INTERVIEWS

Doug Stanhope: The Angriest Comic in America. Part Uno.

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stanhopeThere is no other living comic whose stream-of-consciousness tirades against all that is unjust is more revered by comedy fans and comics alike then Doug Stanhope.  His infamous 1st place win in the 1995 SF International Comedy Competition over Dane Cook is often looked to as a sign that there is hope in the world. Other competitors that year included Dwight Slade, Robert Hawkins, Arj Barker, JR Brow and Paul Nardizzi, but it was Stanhope who catapulted over all the other talent. Equal parts infamous and famous, SUSC found Stanhope accessible and ready to rant. The first phone call ended quickly with Stanhope asking us to call back in 5 minutes—which we did.

Doug Stanhope: Perfect.

DNA: Hey Doug.

I just finished making a taco and I didn’t want it to get cold.

Cold tacos, no bueno—so, are you good to go?

Yup. Yes, Sir. All good.

Everyone, is very pumped about your upcoming show at Don Quixote’s in Felton. I was wondering if you would be interested in talking to me about the early Stanhope years.

Sure. (laughter) I’ll tell you what I remember.

Back in 1995 when you were in the SF International Comedy Competition—how long had you already been doing stand-up?

I started in 1990, so it had already been 5 years at that point.

Where was your base when you started? You were an East Coast guy so did you start doing shows in Boston?

I didn’t do comedy when I was back there. I didn’t start until I was 23 years old in Vegas. I did that for six months, moved to Phoenix for a couple of years. I got a job as a house MC down there in a club. And that’s where I started meeting and working comics. I left Phoenix in late ‘92 and lived on the road until December of ‘95.

You immediately went into being a road comic?

Yeah, at the shittiest levels to begin with, things like Tribble gigs.

Jon Fox is still doing the SF International Comedy Festival, and the output of genius talent emerging as victors has diminished over years—but, back in ‘95 that must have been an amazing 1st place win over Dane Cook.

It was still big money for a guy living out of his car, $10,000. It allowed me to move out of my car. I don’t know what the prize money has been chopped down to since. That was huge, I took that money and moved to LA and was there for ten years.

Competitions can bring out the best and worst in comics. Was there a sense of community between you and the other comics?

Well, I still to this day, have a rivalry, if only in my own head, with Dane Cook. He always shows up in all kinds of places where I am at the same time. After that win, I was named one of Variety’s Top Ten Comics to Watch, and of course he was one of the other ten. I was at the Man Show premiere party and he was there for some other thing that was going on. I did Louie and then he did Louie. So yeah, I love to hate him. It’s not my style of comedy but he’s always my go-to guy. I have that garage band thing with him, when everyone started jumping on the I Hate Dane Cook Bandwagon and I was like, “I’ve been hating him since the 90s.” He was my own obscure reference for hatred—but I get along with him as a person. So we never took it seriously, but my vitriol can get pretty warped. Even when we did that competition we would be going out to call our mothers at the same time and tell them how we did each night. I remember Jimmy Dore, after the first week I had moved on and he hadn’t and he was my ride back to LA with a week off before the semi-finals. Oh, it was fucking ugly. He did not like to lose. But anyone going into a comedy competition without knowing ahead of time that it’s going to be rigged—it’s comedy and everybody views it differently. There’s no correct way to judge comedy—you go into it thinking, “This is a reason to hone up my shit and make it as tight as possible and one out of forty people is going to win a bunch of money.”

After the competition you went down to LA. Were you strictly doing stand-up or were you going for acting parts?

Right before I did the comedy competition I had done a Vale Comedy Competition and Festival. It was a short lived thing, but it was there that I got an agent and a manager. I also got a small, but big for me, $14,000 development deal with HBO’s production company. So I already had that and was going to LA anyway. And that was on the heels of the SF competition which made it easier—it was a good year.

What were you like when you were taking meetings with suits at HBO?

I just shut-up. I had no idea what was going on. I knew bar room comedy but I had no idea how industry worked. It took a while to figure out that I could say no to auditions. They would send me on auditions for any fucking thing, commercials that were definitely not me. But agents don’t give a fuck. Just because I had long hair I would get parts for Surfer Guy. Me trying to talk like a surfer is fucking horrible. It was at that point I thought that I’m going to say no to the part—I’m pretty sure it was for the movie Dude, Where’s My Car? I was sitting with (Mitch) Hedberg at the Coach and Horses and I remember telling him, “Fuck them, I cannot say these words. I can’t say them to you at a bar and we’re drinking and it’s too embarrassing to say these lines even jokingly—much less in a room tomorrow with three suits staring at me.” I was always on the road, even when I did The Man Show. We’d film for 2 or 3 months and I was on the road before and after.

Was Edinburgh your first UK shows?

That’s where I met my manager, Brian, and he brought me over. He ran a room and he asked David Crowe, who also won the SF competition, I think the year after me, to come over. He was working for Brian and was asking for recommendations. It was right after 9/11 and I already had full steam going when I went. Everything they wanted to hear was an American trashing America after 9/11. That was well played feet in wet cement.

How do the American and UK audiences differ?

American audiences are great with all the butt-fucking and shit jokes in the world, they love them. The British tend to frown and poo-poo it a bit. The infantile dick joke shit there is not as well received. They like the point-orientated shit. In America you can watch people start to fade the deeper into a point you get. I’m working on a bit now about mental illness that I have had to pare back a lot. In American I can see people getting tired and just trying to stay with you—but a British audience will stay there all night if you are making a good point. They will allow me a 69 minute set-up for a punch line that is just pretty good, but they will give me a standing ovation—as long as they agree with you.

Do you agree with recent reports that one out of four Americans are depressed?

I don’t think it’s clinical depression. Too often people will say they are depressed, but really they are just kind of gloomy. There’s being too terrified to get out of bed depressed and “I’m sad I didn’t win the comedy competition,” depressed.

Do you deal with anxiety issues before getting on stage?

I’m a fucking basket case. I am not the same guy in a 24 hour period. I wake up thinking about death. Then I think about how long is it going to be before I play the UK again and will any of my material translates or should I just cancel the gigs. But I don’t have anything on the books and won’t for months but I am already having ulcers thinking about going back to the UK. Maybe I should just quit. Then I think, “But what would I do?” Then I get distracted from that and forget I was quitting comedy. Then I make a breakfast taco, but I’m mad because somebody ate all the habanera sauce and didn’t replace it. I just got off the phone with Bank of America—abusing the guy to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if the police showed up at my door. (total laughter). I told him I would set his child’s pigtails on fire and hold him in a choke lock while I made him watch and giggle in his wails of an inability to do anything about it.

Holy Crap!

He said, “Sir, if you could refrain from that type of talk, I do have a child.” Oh fuck, he showed his weakness. I continued to go after his child. That’s morning Doug, angry Doug. My tour manager and my girlfriend usually leave when they start hearing that. They also take my laptop away from me because they know I will punch it in the face. I have a stack of laptops I have punched in the face that we bring out to the shooting range and use as targets.

Can’t you switch over from BOA to a credit union?

The payoff is I am no longer with them, they finally fucked me. I always wanted to pull out all my money in cash based on a Bill Burr podcast where he said that it cannot be done. I was going to test it. But BOA decided that our town isn’t big enough for them so they made all the branches into Washington Federal’s. I thought they were just switching their names, I didn’t know I would come home and not have a fucking bank account or any way to get into the history of my Bank of America account. It’s a long story but I’m happy to not be with them anymore. Anytime I find myself writing a check I’m pissed at whoever I have to write it to—why don’t you take credit. It’s so archaic to have to write out both the number and then the number in words.

This tour is interesting because you’re doing a mountain bar at Don Quixote’s and then the Punchline, do you still love playing smaller off-the-grid rooms?

I like it more than anything else I do. I loathe playing theatres and except for a few markets where I cannot avoid it I’m trying to not to play them. Eventually I would rather stay in small venues and if I have to, up my prices.

You have a great DIY philosophy in your business model where you sell all your tickets through your own site and bypass ticket agencies and surcharges.

Except when they have us by the balls, i.e. Punch Line—fucking AEG—sometimes you have no choice but suck the Ticket Master cock. 90% of ticket sales we are in house.

I have a question from a SUSC reader. “Comic Iris Benson wants to know which comedians influenced you growing up. And which non-comedians influenced you?”

I’ve always done the pat answer: Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. . .and those are people I listened to, but they didn’t influence me, they were just my first exposure to comedy. I remember Monty Python, my brother and I would just do Monty Python sketches back-and-forth to each other. Hustler Magazine was a huge influence, up front was the humor section. I remember one of the Most Tasteless cartoons had a picture of a cop and kid talking besides a graphically drawn dead dog in the road. And the kid is saying to the cop, “That’s can’t be my dog officer, Sparky doesn’t have guts coming out of his mouth.” Shit like that was definitely influential. Even today, although most of my peers are comics, guys like Andy Andrist and Matt Becker are the funniest guys I’ve ever known. Andy occasionally will get shit from people saying, “He’s just trying to be you on stage.” No, no, we’ve been together for a long time, probably I’m trying to be him on stage. I like people that are funny without ever needing an act, like Joey Diaz. Those are the guys I want to be, guys that are just funny around the table all the time.

Last question, for now. This is from the promoter of your show in Felton. Chris Jonsson asks, “How many cases of Miller Lite would you like in your hotel mini-fridge?”

(laughter) I knew this would be one of the questions. “How much of what liquor do you want in the green room?” I’m more of a vodka guy now. Vodka and club soda in a glass with ice.

 

See Doug Stanhope on June 16th at Don Quixote’s in Felton, California. Get your tickets here:  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/679662/ref/6471

Interviews
05/08/2014

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