Doug Stanhope: interview

© Chris Saunders
Posted: Thu Apr 14 2011

Will one of the world's most controversial comics give his interviewer a hard time? Time Out speaks to Doug Stanhope…

I'm a little worried as I sit in the Time Out phone booth ahead of my interview slot with Doug Stanhope. 'If he doesn't answer, leave a short message and keep trying him!' the PR has instructed me. Notorious for his uninhibited, no-holds-barred stand-up, the US comic recently admitted he can't remember when he last performed a gig sober. It's 5pm here in London, 10am in Arizona, where he's based. Knowing his penchant for alcohol, as I dial his number I wonder if he'll be conscious enough to hear the phone at that time in the morning.

But almost instantly the call is answered. 'Hi, is that Doug?' I enquire. 'As far as you're aware,' comes the quick reply. Sure enough, it's him, and he's surprisingly chirpy. 'Are you well?' I ask politely. 'Well, I'm up and moving,' he jokingly responds.

Throughout our exchange, the 44-year-old comic is endearing, courteous and incredibly sharp-witted. As with his stand-up, some may find him confrontational and intentionally offensive. But behind the gruff exterior he's simply a brutally honest, passionate individual, with an undeniable rationale behind his thoughts and opinions.

Stanhope embraces the chaos of his shows, keeping them as 'live' as possible. 'It used to be walkouts, now it's thrown-outs,' he succinctly puts it: audience members adhere to his drinking attitude and become increasingly boisterous. He explains, 'Anything that breaks up the monotony of one guy talking can be fun.' But it's clear there's one thing he really doesn't want interrupting his flow…

The last time I saw you perform you were trying to disrupt the sound quality of anyone potentially filming the gig by speaking off-mic. What's so harmful about recordings?
'It kills new material. I'll be working on stuff that isn't fleshed out yet and it's already available on YouTube. Plus it throws me off. The same way anyone sticking a camera in your face would take you out of your train of thought. It's completely cock-blocking to the stream of consciousness, and stops me from saying stuff I would normally say to an anonymous group of people. Comedy used to be a place where I could tell the audience anything. If I had a hooker last night behind my girlfriend's back, I could fucking tell an anonymous bunch of people because they don't know my girlfriend. There was a kind of doctor/ client, comic/audience confidentiality. You don't have that any more.'

But have YouTube clips also helped you build an audience? Do people watch internet clips of your stand-up and then buy tickets to your show?
'Sure, but I have enough previously released material available. It's not royalties I'm looking for. Once I've put it on a DVD, I'm done with it. So sure, share that stuff, burn it, steal it, enjoy it.'

Your comedy's often branded as “offensive”. What offends you?
'A lot of things offend me that are the opposite to a lot of people. If I heard a comic talking about being a born-again Christian, that offends me because religion offends me. But you don't see atheists storming out of shows and acting like they have some kind of fucking rights. I get more people who complain about some innocuous aside than the stuff deemed “offensive”. Say the word “diabetes” between rape and abortion jokes and someone will get offended, because their dad just lost his legs from diabetes.'

What were your goals when you started comedy?
'I was trying to get laid. I had no musical or athletic ability and I wasn't particularly good looking. Comedy was something I could do for attention.'

At what point did you decide to make your stand-up more of a social commentary and provide a message with your comedy?
'When I was 23 I didn't really have a world view. But as the jerk-off jokes wore thin, I did something outside of thinking with my cock. I started to read here and there and noticed that the world around me wasn't quite the same product I'd been sold. Thinking about it, I was happier back when I was 25 with a mullet and an ugly stripper on my arm.'

You've built up a big, loyal following in the UK. Do you enjoy playing to British crowds?
'In the UK it's far more brutal than it is in the US. Once you've culled your little chunk of flesh out of the masses, they're fantastic, the best ever. But when they hate you, they fucking hate the shit out of you.'

And finally, what would you say to anyone who has been, or will be offended by any of your material?
'No one's going to be offended by my material. Only if someone accidentally walked into the gig. And if they are offended, well, maybe I've still got it…'