INTERVIEW: DOUG STANHOPE | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Legendary American comedian Doug Stanhope will be gracing Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre & Opera House on Sunday 4th October in what will be his first UK tour in three years. The no-holds barred comic is famous for his cynical attitude, in this uncut interview he chats with Paul Broadhead about the US presidential race, quitting his vices and his controversial act.


Paul Broadhead: Hi Doug, this is Paul from the Newcastle based magazine NARC., how are you doing?

Doug Stanhope: Who else would it be?  What’s going on?

P: I’m good, how are you?

D: What are my answers to your questions?

P: You want me to tell you now?

D: It’d probably be more interesting!

P: What time is it over there?

D: It’s 11 in the morning.  It’s not filthy early.  I’m just not usually funny ‘til I go on stage.  That’s the problem with this business, especially Europe, by the time I’m doing an interview, it’s nowhere near the headspace that I’m in when I’ve drank myself into a lather onstage.

P: I had the pleasure of seeing you in New Orleans last year…

D: Oh, the Howlin’ Wolf?

P: That’s the one.  It was absolutely fantastic.

D: That was a fun night.

P: It was!  So you’re currently writing a book about your sadly departed mother, how did that come about and how’s it going?

D: How it came about?  My manager went out and shopped it.  It’s how most things come about in my life, I just sit around and my phone rings and I go, “Huh, well, how about that.”  He actually shopped the idea around six years ago and all of a sudden out of the blue everyone was interested and I assume it’s because of the bit that I did in that special.  It’s done.  My deadline was a couple of days ago.  I mean, it’s not done, it’s submitted.  Now I just have to wait and see how badly the editors assassinate it. My first book so… a whole lot different to doing an hour onstage.

P: Did you not do one about the whole paedophile bating thing?

D: Oh, that doesn’t count, it was just a compilation of shit I had done online.  That I just put into a… anthology, is that the right word?  I couldn’t have written that fucking book without

P: How’s the trailer rehab going?  Can we expect a sober Doug Stanhope in Newcastle next month?

D: Oh no!  I don’t know how that reads, but I was never quitting drinking.

P: Just a temporary dry-out?

D: I was still drinking a couple drinks a day but I was quitting smoking so… anymore than two drinks and… you’re smoking. You’ll still eventually find a state where they’ll smoke and drink.  It’s amazing.  You’ll occasionally find a backwater bar where you can smoke and eat, it’s the best.  I did that 30 days in the trailer, I quit smoking for like six weeks and that’s when I got the book deal, and that was the dealbreaker.  That was the one thing I knew that, no way I could do without smoking.

P: I’ll have to get some tips to pass on to my girlfriend, she’s trying to quit smoking…

D: Don’t have cigarettes!  That’s the easiest way to do it.  Go somewhere where you can’t get cigarettes.  Air BnB, a lodge somewhere, I guess you don’t have a mountain over there…

P: We have a couple.  They’re more like big hills over here…

D: Go out in the moors… rent some shanty…  Have a lot of books.  And no cigarettes.  When you decide you’re gonna go off the wagon, well… you don’t have any fucking cigarettes.

P: So you’ve got a few weeks in the UK, what are the main differences between UK audiences and the US?

D: US audiences don’t ask how they’re different from other audiences! [Laughs]  It depends.  Any given night… generally, British audiences are more reserved but that’s not necessarily true, all the time.  I say that and then I play Glasgow and you go, no, no, compared to a Glasgow audience… they’re fucking murderous!  It depends on the gig, the night, it only takes one asshole to tilt the field…

P: We’re pretty raucous in Newcastle, it’s a Sunday night though… hopefully it’ll be a good crowd.

D: Yeah, we did Newcastle last time and that was one of the best ones the last time I toured there.  As opposed to neighbouring Sunderland which sucks shit!  I think that was a Sunday night too. I remember it vividly, I think we put like 240 people in a 2000 seater.  The booker’s got a little aggressive on that tour.

P: If we can get a little more serious, what are your thoughts to the possibility of Donald Trump becoming your next president?

D: I knew I… [Laughter]  I knew that was gonna be your next question!  Absolutely no opinion!  I’ve been in a fucking bunker for six months, chain smoking and pulling out my hair and writing a book…  I watched the one debate and I find it fantastically entertaining and I hope it goes on for as long as possible, because it’s fun to watch, and that’s all it is, is sports.  It’s just like World Cup, I don’t follow your football, but World Cup I can get into and root for an underdog or whatever, but I don’t really know the sport.  Any sport I can watch in the play-offs whether I know what’s going on or not… and elections are the same thing to me. That makes it really entertaining, I’d be incredibly fucking boring without them!

P: Who in an ideal world would you like to see in the Oval Office?

D: In a dead heat I’d go Ron Paul as a Republican or Bernie Sanders as a Democrat or Gary Johnson as a Libertarian, and I’d evenly split between three different parties, but I still wouldn’t give a fuck.  I’d be amazed, surprised, but my life would still be the same.

P: And what if it was you in there, what would be your first policy change?

D: That’s why I like Mike Lee, a lot of people are finally starting to talk about prison reform.  Bernie Sanders as well. That’s the Democrat and a Republican, and that never comes up, nobody ever talks about prison reform, policy change, drug laws.  Those guys are talking about it, so I’d love to see that actually come to fruition.

P: The main thing we tend to hear about over here is the gun law and obviously every time there’s a shooting that comes up, but nothing ever seems to change…

D: Yeah, it’s kinda like abortion, even people who are outspoken about it are gonna knuckle under and it’s never gonna happen.

P: We’ve seen with the sketches you did for Weekly Wipe with Charlie Brooker you did a talk on the so-called migration crisis that we have over here that’s front page news in every newspaper for the last few weeks, what’s your stance on that?  Though I understand that you might not be up to date having been in the trailer for a while…

D: Yeah [laughs]… I’m not up to date.  Like you said, it’s been on the front page of every newspaper for three weeks and by the time I get there it’ll probably be some other thing that’s the most important topic on the front of every newspaper and everybody will have forgotten about immigration.  It’s the way the news works.  So there’s no sense catching up… I’ll catch up a few days before.

P: Do you do much preparation like that before a show?

D: Yeah, at the beginning, a few days before.  Anything I write now, I’m not working right now, I wouldn’t remember it.  If I wrote it down I wouldn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote it down.  I haven’t been doing anything in the States, 10 shows in Canada and that’s all I’ve done since last November.  I have that stuff to talk about, I have basic staples and then we’ll see what’s going on that I can pack in around it.  See what else new comes up.  I haven’t been over there in three years so I have a partridge full… to spend.

P: I’ve read that you and Bingo aren’t keen on the UK, is that still the case or is there anything you look forward to?

D: Well now, yeah, I look forward to getting the fuck out of the house!  I feel like I just got out of prison.  The UK, is, just, aesthetically, it’s a matter of… you don’t have the proper condiments!  You’re a lot fatter over there because everything’s smaller. Doorways are more narrow, elevators are fucking tiny.

P: We’ve got some good escalators in Newcastle…

D: Haha!  I’m gonna check ‘em out…

P: You’re well respected both critically and amongst many of your peers but you’ve rarely had the kind of commercial success that should follow.  Why do you think this is and how do you feel about it?

D: I don’t know, why does death metal not sell better?  ‘Cos only a few people like it…  I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons.  I’m sure some of it is the lack of effort I’ve put into becoming any more successful, because there’s nothing I really need.  I live below my means, and so I live very well.  I don’t have silly things like kids to pay for…  So I guess I’m supposed to want more but it hasn’t struck me yet.  I didn’t move to Disney Arizona to hit the big time!

P: At the Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans last year I remember a girl was in tears and if I remember rightly, walked out. Do you ever feel like you’ve overstepped the mark with your audience?

D: [Laughter] I’m always amused to hear these stories told back to me.  Generally it’s something completely silly, and if you’re tender at all… you can find a million times to walk out of my act and it’s usually none of the ones you’d expect.   It’s usually something completely random… soft, casual aside, that somehow strikes someone in some soft spot you don’t know they had. Like, “Really, you’re walking out on that?”  Or just a buzz word.  You know, well you said “retard,” but I’m actually doing a bit about mental illness and how people aren’t properly treated but they don’t take the context, they just heard the buzzword and walked out.

P: It’s become common practice for audience members to buy you a drink during the show, so for anyone who’s going to be at the show in Newcastle, what’s your favourite drink?

D: Generally a vodka soda, club soda.  But during shows a lot of times I’ll drink beers still, just because I know how much alcohol is in it.  You start getting drinks from the audience and it might be a triple, a quadruple, you have no idea.  Well that’s not gonna happen in the UK.  With your fucking auto-pour, measured ounce, with eight ounces of mixer…

P: Has anyone ever given you something that wasn’t what it seemed to be?

D: No.  But yeah, in the early days, some of those, you know, Wyoming, Montana, real roadhouse kinda gigs, they’d sorta try to find your breaking point, like I remember – what was the name of the shot – it was tequila and tabasco, and I don’t remember the name of the shot but I remember I couldn’t talk for about thirty seconds, I was just watering, sputtering, like a dog with rabies, tears coming out of my eyes.

P: What’s the drunkest you’ve been on stage or you would not remember at all?

D: [Laughs] Yeah, that would be inherent in… yeah I’ve been pretty drunk but not, not recently.  Not since people are paying to see me.  Back in the days when you’re just playing a comedy club and people are just showing up to see comedy, they’ve no idea who or why, they don’t know you, they’ve got coupons for a comedy shack… Yeah, then I fucked off a lot more.  Then kinda blamed them, for not putting more effort into choosing their entertainment.  But yeah, now the ticket price is healthy, I maintain some professionalism.  And I don’t really need to be that drunk anymore, I’m fucking 48 years old.

P: So there’s a bit of mellowing in there?

D: Yeah, I mean I drink steadily throughout life.  Nightly.  But it’s not Spring Break any more.  Now it’s just maintenance, putting gas in your car.  I’m a duo act.  The comedy duo of Stanhope and alcohol.

P: Have you done a gig entirely sober?

D: Not in a lot of years.  The last sober show I remember doing was with three other comics, so I was only doing twenty minutes. It was a tour of colleges in 2003 or 2004.  I remember one night there was no alcohol in the venue and rather than go out and get my own for the Green Room I thought you know what, I can probably do twenty minutes sober.  They’re gonna hate me anyway!

P: And did you go down well?

D: No! [Laughs]  It was a huge miss-booking as well in that I was booked at Ohio University and it was family weekend where families are coming in for the beginning of school and they get to see all…  So it was listed as a family friendly event.  Six hundred people, kids with their parents and I was just going off on diatribes about their children losing their virginity, graphically!  “You don’t think your little girl’s gonna get boned while she’s here?”  Stuff like that, chaos erupted…  It’s still on YouTube somewhere, someone got some grainy footage of it from the back, some father standing up and going, “I’m leaving and anyone who stays and listens to this garbage is a fucking…”  He was dropping F bombs.  I didn’t list it as family friendly!  Talk to the student advisory committee because they fucked up really hard right here…  Those are really fun shows too, where you go, “Hey, not my fault!”


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