Interview: Doug Stanhope talks comedy clubs, Twitter and gauging success in this crazy business
The last time I saw Doug Stanhope, he was running up to me to give me a sloppy drunken hug and kiss at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival in July. No, Stanhope wasn't in the fest. He was booking his own "Just For Spite" shows down the street. So imagine my surprise (and also lack thereof) when I saw Stanhope listed on the bill this weekend at Comix comedy club here in New York City. I called him at his Arizona home near the Mexican border to talk about that, his use of Twitter, and whether he's as satisfied with his career as Jeff Dunham is right now. Are you imagining the fun times yet? Read on, my friends! It's my new interview with Doug Stanhope...
This seems like a rare treat, seeing you in a mainstream comedy club, since you've been booking yourself in dive bars and rock clubs mostly the past few years. What's the scoop? "I'm trying do some more comedy clubs, just because it stops my audience people from inbreeding. People who would never walk into the Highline Ballroom would never step into Comix," he said. "And doing that many shows in a row keeps me fresh."
Speaking of which, how about that YouTube promo you shot for Comix?! Roll the clip! (Of course there will be plenty of profanity contained therein, so it's NSFW -- just look at the label!)
"A lot of this stuff is sprung on me last-minute by my manager," Stanhope says, laughing. "He knows I'll go along with whatever the stupid idea is. I can be somewhat difficult to manage. Things I think are fantastically funny and things to do at night are reprehensible to people the next day. If comedy clubs switched to morning radio shows, I would be a different comic altogether. I would be more of a Richard Lewis -- all manic and terrified, all annoying and sullen."
"That morning radio. That's something you could hide behind. I could do morning radio without drinking. It allows you to talk. It doesn't demand you to give punchlines every couple of minutes. My audience is like Trekkies and sex offenders. They have no patience for you to get to punchlines."
So was it planned for you to perform here the week of the New York Comedy Festival, like you did during Montreal? "Coincidence. I think they were trying to market against it, but I'm not a marekting guy. I don't know anything about the festival."
Not that he doesn't have an opinion about New York City hosting a comedy festival.
"It just seems redundant to me. When any given Thursday, you can shuffle into the (Comedy) Cellar and see five of the best comics working today and working out shit. It just doesn't make sense to me. And I'd much rather see someone working out shit at Carolines, that could go any fucking way any night...in the clubs, you stlll have that treat of people shuffling in and not knowing what they're in for, whether they're celebrating a retirement or a bachelorette party. I miss that chaos sometimes. Absolute fucking outrage. I've been preaching to the choir for so many years. Whittling down the audience. I can't stand to have the audience agree with me, so I'm starting this gay-pride/white-power movement. Keep bifurcating my audience a little."
Bifurcating? Not many comedians will just drop a word like bifurcating into an interview? "That's one of 22 that I can pull out of my ass based on my false intellect."
Is that why you're also on Twitter (@DougStanhope)? "Twitter I like, because, I don't know, if people do respond to it, I don't know. All I know is I don't have to deal with people. If I take a couple of Xanax and am in a blackout state, I can toss 140 characters out to the world. It challenges you to come up with a joke. Sometimes I have something great and then I think, why would I put this on Twitter? I need to say this in a club!"
"I don't know why anyone else would do it? People who don't have to keep up a fan base or promote a show. I don't know why you guys would be on Twitter -- and how does it work? You can get this on your phone?"
Yes, if you want to. "Every time J.Lo has a bowel movement it can come up on your phone? That would rack up the charges. I still have a TracFone where it takes you four buttons to make a text."
"But it beats getting up to do morning radio to get an audience. I'd rather throw a few status updates on Facebook and Twitter, than get up and do the 'Morning Zoo' crew on St. Louis or wherever."
Are you satisfied with your career at this point?
"I don't know where I'm at. Financially, it's as good as it's ever been. But I don't know what to do next. Should I start killing fat kids on stage? Maybe I should do a mushroom intervention on myself."
Jeff Dunham said about the same thing, apparently, before he became huge -- thinking his career had stalled around 2003. "I thought the same thing. I thought his career had died in 1989. I thought it had rnoved out to casinos and corporate gigs. Out of all the people, he is definitely the most surprising. It's like Pablo Francisco in Sweden. He's huge. I mean, no offense to Pablo. He's a friend of mine. But of all the people to be famous in stand-up, he's doing a 22-city stand-up tour in Sweden. I didn't know there were 22 cities IN Sweden?! At least that Pablo thing makes sense. English as a second-language country makes sense. But Dunham. They're not talking people into thinking puppets are funny. There's something deeper wrong in the well. You can't chalk this up to PR or something. Jalapeno on a stick?"
Are you happy, though?
"I'm happy with exactly where I am on the grey stand-up margins of society. You don't need to be huge...It's one of those things. If you are huge, you need to second-guess what you're doing. I'd much rather be marginalized than be any of those fucking goofball acts. I'm not saying there's no room for them. It just makes you scared for humanity and feeling very, very alone on this planet."
Maybe that makes you even more vital now. "I'd much rather be a boring, mediocre artist and have more people be like me."
What about being more different?
"I wish more people were into the shit that I were into. You don't want to be different. I want to be able to plug my iPod into a party and go more than two songs before people start leaving. Yes, that is the theme song to the NFL. I like it. Sometimes you wish you weren't the only one fucking laughing."
Is that how you feel living in southern Arizona?
"I love it for what it is. But I think I'm going to make it part-time. There's no spark here. There's no creativity here. There's no fucking jokes being made. They're turquoise belt-buckle people here. There's no help developing a good fist-fuck joke on these people here." When he stays home, he says, "You do that for two or three months when you're taking down time, you just become fat. You learn why Middle America is the way it is. You learn why Wal-Mart becomes a part of the daily entertainment fabric of people's lives. I want to spend more of my off-time in Austin and other places. You know, get onstage, when it's not just workout shit, I can just think in that capacity. When you don't deal with people on a regular basis you forget why you developed...being funny serves a purpose socially, that's why you developed that. You wanted to fit in. You weren't a socially adept person. You weren't good looking, so that was your plumage...but you (the general you) don't need to be funny. It doesn't translate to the $32 dicks coming out to Comix."