Ginger? Is that like Nigger over here? | Interview with Doug Stanhope

Ginger? Is that like Nigger over here?

Interview with Doug Stanhope

As Doug Stanhope gathers critical acclaim for his London run, he reveals in a previously unpublished interview how he’s bored of stand-up, how he hates Curb Your Enthusiasm – and how he plans to run for American president.

Stanhope, who appears at the Manchester Comedy Festival next week, spoke to comedy critic Bruce Dessau of the London Evening Standard on the very last day of the Edinburgh Festival – the day after an unforgettable night of the comic’s controversial, no-holds-barred late-night Unbookables show at the Tron pub. Bruce takes up the story…

One heckler had been manhandled from the venue, another man heckled but only in German, a woman had run out screaming that her sister had died after taking ecstasy when Stanhope had made a remark about drugs. And finally during a set from gay San Franciscan comic Scott Capurro, two burly rugby-shirted oafs had got onstage and were ready to mistakenly kick the living daylights out of Capurro for something Stanhope had said. Lucikly the lights came up and the staff defused the situation – though it nearly kicked off again when someone shouted "homophobe" at them as they were being escorted from the venue.

Just a typical night in the 16-year comedy career of Doug Stanhope. When I arrived at around 2pm the next day a friendly but bleary-eyed Stanhope was in bed – fully dressed – in the flat he was staying in. He was admiring some marks scratched into his arm that read: "not funny".

Doug Stanhope: After the gig this woman said will you carve your initials in my arm? She had a necklace on that said 'not funny' so I started carving that into my arm.

BD: Last night's gig was a different one...

DS: It's been a slow spiralling down. That was the right audience at the right time. It was fun. What better way to end of the Edinburgh Festival than with an audience riot. But I missed the German heckler and I was outside smoking when the guys came on to the stage and everyone was running out. There was this big swarm, we thought we should go and see what all the fuss was about but I wanted to finish my cigarette. Sean Rouse (another US comic on the bill) came running up the stairs with his rheumatoid arthritis shouting 'get the fuck out of there...'

BD: What kind of places do you play in America?

DS: I try not to do comedy clubs as much. I try to work rock and roll clubs if the town is big enough. I do one-nighters there. I get audiences of 100-200.

BD: Your audience seems to be a mix of intelligent comedy fans who like the satire and local rednecks who like your drugs and hookers material. What kind of audience do you want?

DS: It's nice to have your own audience who are not just showing up for comedy as part of a bachelor party – you know, people who say 'we'll go and see comedy', as if it's all one brand – but specifically because they've heard about you. And then you don't get the conflict like last night. I like a mix though - too many people agreeing with what I say gets kinda boring too.

BD: Where do you get your knowledge?

DS: I read USA Today to figure out what people think. To see what they are being told. But as far as trying to get any news it's all so much bullshit, whatever the source, Like the controversy here with The Times calling Steve Hughes anti-semitic, which was so taking his words out of context. The best advice I ever got was before you believe anything in the media read an article on something that you know about - see how much they fuck that up. I think they write the controversy before the Festival starts. Steve has been doing that material for as long as I've known him.

BD: There were a lot of comedians doing jokes about Jews this year though. It used to be jokes about ginger people.

DS: It's the first time I heard this about people going 'ooh' when you say ginger as if you've just said 'nigger'. Ginger is a kind of taboo over here?

BD: Tell me about your plans to run for the Presidency in 2008.

DS: I'm starting work on that later this year when I move to Austin and figure things out. It's for the Libertarian Party. I'm in deep now. But I think I announced my running a bit too early. Maybe I should have said “I'm looking into it."

BD: Policies?

DS: I have a bunch of them. Ending the drugs war, pardoning all non-violent drug offenders. There are over a million behind bars. The libertarian platform is that all drugs should be legalised eventually, but you don't walk in and say we are going to end all taxes, privatise all schools. You have to find the middle ground and at least become vocal enough that they have to address some of the things you are talking about.

BD: Have you had run-ins with TV networks during your career over censorship?

DS: Lawyers ruin the material more than censors do, I have a pro-suicide bit I can't do – hey, life's like animal porn, it's not for everyone... But you can't do that because if someone hears that and kills themselves you get sued. And you can't mention brand names, because they might be a sponsor. The networks are always blowing some kind of smoke up your ass, saying so and so wants to talk to you. I've tried to compromise to get on TV but I failed miserably. I've had TV deals, that's why I spent ten years in LA, but I'm a horrible actor.

BD: I heard you say if you could earn a living without doing stand-up you would give it up.

DS: That's true. I don't get a buzz. I used to but it's been 16 years, you can only kill as much as you've killed. Killing is only going to get you closer to more drunken idiots. I am gonna come back to Edinburgh but not any quicker than every two years. In the States I can go wherever my heads going and I know they're gonna understand. 60 per cent of my material wouldn't work over here because it's based around American references etc. I can't look down and assess the crowd. In America I can look at a heckler and tell if he lives in a trailer park or is a student. Over here you can't tell by the way someone is dressed.

BD: Someone gave you some drugs onstage one night?

DS: It was ecstasy but it was really weak.

BD: You got a five-star review though.

DS: According to one person

BD: Tell me about your background. All I know is you did telesales before stand-up.

DS: My dad was a teacher, a department head in the public school system, married a couple of times, my mother was married three times. They split up but everyone got along. I'm originally from Massachusetts. I had a great childhood. I was pretty much given free reign to do whatever the fuck I wanted, so for 39 years I have. When I started I was 23 and all I did was jokes about jacking off. It 's all that matters when you are 23. But your priorities change as you get older and you realise about the shit that is going on in the world outside your underpants."

BD: Have you been married?

DS: Well, that's a hard one. Yes, but on how many levels? I got married in Vegas when I was 20, one of those drunken things, so I never divorced her. We were together off and on for 18 months but I never got a divorce.

BD: You live on a ranch?

DS: It's a lot in a residential area on the edge of a very small town. Bisbee, Arizona. My wife – I got married again but it wasn't a legal marriage – and I found it driving on back roads between gigs avoiding the interstate. It's an old mining town near the Mexican border, a mix of hippy and redneck.

BD: Do you try to shock or are you just saying what's in your head?

DS: I wouldn't ever say anything onstage that I couldn't logically back up. whether it's about child porn, abortion or religion.

BD: Any favourite places to play?

DS: "Anchorage in Alaska is my favourite place, It's different because it's the last frontier, everyone who lives there is there because they want to get the fuck away from everything else that is going on in the States. There's other places that I hate being but the shows are great, like the bleak midwest where they desperately need the entertainment.

BD: How do you feel about endless comparisons with Bill Hicks?

DS: You feel people are showing up expecting Bill Hicks but I don't think I'm like Bill Hicks at all. He was sober, quiet and good tempered. I'm a fan though.

BD: What about other comedians. I see a DVD of Curb Your Enthusiasm on the table.

DS: That's the promoter's DVD. Fuck no. Seinfeld? That fucking loser whiner...The Glengarry Glen Ross DVD is one of mine. I watched every fucking episode of Curb just to have something to hate. It's so overly formulaic. I grew up with Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison. Andrew Dice Clay was probably the catalyst that made me do comedy.

BD: Would you call yourself nihilistic?

DS: I've got a lack of hope but I wouldn't term myself a nihilist because I hope that one day I will have hope.

Published: 19 Oct 2006

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