Doug Stanhope is not a comedian who pulls his punches, or even takes off the knuckledusters–even when he’s the target. His new album, Before Turning the Gun on Himself, comes out today and is available on iTunes. Recorded in Salt Lake City, it showcases the caustic comedian at what some might observe as a juncture in his career — with fans like Ricky Gervais, Louis CK, and Sarah Silverman praising him, the spotlight is once again getting bigger and brighter.
Perhaps this is why on this album and its predecessor, Burning the Bridge to Nowhere, he gives a little more stage time to self-examination, and saves the outward rage for the worthiest enemies (Dr. Drew, Alcoholics Anonymous, children). In this NSFW interview, he explains the topical shift, why he avoids big cities, and his plot to frame Louis CK for plagiarism.
When we called Stanhope, he told us he had just missed being hit by a tornado, and everyone was a little disappointed that more hadn’t happened.
Mancave Daily: Are you guys doing ok now, though?
Doug Stanhope: Yeah, they just gave Cincinnati the all clear.
MCD: I want to ask you about comedy classes, comedy boot camps and things like that.
DS: Oh, have you taken one?
MCD: I have not.
MCD: I have friends who have done the Kyle Cease comedy boot camp, and I read you once wrote a strongly worded post about that, stand-up classes in general.
DS: Well there’s really nothing they can teach you at the classes. If you’re smart enough, you can get out of it without it being detrimental. You can’t teach someone to do stand up, you’re just teaching someone how to be like you, which you can’t do, you don’t want to do. If you’re a level-headed guy you can go into classes and take some good out of it, but you can also go to an open-mic and buy a headliner a drink and pick up the same advice. And if you’re softer in the head, you might ignore your own instincts, that are good, because classes say don’t do that. Like don’t be dirty, I’m sure most classes tell you not to do that. But that’s what you do, if you’re a dirty guy, and you’re trying to pretend to be someone your not, that can hurt.
MCD: It seems like you’re doing a lot of traveling, you’re heading back to Europe.
DS: Yeah, seven weeks in the UK.
MCD: How do you feel about that?
DS: Aesthetically, I don’t like it (the UK), it’s cramped, ugly, grey and s**tty. The audiences are smarter.
MCD: Yeah, I would imagine that’s all true.
DS: That’s not necessarily good. Sometimes you just want to phone one in, crank out some f**king dick jokes, but they don’t take to that like an American audience. They’re not pumping fists because you said “t*t-f**k.”
MCD: Where are you performing in the UK?
DS: We’re going all over on this one, doing 40 different shows. I think in 40 different cities. There might be a couple of shows in some of the cities, but a majority are just one night in a bunch of towns I’ve never heard of.
MCD: Last year you’d recorded a set out in Oslo, a live album, what prompted that idea?
DS: We had an opportunity, a one time opportunity, to try something different like that, and had to make a last minute decision on whether or not it was a good idea, and we said f**k it, why not?
MCD: And now looking back, what do you think?
DS: I still like the weirdness of it, the weird venue, but the material wasn’t ready. I’m in the process now of putting out a CD of the material that is now ready, the material that we recorded in Oslo. You’re always going to progress material, it will always get better after you record it onto a CD. You’ll do something on a CD, put it out and then think “Now I have three more bits that go along with that, it’s way better.”
MCD: But you can still do the jokes.
DS: Yeah but that gets old, doing the same.
MCD: I’ve been hearing a lot in your material, as you look through it all as one, it seems like you’re getting more introspective, more about yourself, and less political. Less focused on current events.
DS: My political knowledge is so limited, that anything I’ve ever had to say on the subject was in response to things being thrown in my face, that I couldn’t get away from. Current events stuff, we rapid cycle so quickly now that nothing is current anymore. I couldn’t do Whitney Houston jokes because they’re old, and that was like a f**king week ago.
MCD: That all sort of ties in with social media. Twitter, facebook, that stuff. You don’t seem to take to Twitter to tell jokes.
DS: I’ve never been much of a joke writer, I’m certainly not a guy that fits into 140 characters very easily. Usually when I try it gets misread, and then I have to argue the point. It’ll turn into: “I didn’t mean it like that, I meant it like this, I just didn’t have two pages to say it.”
MCD: How do you feel about comics who are all about jokes on social media?
DS: There are some guys that are great for Twitter. Jeff Ross, especially, has great, quick, current events s**t and can write a bunch of it. Guys like him. I don’t have anything against Twitter, it’s just not suited for me. I tend to ramble. I don’t even think I could narrow down and do a Letterman set, if I had to. What the f**k am I going to say in four minutes?
MCD: I’m a big fan of the show Louie. How’d you get involved? You played Eddie, and I’ve read the character was based on you, or written specifically for you?
DS: He didn’t write it for me, or about me. He wrote it with me in mind to play it, it was a combination of a bunch of different guys he’s known. He had me in mind, or my voice in mind. But definitely not written about me.
MCD: After the show I read a lot of reviews, most of which praised your acting. Do you have any plans to continue acting, take some movie roles?
DS: No, I hate acting. I’m not good at it, and if I was good at all on Louie, it was Louis CK’s fault.
MCD: Did you audition for the show?
DS: Well he called me and told me about it, said he was trying to find footage of me acting. He asked if I acted at all, and I told him I sucked at it. That’s my keen business sense, to just say “No, I suck at that.” He asked if I was willing to try, and we read through the script a few times on Skype. Had to be over Skype because I’m rarely in NY or LA. Then he said we’d do it again in a couple of days. But then he didn’t call me back for over a week. I was thinking “f**k you, I told you I’d suck at this, at least you could call me back.” I tell this story as a bonus track on my DVD. I realize I’m doing Howard Stern coming up, and what I’m going to do, since I wasted all of this time memorizing dialogue for this f**king show, I’m just going to feed it into an interview with Howard Stern. All of this specific dialogue, just say it as a regular conversation. That way, when someone else is on Louie playing Eddie, months from now, it’s going to look like Louis CK stole a script from my interview with Howard Stern. I was so excited to do that prank that I was actually kind of bummed out when I got the part.
MCD: That would have been fantastic.
DS: I asked him (Louis CK) if he would have been amused, and he said he definitely would have been.
MCD: Shifting gears a bit. I got my start in comedy in Missouri, and before we started the interview you seemed to hint that getting your start in a big city, like New York, was a bad idea.
DS: I always say this, find a town with a good comedy scene, a few comics or something, and get your s**t together there. Wherever you start up, people are going to remember you at your worst. You’re going to suck when you start, so it’s best you go suck somewhere that doesn’t matter, and get your s**t together, then bring that to a big city.
MCD: Where’d you get started?
DS: I got started in Las Vegas, and if I knew then what I know now, that it’s the worst place in the world to start, on some level, I wouldn’t have. They don’t help or touch local comics in Vegas, you just work in the back and you don’t grow. Anywhere else you start you’ll get some MC work, then work the middle of shows, then get work at other clubs. You don’t have that jumping off point in Vegas. If you’re working open mics there, you’re just telling jokes at a bar. And no one will discover you there. You’re not going to get a week at a bar. But in another way it was a great place to suck, because when you suck in Vegas there’s no one around to hear you scream.
MCD: Now you spend a majority of your time on the road. What are your favorite places to stop when you’re touring?
DS: I like to do one show in a town and then get the f**k out. And the smaller the place, the better. I don’t like traffic, I don’t like cities. I have to go to big cities, but I don’t like to make a habit out of it. The podunk places are the best, they appreciate you more. They don’t get a ton of anything there. In LA, people are only going to your show because one day they know you’ll have to go to their show. It’s like helping you move.
MCD: That’s summing up too much of my life right now.
DS: (laughs) It doesn’t change.
MCD: Do you follow comedy outside of your own work? Do you take time to be a fan?
DS: I am now, now that I’ve been away from it so long. Sometimes I feel like a f**king kid again. It’s nice to see my old friends. The Montreal Comedy Festival, especially. Crashing there was great. I hate the f**king festival, but it’s great to have so many people you know all in one place. It’s like a high school reunion except I don’t hate all of the comics like I did everyone in high school.
MCD: When you were coming up, who did you look forward to seeing? What comics did you really want to see?
DS: I don’t know if I have a really good answer for that. I never really saw anyone. Then I moved to Phoenix and got a job as the house MC, then I went right into the road doing one-nighters, B-clubs, living out of my car for about three years. I was never really part of any scene, so I never got to see too many people. When I moved to Phoenix, that scene was dying. David Spade was there briefly but he took off for Saturday Night Live. And it’s hard to really see the same guys more than once when you’re living out of your car. [Mitch] Hedberg and I did a lot of stuff together, back in the mullet days. When I moved to LA in 95, I hung out with him quite a bit, but then we both started headlining so I didn’t see much of him anymore.
MCD: People always bring up your on stage persona. Is that a character? Or is Doug on stage Doug offstage?
DS: Well I’m not yelling and drunk all the time.
MCD: That’s it?
DS: Not yelling and drunk during the day, at least.
MCD: That’s why we set up the interview for so early.
DS: Smart move on your guys’ part.
MCD: Are there any topics you shy away from?
DS: Kind of funny you ask, because when you called me I was about to send out a tweet. A tornado just ravaged Henryville, Indiana, town basically got wiped off the map. There’s 30 kids trapped in a destroyed school, and I was going to tweet: “If you told them they were being taught evolution, you’d get them out of there immediately.”
MCD: And this is happening right now, where you’re at.
DS: Someone could drive up, literally, and get violent. I only draw the line when there’s a better than 50/50 chance of immediate physical violence. And these f**king folks scare me. There’s no state scarier than Indiana. That’s the home of the Klan. The south gets all the credit, but Indiana is where the scare is at.
MCD: Are you following the election at all?
DS: It’s fun to watch. Actually, it’s more like watching the baseball playoffs. I don’t even like the game, but it’s the playoffs, football is done, I’ll just watch it to kill some time.
MCD: So what’s your opinion on the frontrunners?
DS: I don’t really care about them, I don’t really even care about Obama. When you get to a certain age, you’ve seen it play out, no difference is going to be made. Only Ron Paul would go in there and actually DO something, and even he couldn’t do much. He could only use his executive power, but really limited. Withdraw troops, that’d be nice. Things like that. I’ll still root for him, and when he bails out, I’ll vote for Gary Johnson, who’s of the same mind, on the Libertarian ballot. But I don’t give a s**t. I can’t think of one thing any president has ever done to affect my life positively or negatively.
MCD: Why don’t you think Ron Paul has gotten more exposure?
DS: This is the most attention he’s gotten, and it’s still not that much. I play the Ron Paul drinking game, just to sober up. You watch CNN and drink whenever they mention Ron Paul, and you sober right up. They don’t even mention him when they should. “Latest poll is Romney in first, Santorum in second, and Gingrich in Fourth.” Where’s third? I need a cocktail, I’m shaking. He’s not f**king Beetlejuice, you can say his name.
MCD: Thanks a lot, Doug, I’ll let you go before you get too riled up about Ron Paul. Any final words?
DS: 99% of people who try comedy are going to suck at it, so any advice I give you or other comics is going to be f**king worthless for 99% of people. If you’re funny, people will notice.
MCD: Sounds good. Thanks again.
DS: Ralphie May just popped up on my TV screen promoting his new special. I just want to see how healthy he looks, I have him in my death pool. You get 100 points if any of your people die, then you subtract their age. 100 less their age. I just want to see if Ralphie May is going to die. Don’t know for sure how old he is, but I like the odds.