At home with Doug Stanhope
Ben Williams spends Super Bowl Sunday with the uninhibited US stand-up at his Arizona home
Each year, hellraising US comic Doug Stanhope throws a wild Super Bowl party. This year, Time Out London's Comedy editor Ben Williams wangled himself an invite. Read Ben's account below and see pictures from the party in our gallery.
Gallery: Doug Stanhope's Super Bowl party
Super Bowl Sunday, 1pm
Bisbee, Arizona. A sleepy ex-mining town, seven miles north of the Mexican border, which smells of copper and barbecue. It’s home to uninhibited comedian and alcohol-fuelled social commentator Doug Stanhope, who has lived there with his girlfriend Bingo for the past seven years. Over the next few hours a mass of people will descend on Stanhope’s home for his annual Super Bowl party. Through his UK promoter, Martin Witts, I’ve wangled myself an invite, but when Martin tells me that last year’s debauch lasted eight days, the fear of what I’ve let myself in for hits me. On tour, the Massachusetts-born comic is notorious for his hardcore lifestyle, necking Jägerbombs on stage to fuel brilliantly vitriolic drunken rants. My tolerance for alcohol is not large. Neither is my knowledge of American Football. I’m not going to fit in.
The gate to Stanhope’s compound is open when I arrive. Dogs yap as I let myself in to a multi-coloured explosion of yellow walls, bright blue gravel and elaborate murals. I wasn’t expecting such vivid decor from an artist whose chief modus operandi is dark, venomous, system-bashing. Stanhope is sat outside smoking with friends. He gets up to greet me and I ask about the paint job. ‘When we bought it, it was drab, so we painted it weird colours, built on this and that, and we just keep adding shit as we go,’ he says as he walks me through the newly built ‘fun house’ (a massive TV room, all set for the game), a bright orange annexe and a small caravan in the garden affectionately nicknamed ‘the rape trailer’, and used as a spare bedroom for guests. I’m offered full use of it, but fortunately I’m able to explain that I’m already staying in my own luxury trailer down the road at the Shady Dell – the location for Stanhope’s rants on Charlie Brooker’s ‘Newswipe’ TV show.
As we walk, Stanhope introduces me to his brother Jeff, Bingo, ‘Neighbour Dave’ and many fellow comics. I admit to him I’ve never understood American football. ‘It’s okay,’ he reassures me, ‘the Super Bowl’s not about football. It’s about partying and yelling and having fun. Everything the British hate about American football is what makes the Super Bowl fun. “It takes too long, there are all these commercials and time outs…” That’s the thing: you fucking party. We’re trained, we know when something’s going to happen. And then if it doesn’t, we go right back to talking.’
The game’s started, with a total of six TVs showing the action. Stanhope moves between groups of friends, catching snippets as he goes. Among the chaos of drunken comics, kids are playing and elderly folk are deep in conversation. It’s as if his house is a community hub. ‘Unofficial mayor’ is how Paul Newman, a politician friend of Stanhope’s, describes him. ‘This has become the most interesting collection of the broadest spectrum of humanity you will experience. You’ve got military people, straight-out hippies, intellectuals, elected officials and everything in between,’ he says, adding, ‘Doug’s the most generous host you’ll ever experience.’
Stanhope’s generosity is conspicuous by its munificence. Food, alcohol, entertainment… It must be setting him back thousands. His hospitality extends particularly to Neighbour Dave (who also looks after Stanhope’s merchandise sales via his website). Stanhope has bought a new house with a pool, a few blocks away, purely so Neighbour Dave can get fit. ‘His fucking joints are falling apart, he’s going to fucking die, and it’s the only way he can exercise,’ Stanhope tells me. ‘Neighbour Dave can take care of the pool. If he doesn’t use it, and he dies, well, then we’ve got a pool. And one less friend.’
It’s half time, but no one’s watching the official entertainment: four ‘mature’ cheerleaders enterthe room carrying ‘Fuck Madonna’ banners and ‘Stanhope’ embroidered on their outfits, chanting, ‘We’re old, we’re chunky but we’re really funky.’
The game’s over – New York Giants have beaten New England Patriots 21-17 – but the party is only just beginning. Bingo has changed from a clown outfit into a bunny costume and the alcohol is flowing, though there’s little evidence of anything harder. ‘Doug’s a lot healthier than he used to be,’ says Andy Andrist, a comic who has known Stanhope his whole career. (‘He remembers more of my life than I do,’ says Stanhope.) ‘On the road, both of us would get shit-hammered to get through the evening. I’d go home shaking and have to go through a mini-rehab after ten days on the road with Doug,’ continues Andrist. ‘Now, he takes brisk walks. That was the surprising thing about Doug, to me, the brisk walks.’ I ask Stanhope why he lives in Bisbee. ‘I love the desert,’ he says. ‘The space. I like empty and quiet and hot and dry. I lived in LA for ten years and I had to get the fuck out.’ But Stanhope and Bingo rarely leave their ‘safe house’. ‘The town that we like comes to us, I don’t go out into town,’ he says. ‘The last thing I want is someone going: “You fucking suck!” You get that on the road, I don’t want that at home.’ So has he never performed in Bisbee? ‘I did once,’ says Stanhope. ‘It was fine. When you have an act like mine, that’s basically like pornography or thrash metal, most people won’t like it. In Bisbee, people will go to see it because it’s there. They’re not my fans, and most of them won’t like it. You don’t want to see those people again.’
By midnight only a small group of comedian buddies remain. The party so far hasn’t quite been the class-A-fuelled binge I had expected, but now that only the hardcore few remain, I’m not taking any chances and decide to head back to the Shady Dell, leaving Stanhope to live up to his reputation.
The next day I drop by the house. Everyone looks exhausted. ‘I woke up and started stroking Bingo’s head and butt,’ Doug says, gravel-voiced, cigarette in mouth, shades on. ‘Then I go, “You better be Bingo,” and Andy fucking pulls the blanket down from his face and says, “I’m not Bingo.” ’ Andy chips in: ‘We turned over and went back to sleep.’
I doubt this year’s party will last eight days, like 2011’s shenanigans did. After all, Doug has a new show to write for his UK tour. ‘I’m fucking terrified,’ he tells me. ‘After this party’s over it will be like cramming for an exam, sitting in the rape trailer, reading books, looking at old notepads, trying to remember the shit that I had somewhat worked out. I’ll lose a lot more hair.’ Why not write some material about this: his home life, his neighbours, his less nihilistic side? ‘There’s no comedy in this. “Hey! You know what I like? Walking my dog, a brisk, cool morning, a nice breeze…” No. All good comedy comes from hate and awfulness and pain and dirt. There’s no market for nice.’