Doug Stanhope interview: 'I'm a generous, good-hearted, overly polite citizen'
The controversial comic claims that, despite his reputation for heavy drinking and caustic comedy, he’s a decent American guy
Doug Stanhope’s manager tells The List ‘that the later it gets in the day, the better he is at the interview.’ So at almost midnight, when it’s early evening out in Arizona, Stanhope comes to the phone.
‘Oh he likes me to be drunk,’ he announces, with a loud laugh. ‘That’s a great manager. He’s got a point, I’m far more animated. Words come to me quicker when I’m liquored up. There’s not a whole lot of jobs where that works; where you just show up hammered and that’s not only accepted, but encouraged.’
Alcohol and Stanhope go together like coffee and cigarettes. Like his chain-smoking comedy forefather Bill Hicks, the American stand-up’s routine is normally caustic, political, and heavily drunken.
‘I can’t remember the last time when I did a set sober,’ Stanhope confesses, as a microwave pings somewhere nearby. He adds Baileys to his warmed-through coffee, and carries on. ‘I’m not out till 4 in the morning doing ecstasy after shows anymore. I can’t do that and be funny the next night. But onstage, I’m always drinking.’ So his exaggerated, boozy persona isn’t just for show then? ‘Oh no, unfortunately it’s a necessity. I have a difficult time in social situations. It’s agony, forcing conversations. Give me five or six beers, though, and I’m way less fearful.’
This fearlessness definitely shows in his comedy. Gang-rape, 9/11, suicide, paedophilia – all are fair game to Stanhope. In fact, Fun With Pedophiles: The Best of Baiting, a book he wrote in 2006, should illustrate where he stands on political correctness. ‘There is no such thing as laughing at something you shouldn’t,’ Stanhope wrote recently in an article for a Scottish newspaper, in defence of Ricky Gervais’ feather-ruffling Golden Globes speech. ‘You should laugh everywhere you can find even the slightest glimmer of humour. Life is a series of heartache, tragedy and injustice, punctuated by a few cocktails and that one trip to Reno. The more you can laugh at the ugliest parts, the better off you are.’
As far as Stanhope is concerned, the really offensive comedy is the stuff full of stark generalisations, and hackneyed old clichés. ‘You know, that “us guys do this, them women do that” shit. At best it’s boring, at worst it’s horrific and the guy will die a tragic death onstage.’
Stanhope publicly defended Frankie Boyle after he attracted controversy for ‘offensiveness’ in his recent Channel 4 show Tramadol Nights. Although he isn’t sure whether he’s ever seen Boyle perform (‘I might have met him,’ he offers. ‘We might’ve been best pals and I was drunk and blacked it out, but as far as I know I’ve never seen him live’), Stanhope is a firm believer that comedy should avoid mediocrity at all costs. ‘What has always twisted my spine in hate,’ he wrote, ‘is the fact that one contentious piece of material from a comedian can cause such an uproar, yet the masses of tired, pedestrian comedy that is dumped regularly on the populace never causes any furore.’
His pull-no-punches, provocative approach to comedy has earned him a loyal fanbase in the UK, where he has played several sell-out, five-star review runs, and become an Edinburgh Fringe stand-out hit for his obscene, razor-sharp rants. While he’s looking forward to playing to a receptive crowd, he and his partner, Amy ‘Bingo’ Bingaman, are less than keen about spending time in Britain. ‘Bingo kinda feels the same … joy about the United Kingdom as I do,’ he explains, before a loud voice echoes from the background, ‘We hate it!’
During the conversation Bingo drops in several times to snatch the phone off Stanhope. ‘Is he calling me a retard again? Don’t write that!’, she squeals. ‘Sorry,’ Stanhope corrects. ‘Put “moron” in your paper, or “rubberhead”?’ Then there’s a pause of a minute or two while they both laugh like drains. They’re clearly very comfortable together, and Stanhope is happy for her to tag along on tour, and in the case of a 2008 Time Out article, join him and a journalist on a three-day Jägermeister and coke bender. ‘I get along a lot better when she’s around,’ he shrugs.
The couple have been together since 2006, which may or may not explain what Stanhope calls ‘a toning down’ of his lifestyle, and a move from LA to suburban Arizona, where they now live. ‘I’m not going to say I’ve mellowed, because that’s a faggy word. But I really enjoy my home life, we’re “at-home” people.’ Despite his taboo-battering schtick onstage, Stanhope says he is a ‘good-hearted, generous, overly polite citizen’ for most of the time. Which would explain his embarrassment when a recent gathering at his house attracted police after complaints of ‘profanity’.
‘There were seventy or eighty of us, drinking beers and grilling burgers. We had a band playing outside, but then one of my female comedian friends, Kristine Levine starting doing stand-up. I guess we shouldn’t have had the PA system rigged up …’
Neighbours four blocks away called the police while Levine was midway through a routine about the damage that childbirth had caused her. ‘I mean, we can hear our neighbours talking on their porch at night,’ Stanhope says, wincing at the memory. ‘So every time she said “fuck” I was cringing. I guess I got a sense of what those nervous club owners must feel like when I’m onstage?’
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Tuesday 22 March, 9.45pm; George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Saturday 9 April; The Lemon Tree Lounge, Aberdeen, Thursday 7 April.