"The young me was completely eviscerating the me that I became. I've become that guy that I used to make fun of. Just sitting around doing nothing but watching TV, not living life, not caring. I used to make fun of me."
– Doug Stanhope
Doug Stanhope: Hello, interview with Vancouver.
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Mr. Stanhope. How are you?
DS: Oh my God.
DS: It's so refreshing to actually do an interview on an actual phone, where I can hear you and understand you. I've been doing these fucking interviews with the UK and they all call you on what sounds like a tin can phone, like a Skype connection and they're trying to record it or something and I can't understand a fucking word they say. How are you?!
GM: Good, good. Where are you?
DS: I'm at home.
GM: Oh, you're in Bisbee. I know you were just recently in Australia. Now you're doing interviews for England. You're coming up here. Still at it. How many years have you been doing this?
DS: Twenty-eight years.
GM: Do you still get a buzz from it? I mean, other than from the alcohol.
DS: No! No, not at all. I'm not one of those people that lives for the stage. I go to LA and go to the Comedy Store just to see old friends, and they're like, 'Hey, you want to do a set?' No, nothing in me wants to do a set. I just want to watch comedy.
GM: What part of touring do you like?
DS: There are guys like Rogan and Attell that would die like cheap flowers if they didn't do a set anywhere they go. Attell is a maniac. He has to do sets all the time. I don't understand it. What was your question? Sorry, I'm rambling.
GM: If there's any part of it that you enjoy.
DS: Flying. Love it. Absolutely love it.
GM: Once you're in another place, nothing?
DS: On the road, if we're in the States and we're driving gig to gig, about the only things we do, we try to find sushi and we hit all the thrift stores we can.
GM: That's where you get your stage outfit?
DS: Yeah, goofy suits? It's probably been six years that I've only worn vintage seventies suits, but I've worn weird shit off and on over my career. But yeah, that's where you hope to get them. You hope to find them for three dollars at a Goodwill. And sometimes vintage shops and sometimes eBay. So that's what we go out looking for.
GM: Who is we?
DS: Me and my tour manager. He dresses the same. We both wear stupid seventies suits, vintage wear. And every few years I'll do an eBay yard sale, when I have too many suits and my closet is a hoarder's paradise. Then I sell the suits and memorabilia that stocks up in my crawlspace on eBay. Fans buy the stuff. There are a bunch of fans that'll show up at my show wearing my old clothes. I love it.
GM: That's awesome. You're always producing new material, I think.
DS: You have to.
GM: And you can't really work out bits in Bisbee so it's a process you take on tour with you, right? When I saw you last time, you were working out and you had your notepad up there, and it was fantastic.
DS: Oh yeah, that was that nightmare tour where my special had just come out and it came out far more quickly than I was prepared to write material for a new one, so I was just pulling anything out of my ass that was new. The special dropped right in the middle of a two-week Canada tour. I remember it came out the night after Toronto when I played London on that tour. So up until Toronto, I could still get away with using bits from the special because it hadn't come out, but after that I was like, 'Alright, it's gonna all be new.'
GM: But that's how you do it, right? You do it on tour; you don't do it bit by bit in clubs anywhere.
DS: No, no. If I want to work something out, I usually throw it up front or find a break and see what works. And when it works, you dump some other part of it. I have to do shit like that just to make it fun for me. If I was just saying the exact same bits every single night, it would just become brain cancer.
GM: It sounds like it's hard enough for you even when it's new.
DS: If it's new, I know I have a bit that's going to work here. I can add in a bit that I don't know if it's going to work just so I have something. You know the old cliché of the comic who says, 'Some of these jokes are just for me.' Yeah, well some of the bits that work are just for you. I don't want to fucking say it again. 'This is just for you. I'm gonna hate saying it but I'm gonna friggin' drink until I put a smile on my face and sell it like I've never said it before.'
GM: I was looking over our previous chats. In 2005 I was reading your blog and thought you were a really good writer. I asked you about books and got a big no. Then again in 2013, I asked you and you said, 'My discipline is shit.' And now look at you! You're a multi-tomed author.
DS: The missing part of that equation is when you were asking me, you weren't offering me an amount of money. They bought a pitch and then I cashed a cheque and had to write it.
GM: That's a big incentive. Why would you bother just in the hopes that it gets published?
DS: That's what a lot of people do. They write scripts and they write books and they write whatever on spec. I don't do on spec. I can go do comedy if I need money.
GM: Did you like the process more than you thought you would?
DS: It's one of those grass is always greener. When I was writing it, it was at points dreadful. Why am I doing this? I'm spending months writing a book when I could go out and do standup very easily for way better money. And then when I'm on the road I'm thinking it's nice being at home all the time.
GM: How many books have you done now? Is it three?
DS: Well, one doesn't really count. I put out that baiting book, baiting pedophiles online. That was just shit I did as a goof back in the nineties when I had all the time in the world, I don't know how. It's still, I think, the funniest shit I've ever written. But I put that book out and it was self-published and I just had to copy and paste, basically, from a website that I was writing for. These [last two books] I actually had to write, even though I took stuff that I had written for my website in the second book. It's no longer around. It's kinda like my act. If I have something that's really funny, it's the first thing that goes into my act. I have nothing left that's hidden where I go, 'Oh, I'm going to tell them the real story!' My mother's suicide, I go, 'I can't wait to put this in the act.' Writing a book, there's brand new shit that I've never said before. I just found shit that you probably never saw.
GM: You are a really compelling writer. I've read parts of both your latest books. You're not writing like you'd perform it, but it's funny and interesting, a pretty good combination.
DS: I like writing in that you can go, 'Alright, that's how it should read. Alright, that's done.' With a bit on stage, 'Ah, it didn't come out quite right. I'll do it again tomorrow.' There's no permanent record. When you write it, you go, 'Okay, do I like that? Yeah, I think that's perfect. That's a perfect way to say it. Done.' And you're not going to fuck it up because you're too drunk the next night. Every book isn't different, like sets where you go, 'Ah, I fucking forgot that whole part about this. Oh, well, we'll do it again tomorrow.'
GM: Do you have that same level of striving for perfection in a special, where you get it just the way you wanted it?
DS: I talk about that in the book. There's a lot of stuff I've put on CDs where you go, Ooh, when I put that CD out in 1999, I was just thinking I'll sell this to the next group of sixty people to try to get gas money.' I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, one day there's going to be a fucking internet and YouTube and satellite radio that's going to be playing shit I said in 1999, where Doug Flutie might actually hear me mocking his autistic child.'
GM: You've been remarkably consistent over the years. Have there been any big changes of opinions or philosophy, political or social, that you hear now and you think the complete opposite?
DS: If I could stomach actually going back and listening to all the things I've recorded... I know the young me was completely eviscerating the me that I became. I've become that guy that I used to make fun of. Just sitting around doing nothing but watching TV, not living life, not caring. I used to make fun of me.
GM: Another thing you told me in 2005. You were 38 at the time: "The dick jokes are going to get fewer and fewer as you get older. No one wants to see some 50-year-old talking about getting pussy."
DS: Yeah, I was specifically talking about Bobby Slayton. I've said that more than once, but I'm always picturing Bobby Slayton. I remember seeing him when I was young and he's acting like his wife is something that you can't change. Like, just get a divorce. Your whole premise is flawed. Talking about eating pussy and stuff. You're fucking gross, don't you understand that?
GM: I feel that when I hear Marc Maron talking about masturbating and I'm thinking, 'You're 55 years old. I don't want to hear that.' Louis C.K., too, when he was doing standup. It's a visual image I don't want.
DS: Louis C.K. actually seemed to talk about that stuff with a sense of self-shame. He was as grossed out about it as you will be as a listener. It's a different thing.
GM: Yeah, that was a mitigating factor, for sure.
DS: I don't have much for dick jokes. I have very little.
GM: So there you go; you're a man of your word.
DS: I saw this day coming.
GM: So many people getting in trouble and careers going down the tube, speaking of Louis C.K. How are you, of all people, able to maintain and still have a career.
DS: Oh, I have a bit about it. Don't print it. But I'll be talking about it in Vancouver, don't worry. The opening of the bit is, 'I feel like I lost a lot of street cred for not being outed in the #metoo movement.'
GM: So I won't print that.
DS: Don't print that. And it goes from there.
GM: It's kind of Trump-like, that if you own it, people can't really get after you.
DS: I've said that for fucking years. Fucking decades. I used to use the example of Hugh Grant. When Hugh Grant got busted with a hooker, and then at the same time Charlie Sheen had to testify in the Heidi Fleiss trial, and they tried to make him into another Hugh Grant. And he was like, 'Yeah, I get hookers. Had them dress up like cheerleaders. So what?' There's no scandal if you're not embarrassed. We want shame. We want you to be ashamed and apologize and we can milk that. But if you go, 'Yeah, what's it your business?' they go, 'Aw, fuck, there's no story here.'
GM: If you're trying to hide it desperately, then people really want to get after you.
DS: It's different in a lot of this in that that was all consensual. But still, Trump paying off a chick that he was fucking consensually? Who cares? But the same as they had to take down the mobster Al Capone using some tax laws for tax evasion because they couldn't get him on anything else, that's what they're trying to do to Trump. Yeah, we know this guy's bad. He's awful. We can't seem to get him on anything else; let's go fucking get him any way we can.
GM: Have you amended your language at all in this climate we have now?
DS: I have anyway. I've noticed I have a lot of Twitter followers that when you click on their profile and they're fuckin' pro-Trump guys. I'm like, Why would you be following me? What the fuck? I look back over things. Like I have a track called, 'I Hate the Jews.' It's not about that. If you didn't listen to the entire bit, you're not going to get it. Not that you necessarily would if you did listen to it if you're a fucking moron. But the same way that people can get offended by just buzzwords without hearing a point, they can also become fans by hearing a buzzword and not getting the point. I talk about that in my act, too. I have some stuff that might seem racist and I have to point out, 'Listen, if you're not getting the bit...' Anyway, I don't want to fucking do my whole act for you on the phone!
GM: Would you mind?
DS: (laughs) The point is, I've talked about, 'Hey, it's just a word, and nigger's just a word, and faggot's just a word,' in this climate, I definitely back off of those things because when I was doing those bits, there was some kind of false hope that we were evolving. And you go, 'Oh, it's going backwards now. I don't want to fuel anyone's fire.'
GM: You have no problems with words but people do and they're going to get the wrong impression from them.
DS: Yeah, you just have to choose your words more... not delicately but you have to be more imaginative with your words.
GM: When you were talking to me in one of these other interviews, you used the expression 'a sawed-off half-queer.'
DS: (laughs) Yeah. I'd love to have context, but yeah, it's a funny expression right there. I can't think of anything I've said that I regret, or any strong point of view that's changed. But fortunately I've already done those bits so I don't have to do them again.
GM: With the special on your mom's assisted suicide, was there any blowback from the law?
DS: No. A lot of the theme of the second book, or third book, I guess, This Is Not Fame is how much shit I would get if I was famous. How much I've gotten away with because I'm not famous, where if I were famous, oh shit, I'd be hiring a lot of lawyers and making a lot of fake apologies.
GM: You're as famous now as you've ever been, or more famous now than you ever were. Would you say that's correct? There's been a growing base of support for you, it seems.
DS: I guess the year I was on The Man Show I was more famous for all the wrong reasons.
GM: But you're famous, you're just not at that level of fame like your friend Johnny Depp.
DS: Yeah, no one gives a shit. I can pretty much do whatever I want because I don't work for anyone. There's no network to fire me, there are no sponsors to drop me. I honestly think the current climate is great for me. 9/11 was great for me. I was just getting anti-authoritarian, doing bits with substance other than just fucking dick jokes. I was in a place where I was maturing and the first tinges of bitterness in noticing my surroundings. After 9/11, I remember Dave Attell called me up. He goes, 'What are you going to do now with your act?' I go, 'This is a perfect climate for this. I'm the only guy that's going to be fucking talking about 9/11 shit that's not pandering.' That's why I have the niche fanbase that I have because they know I can say whatever and fucking Burger King's not going to drop me from a commercial.
GM: I was just listening to a podcast and the guest was a comic named Michael Preminger, who's been at it for 50 years.
DS: Don't know him.
GM: He was saying he's better now than he ever was. I hear this a lot from comics, no matter how long they've been at it. They're always better than they were. Would you say you're at your peak now?
DS: It always changes. It's the same way you look back at yourself when you wore fucking acid-washed jeans, but back then you go, 'Hey, these are the best jeans I've ever owned.' No, I never think that. I always think the shit I have is not quite there, but at the same time thinking wow, I really sucked back then. It always vascillates. But it's that fear that keeps you trying. It's a horrible fucking way to live.
GM: Yeah, you're never content, either now or looking back.
DS: Yeah, it's why I always think about retiring. I don't know that I'd be happier but at least it would be different.
GM: That's not going to happen, though, is it?
DS: I don't know. I get closer and closer. I take longer and longer periods of time off. I've been off six or seven months. Didn't miss it ever. But at the same time, I don't have any other hobbies so I tend to be more likely to start drinking at 11 o'clock in the morning because hey, what the fuck do I have to do? It's your birthday? Well, fuck it, let's just start drinking. Come over to the house.
GM: You can sit and write books for the rest of your life.
DS: The grass is always greener.
GM: You know what really impresses me? Your similes and metaphors. They seem to come really easy to you.
DS: When I'm writing?
GM: No, even on stage. You have these great analogies.
DS: No, I look for those. Because I appreciate them in life. When you're talking to me about something I don't understand, just give me an analogy. Okay, now I get it. Now I understand whatever fucking weird subject you're talking about. So I look for those. And obviously in comedy, I look for funny ones.
GM: So you take note of them when you hear them or do they just come organically?
DS: It's not something I plan. I know that I use a lot of analogies. I know where they work in real life so I guess that's why I got to them in comedy. I don't know. Why am I trying to fucking deconstruct my brain? I don't know why I do that!
GM: It wasn't the why. It was if they come naturally to you, because they don't to me at all. I'd love to be able to have that kind of mind.
DS: Analogies are what I look for. They don't necessarily come spontaneously.
GM: You're coming up to play Vancouver, Toronto...
DS: Montreal. Yeah, Winnipeg. Oh my God, we're about to put on this hockey game where I'm rooting for Winnipeg and every time I play there I tell them that's my favourite team, even though I hate their new shitty logo; I love their old logo. I'm kinda rooting against them because if they happen to be playing in the finals when I'm playing Winnipeg, I'm going to be playing to tumbleweeds and women. I won't even get women.
GM: That would be refreshing, though. It's probably been a while since you've played to almost nobody.
DS: I'm not against it. It takes the pressure off me.
GM: I like being in a little crowd. It feels special when there are only twelve of us there.
DS: I love those shows.
GM: When was the last time you did one like that?
DS: I'm trying to think. Australia. Canberra. I don't have a big Canberra, Australia, draw. But a small gig is a fun gig. Oh, Hobart, Tasmania. You can imagine where I'm not the most famous comic in Hobart, Tasmania. And it was a fun time. I love those shows.
GM: Is the act you're doing here basically the same show you toured Australia with?
DS: Yeah. Adding stuff, you know. I was in southeast Asia and Tasmania so I get some fun bits for me to say about the southeast Asia tour. And there'll probably be some shit from Canada that I bring to the UK.
GM: Some comics fly in on their private jets, then fly right out. They don't experience any city they're in. Do you get out and do things?
DS: No. I don't. And that's what I was hating myself about in southeast Asia, but I don't give a shit about anything there. If I did anything, it would just be to sound interesting – go to a museum or something. All it takes is one little thing. I'm going to have an experience there; I don't need to go on a tour bus to find it.
GM: And it could be just an experience going from your hotel to the show and back.
DS: Yeah, as easy as that. Just going through customs, just going through airport security, whatever. Airport bar, hotel bar, someone talking shit, bags of shit that remind you of some bags of shit that you're stuck with in an elevator and you're writing bits about him because that's the only thing stopping you from punching him in the throat.
GM: Have you ever punched anyone in the throat?
DS: No, I'm a fucking weakling. I do comedy.
GM: The guy I do my show with asked me to ask you for a Dave Attell story, and you've mentioned him a couple times already.
DS: The book, This is Not Fame, closes on a Dave Attell story. He called me up once and he says, "Yeah, I'm looking for a good venue in New Orleans. Where do you play there?" And I said, "I've never played New Orleans," which, at the time, was accurate-ish. And he said, "Sure you have! Remember that time with me and you and Andy and you went to the open mic and made the girl cry and then we ate beignets and you hopped a freight train." Which I thought was just classic Dave Attell riffing ridiculous shit. I had no recollection of it. And as he keeps talking, Oh wait, there was that time where me and Andy came to see Attell, Mitch Hedberg, and Lewis Black in a theatre. We drove ten hours from Atlanta after our gig to make it in time to their gig the next night, and then we got fucked up afterwards and hit an open mic that was late-running and some woman was arguing with me about fucking 9/11 George Bush shit, and I made her cry, and we went to the beignet place that he wanted to go, and it's right by the fucking railroad tracks and I remember I ran down and jumped on a slow-moving freight train for about a hundred yards just to say I did it. I had no recollection of it until he said, 'Sure you have! You made the girl cry at the open mic and then we ate beignets and you hopped a freight train.'
GM: You had this repressed memory.
DS: If I did another book about the road, it would called Blotto Biography, where I just go out and find other people's memories of me of shit I had no idea of. So I write my own autobiography through other people's memories.
GM: That sounds great. It's possible, though, Attell just implanted that in you and it never happened. It was through suggestion.
DS: Oh no, I remembered it once he said it. I told Andy about it and he goes, 'Yeah, remember, you pissed off the freight train.' I'm like, 'This gets better with every fucking story.'
GM: That was better than reading it in your book because I got to hear your impression of Dave Attell. It's perfect.
DS: I don't do a lot but I can do an Attell. A lot of comics do a Dave Attell impression on stage without realizing it.
GM: Does anyone do a Doug Stanhope?
DS: I've never heard one. You mean in that way, like you're a mimic?
GM: Either subconsciously because they're a big fan, or they are purposely doing an impression. I've never heard an impression of you.
DS: Yeah, neither have I. I did a Skype podcast with Gino Bisconte and his co-host guy, not Aaron Berg but there's a third guy. Every time he was talking while we were waiting to go on, I'm like, 'That sounds like me. I think that sounds like me.' But we're all delusional about what we really sound like.
GM: I'm going to request it to the next impressionist I see.
DS: One impression I want to hear – I know this interview's over and I'm just yakking at you – but I've never heard a Howard Stern impression. He gets the best impressionists on his show but I've never heard someone do Stern.
GM: I would think he would be easy to do, too. He's got a very distinctive voice.
DS: I don't know how easy. The laugh would be a little bit easy, when he does that 'heh-heh-heh' thing. He's had Mike whatsisname... he does a fucking flawless Mitt Romney. I couldn't imagine a Mitt Romney impression and he fucking nailed this when he was running for president. I was like, 'I'm going to vote for Mitt Romney just so Mike gets more work. He'll be on Saturday Night Live.'
GM: There's a comic here who's opened for you, Simon King.
DS: Oh yeah.
GM: He's a great impressionist. He does really obscure ones. I'm going to ask him to do an impression of Howard Stern interviewing Doug Stanhope.
DS: Fantastic. I'd love to see it.
GM: Alright, Doug.
DS: Glad you take copious notes, sir. We'll see you in a few weeks.