Comedian Doug Stanhope isn't getting complacent
When the Straight caught up with Doug Stanhope recently, he was busy trying to come up with new material for his 11-night Canadian comedy tour. He’s that rare comic who doesn’t like to repeat jokes in a given market. At least Vancouver comes at the end of his tour, so it’ll all be polished and primed by the time he gets here, right?
“Oh, not necessarily,” he says over the phone from his home in Bisbee, Arizona. “My shit’s never necessarily ironed out, even if I know what I’m doing. Either my head is telling me they’ve heard it before or my head is telling me that it’s not ready yet. So I’m never comfortable.”
But that’s part of the magic with Stanhope. You want to pay full attention to his exhilarating high-wire act. The standup-comedy vet of 23 years is like a drunk Flying Wallenda. He’ll leave you amazed at his mental acuity and laser-sharp jabs at everything we hold sacred. Only occasionally will he fall to his death. And even that is mesmerizing.
Unlike many other comedians who tackle big issues, Stanhope (who made an aborted run for the U.S. presidency in 2008) never comes across as preachy. Although, when he gets around to watching himself, he notices a condescending tone he’s uncomfortable with.
“Every several years I’m forced to watch or listen to my own shit,” he says. “I’ll go, ‘That sounds kind of fucking pompous.’ I don’t know about preachy, but definitely ‘I’m better than you.’ And I never meant to do that.”
He brainstorms a possible warning he should have posted at every venue: “Viewer be advised: this guy might not know what the fuck he’s talking about with a surly attitude.”
Despite his on-stage drunkenness and tales of hard living, along with his impertinent pontifications, Stanhope is a real softy. A 17-minute diatribe about Hollywood physician Dr. Drew Pinsky on his Before Turning the Gun on Himself… album (“Dr. Drew is to medicine what David Blaine is to science”) led to a confrontation on the good doctor’s podcast. But there were no fisticuffs or verbal onslaughts, much to his fans’ dissatisfaction. Rather, it was a respectful exchange of ideas.
“There’s a lot of people that were disappointed that it was not a barroom brawl, but those fans will grow up a bit,” he says. He came to realize that Dr. Drew has to put on a show with his Celebrity Rehab, just as Stanhope does on the standup stage. “I can’t be a gentleman on-stage about how I feel because that doesn’t sell tickets either. I have to say, ‘I hope you get eaten by ants buried with your head in the sand.’ I have to have the bombast too.”
Off-stage, though, is another matter. “I’m a really fucking boring guy. I’m really good at doing nothing. I’m not really much of a drug guy anymore—I just don’t have the time or need or access or motivation. I got bills. It sucks being an adult.”
He’s also got a heart, even if the intent isn’t always noble. After a Wolf Blitzer interview with Rebecca Vitsmun, a victim of the recent Oklahoma tornado, went viral when she told the CNN host she was an atheist, Stanhope got to work. His campaign to raise money for her netted $126,000.
He wasn’t making a statement for a cause, though. “I was doing this because it’s fucking funny,” he says. “I had no idea it would make that much money. When you give to fucking American Throat Cancer or whatever, it’s almost like you’re trying to buy karma. But you don’t feel good about it because you know most of that is going to mailers and buying pink ribbons. When you fucking actually change a life like that, I’ve never felt better. That’s something that hopefully I’ll be talking about when I’m up there.”
Only knowing him, he’ll frame it in such a way that it'll piss off anyone not familiar with the full Stanhope canon.
With the interview over, it is work time again. “Back to the bar,” he says.