Chris Rock movie. I have two lines and I say "nigger" in both of them. [Laughs] That's amusing. But I wouldn't put that much effort into something that I don't think I'm good at. I'm not going to do ride-alongs to find out what a detective's life is like so I can be in a buddy cop movie.
To get back to your act: You make a lot of points, reflect on a lot of things. Do you ever worry that you're being "preachy?" Yeah, I watch some of my stuff -- which I loathe, when I have to watch myself -- but it's been so long that I say, "Have I already done this bit?" So, you go back and you watch your material after you've put out a special, or you're trying to get new shit, or rekindle old shit that you never got taped because you never got it quite right. But yeah, sometimes I watch my old shit, and I come off wicked douchey. So I try and temper that, or at least give myself the same fucking beating, with the same level of vitriol.
That's what makes it work. I feel like you take it on yourself, and own what it is you're doing or saying. That's the great thing about comedy: You can afford to be wrong. You fuck stuff up, and it's like, "Hey, this isn't a documentary." Some of the facts might be a little bit off.
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You pull out some facts. You research your material. Oh, yeah, but I've caught myself starting bits and realized, "That's completely fucking wrong" and had to ditch the whole thing. I remember doing some bit about the lady who runs PETA, and it was based on a documentary I started to watch when I was drunk and fell asleep during. But I had an idea, and I started doing it. Then I went to add more meat to it and looked up some shit on Wikipedia and other things and watched the rest of the documentary and went, "Oh, that premise is completely flawed."
So you had to jettison the joke? Yeah. Fortunately, you don't have people Googling your shit while you're doing it yelling out, "Factual error!"
Doug Stanhope is scheduled to perform Wednesday, November 13, at Stand Up Live.