Doug Stanhope brought his latest stand-up comedy tour into New York City, with gigs Sunday and Monday night at B.B. King’s in Times Square, and sat in for a memorable Monday-morning discussion with the Opie & Anthony show on SiriusXM satellite radio.
It opened with some lighthearted discussion about the suitcase Stanhope rolled in with and the leisure suit he’s wearing — which is a step up fashion-wise from the 70 NFL jerseys he used to sport regularly.
Stanhope also wanted O&A and everyone else to know that as a native of Worcester, Mass., he already owns a cemetery plot nearby in case no one else wants to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev — the suspected Boston Marathon bomber whose dead body has been kept unclaimed in Worcester funeral home since Friday (a week after he died during a shootout with police). Anyhow.
The talk turned even heavier when Dr. Drew’s name came up and Stanhope wanted to know how Jim Norton felt about celebrities dying after taking part in Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab.
What followed: A 35-minute debate about the merits of Alcoholics Anonymous between Stanhope (who has a bit calling A.A. “a poorly constructed cult” on his CD, “Before Turning the Gun on Himself”), with Jim Norton (known and acknowledged in recovery for more than 25 years, sober since he was 18) left defending the 12-step program while also trying to maintain anonymity per the program’s traditions. At one point, the late Mitch Hedberg’s name comes up.
“It’s never a better option to go the way he went, ever,” Norton said of Hedberg.
“A sober Hedberg, an A.A. Hedberg, is the most depressing thought I could imagine,” Stanhope countered. “I don’t think he would be him.”
Norton wondered if that’s merely rationalizing on Stanhope’s part, that it’s easier to handle Hedberg’s death by accidental overdose by believing that his comedy couldn’t possibly have been as wonderful had Hedberg had lived and recovered from his addictions. “It’s never better to be dead of heroin than it is to be alive and trying to create sober,” Norton said. “No matter how creative you are under the influence, you are never a better artist dead than you would have been alive.”
Stanhope again countered, saying: “I can make some lists.”
The one drug Stanhope isn’t a fan of is nicotine. “Smoking is a problem that I wish I had never done,” he said. “That’s maybe the one regret. I wish that I had never started smoking. There is no payoff to it.” But he still believes that some drugs and substances — particularly hallucinogens — have beneficial uses for opening one’s mind, if the substances and the taking of them are controlled. “That made my head so wide open” he said. “Ecstasy, back when you could count on the purity of it, taught me so much love. Introspection. Yeah, alcohol is a pointless thing. But I enjoy it. It works for me. I can make it work. Like a diet. And cigarettes are pointless. But yeah, fucking hallucinogens. Like, Hedberg really stretched his brain out. And, yeah. heroin fucked him. I haven’t tried it. yet. But I’ll wait ’til everything’s falling apart, and give it a shot. When it’s the final stretch and I’m in last place.”
Norton wouldn’t budge on the issue of Hedberg’s addictions, though, saying he wished Hedberg had recovered from them. “A live Mitch performing and creating…is better than a dead Mitch,” Norton said.
He also asked Stanhope if he felt he had any addictions. Stanhope, who earlier in the hour had acknowledged, “I’m a drunk,” and said he was drinking vodka with red ruby grapefruit during the interview, said: “Alcohol I’m worried about, because I watch a lot of Intervention for fun.” And drinking red wine while doing so. But he added, too, that he worries too much about offstage details whenever he’s sober onstage. “I’ve tried to do comedy sober, and I suck.”
Norton suggested he might overcome that if he stayed sober for a while, because he’s talented enough and funny enough to be funny without being drunk.
That led to even more debate over the wording of several steps in the 12-step program.
“Let’s get back to Dr. Drew,” Stanhope told Norton. “I’m just debating you, when I want to trash Dr. Drew. You, I love.”
The final half-hour of their discussion focused on the suicide of Stanhope’s mother, which happened five years ago when she pre-emptively ended her battle with emphysema. He talked about it on his most recent DVD, he said, adding: “There was a statute of limitations before I could tell the whole story.” Eventually, the interview circled back around to addictions, and which comedians from their generation (Generation X) had sobered up, which ones still drank, and how Greg Giraldo’s death served as a wake-up call for some in their ranks.
Stanhope still has some questions for Dr. Drew, though: “What would fucking Dr. Drew say to Hunter S. Thompson? If you’re fantastic like Ron White is, he’s made his disease, as you would call it, his art. What would fucking Dr. Drew say to fucking Dean Martin?”
Roll it. Language is Not Safe For Work.
Doug Stanhope’s stand-up tour dates continue this week in the Northeast, and in June out West.