Comedy in The Lou

Doug Stanhope on Standup Comedy: “It’s some fucking work release program for no talents.”

doug-stanhope

Doug Stanhope

Kelsey McClure interviewed Doug Stanhope for the Riverfront Times. He will be performing at 2720 Cherokee tonight, April 23. When Kelsey first called for the interview Doug had just ordered sushi and asked to call back after he’d finished lunch; this is where it began…

Kelsey McClure: Hi, how are you doing? How was your sushi?

Doug Stanhope: My sushi was fantastic.

That’s good. I don’t know why but I wouldn’t have imagined you sitting down to eat sushi. Are you a healthy eater?

I try when I can be. At home a lot more so than when I am on the road. On the road we end up going out, just get whatever drive-thru, we don’t have time, we’ve got to get to the next stage.

Right.

At home I cook.

Did you cook the sushi yourself? (Laughter)

Oh yeah, no I couldn’t do sushi.

No?

I don’t eat Steak ‘N Shake at home.

You don’t?

I wouldn’t if I wanted to, we don’t have fast food. There is a Burger King but that’s the only shake and that’s fucking horrific, I don’t know why Burger King keeps holding on, they’re fucking awful. They only exist when there’s no competition. If you’re eating at Burger King; nothing else is around there.

I think they have pretty tasty french fries.

Yuck. Burger King is so bad it makes me angry.

Really?

Yes.

What is it about it that gets you?

Fucking holding out the truck stop, not truck stop, the toll plaza contracts. Where you go, “Okay, they under bid everyone else,” so when you are on a toll highway you go, “Ah, shit what is the next place? Oh it’s Sbarro Pizza and Burger King.

I would rather eat a person. Is this what you called me to ask about? Because I am just yelling about food.

(Laughter) Yeah that’s exactly it. I just wanted to talk about diets and Burger King.

I like the white tuna; it’s got a lot of the same side effects as olestra, it gives you the oily stools which is always good on the road.

It’s best to get in and get out when you don’t have a lot of time.

Right. Xanex nights and cheese steak afternoons, you want something to loosen up the blockade.

Who knew this was going to turn into a public service announcement?

“Doug Stanhope examines stools and other things.”

Well then… let’s jump right into it. First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. The first time I saw you was five or six years ago at the Firebird here in St. Louis.

Fuck. I didn’t know I’ve been playing the Firebird for that many years.

It has been a while. Was there any reason why you switched up venues this time? Does it really make a difference to you which venue you play at?

Some are better than others. I remember playing Pops…

You remember it?

I still don’t know if it’s “Saw-jay” or “Saw-get.”

I don’t think it makes a difference, everybody knows where you’re talking about.

It was a huge cavern, if I drew a thousand people that might be a fun venue. And Firebird is just… Why? Are we not playing there this time?

No. You’re at a place called 2720 Cherokee.

Do you do a lot of shows where people are standing? That was one of the one things that I remember distinctively about it was comedy shows are 90% of the time seated shows and that was one where everybody always stood.

At this point I think we are back up to about 70% seating. We do a lot more comedy clubs, especially in markets where we have shit options like rock and roll clubs, anyway, Hopefully this place is good.

It’s a fine spot. It’s an up-and-coming part of town, which could also mean if you park on the wrong street you might be in for an adventure.

I always have my cop friend there, one of the perks of St. Louis. It’s a guy that I used to do mushrooms with in the desert. Steaming memories of seeing the sun coming up in Death Valley and him still tripping his balls off playing “Sober” by Tool on our acoustic guitar; completely sideways on mescaline.

It’s good to know we have got a man like that on our force here.

He’s one of the good ones.

A question about your career; when you open up Beer Hall Putsch you said your career is starting to wane and a good performance is about a 50/50 gamble. Do you really think that you are on the way down?

Anyone my age is on their way down, statistically. Any comic that remains relevant over 50 years old and you can come up with Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield and possibly Lewis Black, other than that, you just expect to be. If not completely unfunny, ignored and overlooked. I don’t give a shit. That’s the only good thing about aging, you honestly don’t give a fuck. You used to pretend not to give a fuck, but did, now you don’t. People still show up at my shows, it’s like Pearl Jam, you don’t know a song they have done in the last 20 years but they get a dedicated audience, they show up.

That’s an interesting comparison because all of the comedy writing and interviews and whatnot all goes into the music category of the entertainment paper here just because there is nowhere else to put it and I think of music as… Even though musicians get old or whatnot, they don’t ever present themselves as not being any good anymore or it being a gamble. For a comedian to come out and say, “It may suck,” what’s the draw to get people out to the show?

You know what, I do not give a shit (laughter). The people that know what I do are into it and I have enough of them. In fact, I want you to email me before you come and give me three reasons why I should let you in, (laughter). My fan base is pretty much at its maximum fire hazard occupancy and until a couple more of them die, which, they are killing themselves all of the time.

When seats open up, we will call you. Not that there is a waiting list to actually be able to see my shows.

You’re not depending on getting new people out, so why are we even doing this?

Just to let the old people know that I am still alive.

Let’s just talk about sushi again then. That seemed to get you fired up.

That’s funny that you say that we get stuck in the music section because there’s nowhere else to put comedy because comedy is what gets all the people who really have no discernible talent but want to make the parlay 50 — the fame and that — a reality. And you know… whoever… had his 15 minutes then they say, “What do we do with him?” Then they decided to make him do comedy. And Screech from Saved by the Bell, and Skippy from Family Ties. Everything else fucking washes up they come to comedy like it’s some fucking work release program for no talents.

I am trying to think of the most recent one. Someone else just, “Really, you’re doing stand up?” Fucking Ron Jeremy! …Jesus.

Ron Jeremy did stand up?

Oh, I think he still does, yeah.

No shit. What was it that got you into comedy then?

I had a thing where if I get someone to sing karaoke, they think they might get laid a little bit, if they show off their talent. Comedy was what I had. I had no musical skills, or athleticism, or physique, or good looks or any type, but I was kind of funny so you develop that.

Just get out there and fuck that chicken, make an egg. Got to have some kind of plumage.

Did your career hit a low point then, if it’s already waning? Is there any way it’s going to come back up?

My career? It always does something. It’ll either end up being smart, funky… Nothing I have ever done has really been planned. Every year you step in some new pile of shit that you didn’t see coming and it’s a new album or another TV appearance or whatnot.

When you say you didn’t have anything planned, there was not an end game? It was just, “I want to go out and do comedy?”

Yeah. In the meantime I just booked gigs and I am coming to St. Louis, and I have friends there and I am sure I will find some sushi and say hello and I will yell at people and then the next thing you know, you are fucking… Johnny Depp is flying you to his fucking mansion. I don’t know what’s going on with my life, but it’s kind of weird.

Something that… A complete direction change… I’m sorry, I’m all over the place today. I wanted to talk about the subject of your mother’s suicide in your act. Was it really just a matter of credit card fraud to approach talking about it?

Statute of limitations. That was an odd feeling. The whole assisted suicide thing, if I were to think bigger I probably might not have done that; depending on the advice of whatever lawyer I could afford.

Right.

You don’t have to be technically guilty of anything but if you rub it in their face you are guilty of something every fucking day of the week. And you just have to rub your fingers into their nose going, “Ha-HA! The statute of limitations,” they will go, “Yeah, well guess what? You …”

There’s always something else.

If nothing else the IRS. No one can possibly do their taxes correctly enough, the IRS tax code had, what do you call it? “Conflicting rules.” Every single person that does their taxes has fucked up because your rules say this, and then conversely this…

Are you someone that as something is happening to you, you’re thinking right away about how you are going to talk about it on stage and how you are going to talk about it?

Everything that is horrible I Immediately it see it as of value.

To a point where it’s sometimes morbid, (laughter) fuck, incredibly morbid. Immediately you are already seeing the angle, the turn…

Is that something that was always with you or developed as you spent more time working on material and storytelling?

Pretty much, for the most part, always there.

In the very early days I thought there were boundaries you couldn’t cross just because you didn’t really know anything about standup comedy. In a course of six months maybe I took… whatever the word is… I’d listen to people when they give me advice, “Oh, I can’t say cunt? I am sorry I said cunt. Maybe if I say it, it’s funnier.”

It was only the first six months of that? I think a lot of comedians have said, “It took me 5 years, 10 years to finally adopt my own voice or say, ‘Hey fuck off, I want to do it my own way.’”

I didn’t develop my voice in six months but it was in the first six months I would pay blind allegiance to any one of my peers because I didn’t know anything and I just kind of realized, “No, okay I have got to start seeing some of the tricks here.” I have been doing this so long I have found several different voices.

When I first started out pretty much it was all just getting laid stories because that was all you really thought about, that was your mission. That was making it in this business was getting laid after a show.

I was not thinking about developing deals or television projects.  I just said, “Hey I made it, I got laid.” Then I started growing out of that and started getting angry at all the bullshit you’ve been ignoring and didn’t know how much the world sucked.

You find that voice and then you go, “I am talking about this long past the point of being passionate about it, now I am finding my old grumpy man voice.

Right.

Just keep smiling.

Are you wanting to be convincing or walk away with people thinking differently or is it just for you to go up there?

It’s always fun when someone says they do think differently because of you but usually just because I can’t take a compliment I say, “You know what? If I can change your mind that easily in an hour, a really confident speaker that had the opposite voice as me could probably change your mind back in half the time.” (laughter).

I try not to be that negative all the time, but that’s realistic.

When I shit can a compliment like that, it’s not like I don’t appreciate that you have a nice feeling toward me, I just know the reality is different.

I always like to ask… Do you have anything to do with your Wikipedia page?

No. I stopped going there.

Really?

I told my manager, “Hey, put shit on there.” But, I don’t go because I will just get irritated at something that’s incorrect. A lot of times the fans police it a lot better than they did. When it first came around my fans would put all sorts of shit on there that’s amusing like I was born a hermaphrodite, I was once a cast member on The View, (laughter). I think they cracked down a little.

I can always tell when you are doing an interview on foreign radio or whatever they are just going right off of your wikipedia page, I can tell by the beat, that’s why it would irritate me.

Do you run into that a lot?

“He ran for president 2008,” and you go, “that was such a second of my day.” I thought, “Oh this is stupid, let’s not do this anymore,” but since it is on my wikipedia page, “What was that like?”

Just for interview purposes I told my manger just put anything on there, anything that will get them off the same five topics I have to talk about three times a week.

 I scan just to do a fact check of what does the wikipedia page say, what does the bio page say, it is usually more amusing but the thing that caught me was I have never seen more categories of what kind of comedy you fall under than on your wikipedia page.

Doesn’t it say black comedy?

Yeah; black comedy, insult comedy, political, satirist, blue comedy was on there. I think people are just making things up.

That’s always one of the things I do not know if that is someone kidding or if someone means black comedy as in very dark comedy. Or if someone is being funny that I am a Def Jam act.

 Observational comedian is one I think is quite broad but people think of observational and they think of a joke as a quick setup; punchline.

You would think most comedy would be observational.

 You could maybe be an observational comic about sushi. Who knew that was what I was going to go back to? Ha. This has been fun. Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me.

I enjoyed chatting with you, it was a lovely afternoon we spent together I feel but you should name any comic over fifty that is still relevant, or was still relevant after fifty years old. Other than the ones I mentioned I just cannot come up with it.

 I’ve got one.

Who?

Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby is not relevant!

All of a sudden he goes out and tours now and people show up because it is cute that an old man can make words. He hasn’t been relevant since fucking maybe the early 80′s.

I guess I thought of relevant as someone that people recognize. But you mean, someone who is changing the game and has a vital voice and is touring and that kind of thing?

Yeah and what was the last great Cosby bit you heard?

You win! I succeed I succeed!

Alright, well I love you, I will see you in St. Louis.

 

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