Doug Stanhope interview: "Guardian people? Fuck them"
Tim Clark6 July 2011
Doug Stanhope didn't know he was due to be interviewed by SSP. Then again, it's not entirely clear he knows what day it is. Scandinavians, Americans and anyone who reads the Guardian might want to stop reading here...
It's 2pm on a Friday in Arizona, and Doug Stanhope is drunk. There are three things to note. One, he started drinking on the Thursday. Two, this is his annual July 4th party. And three, it's only July 1st and he's planning on carrying on until the big day itself.
“I'm beyond drunk,” he says as he starts an interview he had no idea he was scheduled for. “I got drunk, passed out for an hour and then started drinking at 4am with our new company that just showed up. We went to a neighbour's house, there was a dogfight...it was a bad morning.”
Stanhope is at home 'relaxing' before he starts a 25 night-run at the Leicester Square Theatre. It's a long run in the UK for a comedian who is known for talking on American topics – abortion, Charlie Sheen, US politics. But a combination of successful visits to the UK and his residency on Newswipe where he out-misanthropicked Charlie Brooker have landed him the summer run at the theatre.
But first: drink. Has he ever managed to do a show sober? “The last one was 2003, and I only remember it because I was put on an ill-suited Comedy Central tour doing colleges where there was no alcohol in the crowd and if you're drinking in the stage, that'll be odd. A non-drinking audience is the worst thing imaginable.”
Perhaps it's the demon drink that means Stanhope is doing well among the Brits (who, he admits, can outdrink him). There is something endearingly shambolic and self-loathing about him that translates well to British audiences.
And that often covers vitriolic rants on social and political issues that has seen him hailed as picking up the Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor line of 'important' comedy. He is on what must be a very short list of comedians who have a quote from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee on their press release (he has no idea why it happened – we've dropped them a line but there's no word back yet).
Talk of 'important' comedy, however, doesn't seem to sit well with him. Cue the first Stanhope rant of the interview.
“I have no idea why [I'm in that vein], but I always said that to try to break down comedy to its essence, that's ruined comedy. Doing comedy ruined comedy for me, where I used to do what I know understand as hackneyed jokes. The same as a magician, when he learns how to pull a feather out of his fucking sleeve...the only thing worse is to be a critic of comedy, when you have to be a Brian Logan [comedy critic at the Guardian], to break down comedy to 'this is why you said this'...
“I have no meaning, I don't have any underlying statement, I say what I think is funny. I don't have to think about it because if I did...it's already hard enough for me to have fun doing this. I'm just trying to say what I think is funny, I don't care it's a political statement or if it's a fist fuck joke. I'm just trying to enjoy my life. I'm dead soon, this isn't going to last forever. There's no hidden meaning, there's no subtext, there's no underlying message. It is what it is.”
Having poked the drunk tiger, we seem to be on something of a roll. What does he make of the state of British satirical comedy? “I'm sure what you consider weak, mediocre satire would be high comedy here. You have to accept, that's where we live. Those are mediocre minds running the world. You can fight against it and rail against it, which I have done for a long time to the point that I really wanted to kill myself, I'm embarrassed to be part of the species. Yeah, I could be a household name if I wanted to do that type of comedy.
“Again, I hate to keep using death metal [this is the first mention of death metal in the conversation], but you don't do that to become a household name. If I wanted to be well-known and meet those people in the middle, I would not do this act, I would tear up my setlist, and I would steal Dane Cook's material. I'm very fortunate to have some fanbase that enjoys what I do. I don't even know why it's funny anymore, but there are people who want to hear it, and I'm glad because I don't want to sell shoes at Wal-Mart.”
Indeed, he goes as far as to say he “hates the Bill Hicks thing”, before catching himself and going quiet. “No, there's also something to be said for being funny when it's about something stupid,” he says. “Mitch Hedberg is one of the best comics of our generation and he was talking about nonsense, it was just a really smart nonsense. He didn't have to be ballsy or so 'let's talk about rape'. No, he's talking about frozen turkeys, but he was really really funny.”
That might have been Hedberg's approach, but Stanhope's approach is being the angry misanthrope, drunkenly railing against the world. Often, though, it carries echoes of the 'mad as hell' anchor in the film Network. Is he really that vitriolic? Or is it easy to just play up to that image for his adoring liberal crowd?
He insists that he doesn't have an easy crowd in the UK, refuting that it's just the Guardian readers (“The Guardian people? Fuck them”) and BBC Four viewers who make up his fanbase, but a crowd that really makes him work.
“In the States if I have nothing I can pull stuff out of my ass about what I know is going on and I know that will translate,” he says. “In the UK you don't have that safety net. So when I'm there I'm like a student cramming for an exam to pass my finals. Every day watching the
local news, on bbc.com, what's going on, and writing. I have to work over there and that's why I hate it so much, it forces me to be funny.”
And what's funny? There's a long, long pause. “Erm, just basically thinking a retarded person is funny trying to eat at breakfast. Something like that, you're going to start laughing.”
Which brings us nicely back to the self-loathing, particularly on tour. “I'm boring as shit on the road, and fans that want to come hang out are depressed. I find the least occupied place, have a drink, slump over the bar and don't say anything. And I go to bed as soon as I can, because I'm terrified of British audiences. I could sell dog shit on a paper plate to American audiences and they clap like fucking retards.”
The swearing rate is finally speeding up, and Stanhope seems to be relaxing more as he starts on more risqué material. Has he ever taken advantage of his bad boy image and slept with the fans? “With a girl who's enamoured because you're three feet higher than them? Yeah, I used to. The whole purpose of doing comedy when I started was the girls.
“Now I'm basically asexual. I have no sex drive whatsoever. At some point it just started to go, this is all the same shit, I'll jerk off and get it done quicker. It's kind of a brilliant thing except not a lot of people identify with it.”
I suggest that as he's about to tour Canada, which has one of the world's most visible asexual communities, he should consider joining them.
“No, it's like Minnesota or the Scandinavian countries. They're beautiful but there's no sexuality to them. There's no inner porn, there's no 'fuck me' in their eyes. I appreciate beautiful people and looking at them but I have no sex drive.”
It's tricky interviewing Stanhope to separate the bluster (the professed disinterest in politics and social issues; some of the big talk on drinking) from the talent he has to rage against the machine like no other comedian currently does. Which, he would probably think, is exactly what Brian Logan would say.
“I need to find a Xanax and fall asleep,” he concludes. “That's one thing Britain needs: downers. You have all the drugs in the world, except the ones to go to bed. Thanks for the ecstasy, ketamine, coke, but it's 6am and I need to go to sleep for the show: and they're like, what are downers?”
Doug Stanhope is at the Leicester Square Theatre from August 2 to September 2. www.dougstanhope.com
Your rating: None
- Fresh Meat film plans 'in discussion'
- Sheridan Smith
- RoundEd Productions
- Comedian therapy, The Olympics and Hardee anecdotes: the week in video
- Freddie Mercury 2
- Undercover sitcom for UKTV Dave
- Edinburgh Fringe 2012: Ticket trouble and tantrums
- Lembit Opik performs Glastonbury's Left Field stage
- The top list of top lists of comedy
- Lee Evans