"I have no desire to clean my act up at all. But I don't even find it that vulgar except for the obscenities. The dick jokes are going to get fewer and fewer as you get older. Hopefully. No one wants to see some 50-year-old talking about getting pussy."
– Doug Stanhope
Guy MacPherson: You're admittedly, as you say on your website, not for everyone. Who is your audience?
Doug Stanhope: Well, they're generally broke, I know that.
GM: Why's that?
DS: (laughs) I don't know. I never sat down to think about it. I think they're probably mostly the disenfranchised. The people who've taken time to think about everything and realize most of it's bullshit.
GM: Most of what you say is bullshit?
DS: No, most of what you're taught in life is bullshit.
GM: You do shock some people but I get the sense that's not your aim.
DS: No. Occasionally, to wake an audience up, I always have a few silver bullets of shock value to break people out of their trance, but no, that's generally not the point. And it's gotten to the point where I'm surprised that anyone is shocked. I'm so used to being like this that I assume everybody else is. Early on in my career there were points where I think, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm actually going to tell people this', whatever it is, a story or an experience, and then after a while you're just so used to being honest about your feelings and the places you've been and what you do and who you are that you can't imagine anyone would be shocked by it.
GM: Now they tend to know you, I would think, but early on in your career did you get different kinds of reaction?
DS: It's weird, even still people who don't know me, you're always amazed at the things people are put off by or shocked by when you go, 'Wait, I just did this bit, that bit and you're going to walk out because I made fun of a hurricane?'
GM: Oh, you're making fun of the hurricane now?
DS: Actually, I haven't been because I just moved to a small town in Arizona by the Mexican border and thought it'd be a good idea not to have television so I have not immersed myself, as I would have, in 24-hour coverage. This is my first gig in a month so now I'm on the road and I got the CNN but I missed all the good parts. So I haven't found the angle on it yet.
GM: I'm sure it'll come.
DS: Yeah. I mean I got to a point where I was just watching so much CNN and it gets so hateful with that impotent rage because there's nothing you can do about it except yell about it. And it got to a point where I realized I'm making my entire life miserable just to make my act funnier. I'm watching way too much of this that doesn't affect my life. You know, all of this shit – the war, the election – none of it really affects me on a regular basis. Or most people. So why am I spending so much time on this hatred where it's bleeding into my regular day where I'm just a hateful person? So I got rid of TV and I'm way happier.
GM: And the small town living, do you like that?
DS: Love it. It's that small town in particular.
DS: Bisbee. It's an old mining town where the mine went bust in the seventies and everybody fled, but it's a beautiful city and the property values dropped so all these artists and hippies and stoners and drop-outs kind of took over the town. So it's kind of a great place to be.
GM: I guess as a standup you just need an airport. It doesn't really matter where you live.
DS: And that's why I didn't move there earlier, because it's 90 minutes from the airport. And then when I judged that against how much time I spent fucking hating my life in Los Angeles, an hour-and-a-half to the airport isn't really that long.
GM: Did you move there after a breakup?
DS: No, actually the breakup happened about a week after I moved there.
GM: So you moved there with your wife.
GM: And then she hated it.
DS: Well, no, she didn't hate it. But she continued to hate me on some level and I go, 'Hey, I didn't move all the way out here just to have the same fucking baggage with me so let's just call this a date.'
GM: That's too bad, I guess.
DS: It's one of those things. I likened it to my friend who did comedy for so many years and the only skill he had was he was funny but he didn't have anything else. He couldn't remember his jokes or structure it for stage or remember a segue. How long do you continue trying to do something? How long are we going to stay in this relationship just because we're in love even though we hate each other a good half of the time?
GM: How long were you together?
DS: Three-and-a-half years.
GM: Ah, that's long enough.
GM: You're smarter, I think, than a lot of the dirty comics. I hate to even lump you in with them. With a lot of them, I get the impression that it is the shock, whereas you have a message and you make it funny. I always use you as an example of a comic that I can disagree with intensely and still laugh at. Which I think is a good sign.
DS: Well, thank you. I only know a couple like that.
GM: Because normally if someone says something you really disagree with, you kind of turn off them.
DS: Well, generally when I've noticed that it's because they're using their point as their act without any attempt to make it funny.
GM: I've heard a comic has to kind of step away from it a bit, is that right? Otherwise you're too involved and you come across as preachy.
DS: I've found myself to be preachy. There's no hard and fast rule. Sometimes I think, 'Wow, this needs to be said very loudly.' And then other times I'll look back and go, 'Aw, that was really preachy.' And then other times I go, 'I need to be preachier. I'm doing too many dick jokes.' As long as you're unhappy with yourself, it keeps you working.
GM: Is it more fun to get audiences to squirm or to get huge laughs?
DS: When you can hit that balance in between.
GM: And you succeed at that most of the time?
DS: Not necessarily. (laughs) When you can find that one angle that's inarguable but with a subject matter that does make people squirm. Like years ago the TWA Flight 800 was probably one of the best bits I ever wrote but it was short-lived, as any news story is. But it was one of those things that was really coarse but it was inarguable logic.
GM: What was the bit generally?
DS: Let's see... I'm trying to remember it specifically. But it was about the victims' families that were just whining in these press conferences after six days, and 'it's been this long and they still can't identify our son'. The fucking plane blew up over the middle of the ocean... I can't do it justice. But there's another one: 9/11. Or the hurricane, but I don't know what the angle of it is. When you can find that, 'Hey, this is sensible even though it shouldn't be...'... I'm having a hard time putting this thought...
GM: I know what you mean. People hear certain red-flag words or subjects and they immediately jump up and they're not really listening to what you have to say about it.
DS: Yeah. Or when you can make them laugh before they realized they just laughed at the most inappropriate thing ever and it's too late to take the laugh back, that's always fun, too.
GM: Anyone who would think you're nothing but a shock comic would point to the Girls Gone Wild videos.
GM: Why did you do that?
DS: Sounded like fun.
GM: And was it? Was it fun to make?
DS: No, no, it really wasn't. Just because I'm way too old.
GM: How many did you do?
DS: I did one tape. They ran the commercial, I don't know about up there, but here they ran the commercial every 15 minutes for a year so people thought that was my job, like I did that all the time. I did one tape which took about seven nights of taping in different bars. It was the easiest gig in the world. It was a no-brainer as far as doing it. And all I did was insult dumb girls. It wasn't like I was the one in there going, 'Ooh yeah, baby, oh yeah. Touch it like that, baby.' I was just walking through bars goofing on chicks.
GM: You weren't necessarily a fan of the genre or videos. Or were you?
DS: No, no. I just thought it was a ridiculous pop-culturey thing to do for really good money for a short amount of time. I wasn't counting on them taking one thing that I said off the cuff and turning it into an inadvertent catch-phrase for the rest of my life.
GM: What was that? I don't know it.
DS: 'Show me where babies feed' was the line that they took out for the commercial. Every fifteen minutes here's me saying, 'Show me where babies feed' as though it were my own personal 'Git 'er done!'.
GM: As far as I know, we never got your version of The Man Show in Canada. They're still repeating the Kimmel and Carolla one.
DS: Hopefully it will never get there. That can't be buried quickly enough.
GM: Was that one year or two?
DS: Well, technically one. Well, it was one season that they stopped halfway through and then we reshot some of the second half and aired it as a new season even though it was the same.
GM: What was the problem with the show?
DS: It sucked.
GM: The writing?
DS: No, it wasn't the writing. There are so many people that you could blame. It really boiled down to the format. There was no way, as much as we tried, that we could fit our sense of humour into it. Because [Joe] Rogan and I have a very similar point of view.
GM: Except you're funny.
DS: Have you ever seen his standup?
GM: (laughs) No, but I always say that if he were funny, you'd think that in however many seasons he's been on Fear Factor one thing might have even accidentally slipped out that was funny.
DS: Not necessarily. Not with what he does. What he does is angry. Really smart angry. You'd be really surprised. He's got a new DVD coming out soon that I think has two of the best bits ever written on it.
GM: Really! Well then I'll have to check it out... You were going to book something called The Unbookables.
DS: Yeah, it's something I'm trying to get around to once my personal life kind of calms down for a while.
GM: Who are the Unbookables?
DS: Any number of comics. Just a rotating crew of them that just don't get work down here because everyone just caters to the middle mind. And every benign pointless act will get feature work for eternity because they don't really suck and they don't really blow any headliners off the stage and they're compatible and pliable and mouldable. There's a lot of comics that are just weird or bizarre or dark or too angry or too vulgar or too much of a risk as far as their proclivities to drink or drug, so they don't wanna take a chance 'because I heard that guy's a fuck-up and he gets really drunk or he's always looking for drugs.' So what? Is he funny? Yeah, he's funny.
GM: I guess they're worrying about if he shows up.
DS: Yeah, well that's the thing. You have a tour of four people going out and one of them gets really fucked up, well three people can swing a show. (laughs)
GM: Take turns.
DS: Yeah. Yeah, you just book 'em properly: 'Wait, we already have one fuck-up on this. Let's get a really dark or weird guy.'
GM: I read where you're giving up drugs and smoking for a month.
DS: Yeah, I'm just trying to quit smoking. So at Thanksgiving here in the States in November, it'll be my 25-year anniversary of drinking and smoking so I'm going to quit everything for a month. I can't quit smoking and do everything else. When I quit smoking, I gotta quit drinking coffee and quit drinking alcohol.
GM: Are you going to work?
DS: No, I'm not going to work. I'm going to hide in. I mean, I'll work on stuff at home. I'll write. I don't even want to socialize. I won't even pick up the phone. (laughs)
GM: You're a really good writer. Have you ever thought of putting together a book?
DS: Yeah, I have. And that's something I can work on when I'm home for a month. My discipline is shit.
GM: Is it?
DS: Yeah, as far as writing for that long. When I write it's physically taxing. My mind goes into such hyperdrive that I'll just sit there and chainsmoke and drink coffee and get more and more manic.
GM: But you write on your website not as much as I'd like but way more than anyone else who has a site out there.
DS: Yeah, but that's not large chunks that a book would require.
GM: But you have road stories and opinions on there.
DS: But that stuff doesn't flow out in a 15-minute session. I sit and I'm too much of a... not perfectionist, but I'll sit and dwell on 'What's the right word for this?' That'll be half an hour just trying to figure out the right word.
GM: And that's important in writing. And also standup. Is it just as important for your standup? The exact word or do you just go out with a vague idea of what you want to say.
DS: Standup is different because you can riff around the bullet-points that you know are going to work. And you can take your time and play with it every time. That's why it doesn't get boring. If I had to read what I wrote on my site every night for a living.... The fun of standup is being able to twist it. Even if it's old, you try to refresh it, add something or mix it with something else.
GM: So you're not just out there reciting memorized material.
DS: Right. The opposite with writing where if it's going to be permanent, I want it to be perfect. That's the beauty about standup: once you say it into a microphone, it just floats off into the air up to the interpretation and memory of the people in the audience.
GM: Unless it's a CD or DVD.
DS: Exactly. That's why I put those out so infrequently. Because when you put out a CD you gotta make sure all the material's new. Generally in my act, I always try to have new stuff but if it flows into something I've said before naturally.... So if you're taping something, the thought process that goes into it: 'Oh shit, I can't say that because I said that on the last CD' even if it's just a little thing that segues into something else that's new. Make any sense? It's something that's growing organically where old parts are still essential but they've bred this whole branch. And then you have to figure out a way to do it without having that. I've taped for a week solid and then listened to it and gone, 'This is just all scripted sounding and no life to this.'
GM: You are a perfectionist.
DS: But then I drink and it all goes to hell.
GM: You encourage people, also, to copy your CDs and tape the bootleg version.
DS: That's the only way I'll ever get known.
GM: This is interesting because most artists try to protect that.
DS: Established artists. But I would assume anyone that's unknown, and a good portion of the people that are known, sure steal it. There's enough people that are going to buy it.
GM: And pass it on to your friends so they know.
DS: Yeah. That's why Metallica, of all people, who led the fight against Napster... If I ever saw that runny little prick... I daydream about him being at one of my shows. Fucking sawed-off half-queer. (laughs) What is his name? Lars something.
GM: I don't know.
DS: I mean, the entire existence of that group was based on word of mouth, grassroots. Because they would get no airplay anywhere. It was all because of Napster. Well, before Napster, but Napster-type sharing of stuff that got them known and forced radio stations to play them.
GM: They're penny pinching.
DS: Yeah, they're douchebags.
GM: I always thought musicians were biting themselves in the ass by doing this because you obviously want people to come out to your shows and that's where the big money is. And then you can sell them other things when they're there.
DS: Yeah. It makes no sense to me. I still feel guilty every time I get paid.
GM: What type of comedy makes you laugh?
DS: Well, as you get bitter in this business, the most fun is absolute train-wreck death open-mic comedy. But just anything that's different. It's so hard to find. Brian Holtzman is probably the hardest I've ever laughed at comedy repeatedly. Literally on the floor fucking dying, choking. He's just absolutely insane. And he's just one of those guys who can be talking about anything that I violently disagree with and I'm laughing my balls off. He's so fucking funny. And he's out of his mind: "You fucking cops! You crybabies. You flat-foot. You play with guns, you get shot. Quit crying. Suck it up, faggot!"
GM: Well, you agree with that.
DS: Yeah, I do. But like wicked queer-bashing stuff. Like everything that if you were serious, I'd be against. Like you're an insane person. It doesn't matter what you say, you're fucking insane. And he, like, really is insane. It's great. And Otto & George. You ever seen Otto & George?
DS: Just the most vulgar puppet act in the world, out of New York. He's got the reputation as a crackhead that doesn't show up for gigs. He's an Unbookable for sure. He's the worst ventriloquist in the world but he's just over-the-top vulgar: "Madonna's such a whore her pussy's got a drawstring like a laundry bag." And his lips move more than the dummy's and he's not aware of it. He thinks he's good. And it's just so funny.
GM: And he's not a put-on?
DS: No. There are just so many layers to him. The fact that he is half nuts and he thinks he's a good ventriloquist and he's so absolutely vulgar and racist (laughing): "You ever see a black guy with a tattoo? They're like, 'Hey, brother, you like my tattoo?' 'I can't see your tattoo! You shoulda done it in white-out, you filthy circus ape!'"
GM: Oh, geez.
DS: I did the Nasty Show with him this year at Montreal. It's so wrong and so pointlessly vulgar but it's beautiful at the same time. I dunno. I like the people, you know? When the person shows through the comedy rather than someone just putting a string of words together to get a reaction.
GM: A lot of people have personas on stage or exaggerated parts of themselves. How much of that is you on stage? You seem very honest.
DS: It's honest to the extent that those are my beliefs, save for the shock value. I mean, I'm not always yelling like that. Not everything I say is formed as a joke. But other than that, yeah. I'm definitely honest. Maybe to a fault. If I'm not in the mood to be there that night, I can't help but say it (laughs). Maybe I should swallow that, but I don't.
GM: Is there anything you wouldn't say or you're embarrassed about?
DS: The only thing I shy away from is something that's better than even odds of causing me immediate physical violence. Then I might stay away from a joke.
GM: So you're yeller.
DS: Yeah. When I played Jersey right after 9/11 in a town full of fucking cops and firemen, I shied away from the 'cops and firemen aren't heroes' bit.
GM: Probably wise.
GM: You were on the Nasty Show in Montreal. Here you're on the Triple-X show. And yet you say you want to get known. Do you think you have to clean it up to do more TV work?
DS: Oh, I don't want to... I didn't move to Bisbee to do more TV work. There's nothing on TV, really. I mean, if there were anything I'd gravitate towards, it'd be radio.
GM: So no need to clean up your act?
DS: No, no. I have no desire to clean it up at all. But I don't even find it that vulgar except for the obscenities. The dick jokes are going to get fewer and fewer as you get older. Hopefully. No one wants to see some 50-year-old talking about getting pussy.
GM: How old are you?
GM: What's the cult?
DS: (laughs) Nothing.
GM: Okay. Just wanted to make sure.
GM: Just the people that live with you? The woman who answered the phone?
DS: Yeah, Bingo. That was actually Bingo's sister. Bingo just got out of an insane asylum. Yeah, she's wonderful.
GM: How many people live with you?
DS: Just me and Bingo and Father Luke, who's a phenomenal writer. He's a man of words. So we have a lot of fun.
GM: And the scabies is coming along?
DS: Yeah, the scabies are gone as far as we know. I did book some cheap rooms on this road trip so maybe we'll get some more.
GM: I saw you in The Aristocrats. You didn't know that joke ahead of time, right?
DS: No, I'd never heard it.
GM: Was that just a conceit for the movie, that there was such a joke that was passed on?
DS: I'm sure that joke was legendary at some point.
GM: Now that was just shock for shock value.
DS: Yeah, that's just a whole game of trying to make something as filthy as you can possibly make it.
GM: Did you like the movie?
DS: I enjoyed it a lot, yeah. I thought it was miraculous that they could make one beat interesting for 90 minutes.
GM: You've played Vancouver before.
DS: A long time ago.
GM: You were doing mushrooms on stage.
DS: That was at Yuk Yuk's where I did mushrooms on stage. They gave them to me in a chocolate, which I'd never seen before but I have seen since. Yeah, we tripped our balls off. What a great night!
GM: And it's before Thanksgiving that you'll be back, so you can go crazy.
DS: Yeah, I look forward to it. I've got a seven a.m. flight out of there and I don't plan on going to bed.