It seems every other week a comedian is being eviscerated on social media for miscalculated, or misperceived, words. And yet somehow, beyond all comprehension, Doug Stanhope floats along unscathed. He’s been one of the most controversial comics throughout his 28 years on-stage. Take a gander at a selection of tracks off his various albums: “Abortion Is Green”, “Giant Black Cock”, “AA Is a Poorly Constructed Cult and Doesn’t Work”, and “F**k Your God”.
He’ll have you believe he flies under the radar because he’s not a celebrity, so he’s got no career to lose. And maybe he’d have a point if it weren’t for all his sold-out shows around the world. There’s got to be another reason he hasn’t been the subject of mass ire.
“There’s no scandal if you’re not embarrassed,” he says on the phone from his home in Bisbee, Arizona, relaxing after recent tours of Australia and Southeast Asia. “We want you to be ashamed and apologize and we can milk that. But if you go, ‘Yeah, why’s it your business?’ they go, ‘Aw, fuck, there’s no story here.’ ”
Maybe he enjoys shocking the unshockable who are his fans, but Stanhope’s material is nuanced, too. He’ll hit you with a gut punch to your restricted area before revealing himself to be an ally. Sure, some may run away and never come back after the initial blow, but that’s just collateral damage in his line of work.
“I’ve noticed I have a lot of Twitter followers that, when you click on their profile, they’re fuckin’ pro-Trump guys,” he says. “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’. But 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.”
Stanhope’s subject matter always has been and most likely always will be teetering on the edge of acceptability, if not fully careening down that slippery slope to hell. He’s unapologetically used all manner of vocabulary over the years and been able to justify it because his intentions always tend toward the good. But he’s smart enough to choose his words more carefully these days. Maybe it’s from having recently authored two books, Digging Up Mother: A Love Story and This Is Not Fame: A “From What I Re-Memoir”, where he had to sweat over precise wording after years on-stage when all the beer and shots made for a, er, more fluid approach to the material.
“I’ve talked about ‘Hey, it’s just a word,’ ” he says, referring to a certain racist n-word and homophobic f-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.’ You just have to choose your words more… Not delicately, but you have to be more imaginative with your words.”
So he’s changing, but it’s not just out of fear for his career. Get that straight.
“A lot of the theme of 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,” he says. “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. That’s why I have the niche fan base that I have, because they know I can say whatever and fucking Burger King’s not going to drop me from a commercial.”
Doug Stanhope plays Lafflines Comedy Club in New Westminster on Friday (May 25) and the Rio Theatre on Saturday (May 26).