Doug Stanhope: interview
Comedy editor Tim Arthur (Valium and Jack Daniel’s) goes gonzo with comedian Doug Stanhope (Jägermeister and Red Bull) – in La-La land. Guns, threesomes and women fighting – all in a weekend’s work
Heathrow airportSweaty palms. Cotton-mouth. Overwhelming feelings of panic. A pocketful of Valium. I’m getting on a plane. Ahead of me lies ten hours of white-knuckle fear, bad food and Jack Daniel’s. I’m heading for LA to spend three days with controversial, alcohol-fuelled, drug-laced comedy maverick and extreme social commentator, Doug Stanhope.
Hotel barStanhope arrives and I meet him in the bar.‘I’m Tim.’‘Oh yeah, from London. This is my girlfriend, Bingo.’ He introduces a petite, bird-like woman who’s nervously pulling the labels off the beer bottles in front of them. He’s making some notes on a pad. ‘I don’t normally prepare this much, I normally just drink and go on.’
He puts the notebook away and reaches for his liquid inspiration.
When did he last do a show sober?
Doug looks to Bingo for an answer. They both appear tired and wasted. After a little while I start to suspect they’ve forgotten the question and are now just locked in a staring competition. Then Bingo smiles. ‘Edinburgh a few years back. Remember? You had the flu.’
‘Oh Christ, that was bad. I thought I was going to die. I did a couple of shows then when I was too ill to drink.’
There are long pauses and awkward silences. I feel like I’m in the way, so leave him to prepare for the show. Back in my room I realise how awkward it is to be spending three days with a man who has made a career out of being a social misfit.
Downtown Comedy ClubDoug, dressed in suit jacket, shirt, shorts and sneakers, bounds on stage, snarling and smiling, spitting out bitter pearls of misanthropy. ‘There’s too many people on this fucking planet. So stop fucking in the front hole. We need to have a purge, which brings me to eugenics – the artform of cleaning up the gene pool.’His furious rants are punctuated by long, deep gulps of Jäger-bomb, an evil mixture of Jägermeister and Red Bull. Down in the bar afterwards a few of the fans and some industry people have come to hang out with him. Bingo, resplendent in top hat and ra-ra skirt, jumps on the prettiest girl in the group and starts making out with her. Later, the night turns ugly. Conversations descend into nonsense and women begin to fight.I need to get out of this place before I’m infected by the madness. I make my excuses.‘Good timing.’ Doug says. ‘There’s every level of drunkenness here and I’m just spinning plates trying to keep them all happy. Night.’
Bedroom buddies: Doug and Bingo
Doug’s roomDoug and Bingo don’t answer their phone until mid-afternoon and are in no shape to do an interview anywhere other than in bed. I head to their room. The place is awash with the detritus of one serious night of partying. Clothes and beer bottles are strewn everywhere, rolled-up $20 bills and plastic pill bottles lie discarded on the floor. I perch awkwardly on a chair, wary of touching anything. ‘Bingo hasn’t been to sleep yet. We had some woman up here all night, watching porn and trying to persuade her to fuck us,’ Stanhope says, sounding even growlier than normal. ‘I crashed around 7am, but she couldn’t sleep.’‘Fucking coke,’ Bingo says smiling, but shaking a little.How did they meet?‘She came to a gig, I banged her and then a year or so later she phones me saying she’s just got out of a mental institution. I told her she should come with me and some friends down to Death Valley to take some hallucinogens.’‘It wasn’t exactly what the doctors ordered,’ giggles Bingo.What’s home life like?‘Nothing like this,’ Stanhope says looking around the bombsite. ‘We live in this small town in Arizona. We’ve got a big bed in the living room, so we can lie around watching our 47" television all day. We’ve got dogs and cats. We cook burgers and drink beer on Sundays. I’m every fat, hog-bellied American guy I talk about on stage.’ Bingo affectionately kisses his arm. I can’t help but like them. They’re like two lost souls, clinging to each other to survive an insane world.‘LA is crazy,’ says Stanhope, as if bearing this out. ‘We party all the time when I’m on the road, so it’s nice to get home and away from it. Although we do a fair bit of tripping down there as well.’ Has their relationship grounded him?‘Kind of. Just being with someone helps. Pussy has probably been responsible for more fuck-ups in my life than either drugs or alcohol.’Bingo kisses him again. They clearly adore each other. They start to loosen up and talk more freely. They’re good people. Lying there in bed, he looks perfectly content, reading the sports pages. I wonder if he feels compelled to do stand-up?‘No. My ego is satiated. I would miss being able to talk about fun stuff like 9/11 or the tsunami. That first year after the Twin Towers was great. I was really passionate talking about all the bullshit people were shouting.’ There’s a twinkle in his bloodshot, baggy eyes. ‘Let’s hope the world turns tragic enough to give me back my youthful exuberance.’
On stage at the Downtown Comedy Club
Downtown Comedy Club‘You wanna come and meet Richard Pryor’s wife? You’ll come down as a friend, though, right? Not a journalist?’ I’m touched. It’s taken me two intense days to get him to even feel comfortable in my company, and now he’s going to take me to meet the wife of probably the greatest stand-up ever. We chat politely and I see that same nervousness flicker across his face that I’ve noticed when he has to be polite in public. He smiles at me and brings me in to the conversation. Before heading back for the second show Stanhope snorts a line or two. As he comes up, the set slips around loosely. It’s like he’s trying to pick up mercury with a fork, but even when befuddled he’s still got one of the sharpest minds in comedy. I’m in awe of his ability to twist and turn concepts of religion and politics even with his bloodstream chemically altered.
Firing rangeI can’t raise Doug or Bingo to say goodbye. I’m exhausted. LA is one huge, celebrity-obsessed, vacuous, fascinating, dangerous city, and it’s all been a bit too much for a country boy like me. Still, as I head for the airport, I realise how pleased I am to have met Doug and Bingo. Two days inside their bubble was like visiting LA: great fun, but you wouldn’t want to live there. ‘We’ve got a couple of hours, though.’ Barry the photographer points out. ‘We could go shopping… or shooting?’ So, for the last hour of an utterly surreal trip I shoot a handgun on a range. It seems a fitting end to this American odyssey. Then it’s sweaty palms. Cotton-mouth. Three shots of bourbon. And take-off.Doug Stanhope plays the Leicester Square Theatre until Sun Sept 21.
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