Interview: Doug Stanhope on politics
The controversial comedian discusses his political beliefs ahead of his UK tour
How would you describe your political views?
I don’t really like describing myself in those terms, but if I had to, I’m kind of an anarchist, just in a quiet way. I’ve been following the election at the moment [for the Republican presidential nomination] and the only one that’s speaking the slightest amount of sense is Ron Paul. It’s sad because they barely give him any airtime. I know why the guy stutters – he’s like me in that, if he gets given any attention, it’s for such a short space of time that he doesn’t know how to boil down his whole approach into those soundbites they demand from you.
Did you vote in the last election?
I voted for Paul in the nominations. Which is funny, cos it means I’m registered as a Republican somewhere. It’s kinda like coming out of the closet when you’re not really gay. ‘But you’re not Republican!’ I am for this.
The last big election [in 2008], I was on the road, working, so I didn’t vote. Honestly I couldn’t have cared less.
Do you think voting should be compulsory?
Hell no, I think too many people vote as it is. Too many idiots voting for the guy with the nicest hair – I think you should have to demonstrate you have some idea of what you’re talking about before you get to vote. It’s no different from when you were in elementary school and were looking for votes for ‘Most Popular Kid in School.’
Some sort of dictatorship would work well – there’s a lot of baggage attached to the word dictator, but nobody’s saying it has to be a bad guy – it’d be great if we could live under a really cool dictator.
Do you have an opinion on the Scottish independence debate?
Yeah, I say go for it – every individual person should be independent of everyone else; if we have to do that country by country, so be it. Whatever it takes so long as it comes down to individual households governing themselves. I mean, obviously, it comes down to an individual governing themselves, but I wanna decide who lives in my house.
Which would you rather have: the US political system or the UK one?
I don’t really care about the system – it doesn’t really effect me. The local government stuff, that’s the stuff that really matters, that makes a difference in your day-to-day lives, but no one really cares about that, and they should. It’s why I get a $50 ticket if I park my car outside on street-cleaning day, it’s why there’s a new stop sign at the end of my street. I don’t think the wider government makes a difference. I could live in any country in the world, and it wouldn’t make a difference. I could live in China, and the only difference in my life would be, ‘Hey, I can smoke in a café here’.
Can you see something like the Tea Party taking hold in the UK?
I don’t know if people in the UK are angry enough – I don’t know what you got to be angry about. It rains all the time, but you don’t really get angry about that, do you?
I don’t really see the difference between the Tea Party and things like the Occupy movement. I watch both of ‘em on TV, and you see maybe 10% of the people saying something intelligent, who know what they’re talking about, 20% are there because they agree with those guys, and the rest are just around cos they thought, ‘Hey, I wanna sleep on a park bench for a couple of weeks. I wanna go for a picnic, but I wanna picnic angry.’
In the UK in the 1980s, alternative comedy thrived in opposition to Thatcher; in the 00s, Bush became a key part of many comedians’ routines. Do you think comedy is inherently liberal?
Man, the worst thing about Bush getting a second term was realising all those comedians would be telling that same joke for another four years. That was a one joke presidency stretched over two terms.
Comedians are always gonna wave their dick in the face of power, but as for leaning politically one way or another – I mean, I don’t even know what I am. A lot of people used to come up to me and say, ‘Ok, so you’re a libertarian.’ And I’d say I dunno what that is, and they’d say, ‘Well libertarians say this, this and this, and you say this, this and this,’ and I’d say, ‘Ok, I’m one of those then.’ Nowadays people tell me I’m an anarchist, so I guess I’m that.
Do you think the main political parties are far enough apart on the political spectrum?
This is an old cliché, but there’s more than two ways to think about politics, and no one in public office is gonna fully represent what people want. I think if you got your average Joe Lunchbucket and sat him down with two of these guys, from different sides, they could convince him of anything they wanted, because that’s their jobs. One of ‘em could even talk him round to hating the other guy, but when the other guy comes over and shakes his hand, that’s all it takes to convince him the other way.
People can argue now that, ‘Oh, I’m a fiscal conservative but a social liberal,’ or, ‘Oh, I’m socially conservative but-’ No, you’re just a guy at a dinner party who talks too much, and there’s no party for that.
Why are American politicians (and Americans in general) much more outwardly patriotic than their UK counterparts?
Same reason people are wearing Giants shirts instead of Patriots at the moment [the New York Giants had just won the Super Bowl]. In spite of all the financial crisis shit – I mean, that hasn’t affected me much. I’ve actually done pretty well out of the financial crisis, but then comedy always does – in the Great Depression, vaudeville was the number one form of entertainment…
People love America because America is the greatest country in the world to live in – where I live [in Arizona], today is the shittiest day in a while, and it’s in the low fifties. And if it got lower than that, I can pay $80 and get on a bus to somewhere it isn’t shitty. And I can pay $80 on a bus and go skiing, or go somewhere to get a tan. The financial situation sucks, but I can get on a bus and go somewhere that it doesn’t suck. Yeah, there’s lots of gluttony in American culture, but that’s because we can.
People ask me, ‘Is there any material that’s too edgy, that crosses the line?’ Yeah, saying how great America is. Doesn’t go down well at all.