“Offensive” is one of many words used to describe this 44-year-old American’s particular brand of stand-up comedy. Others include “provocative”, “warped”, “confessional”, “anarchic” and “drunk”. One thing you can bank on is that Doug Stanhope, a regular on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe and one-time wannabe presidential candidate (it didn’t work out) will call it like he sees it. We met him for an afternoon drink (beer for us, double vodka for him).
You spend a lot of time in London. Do you like it? I loathe every second I’m alive here, I really do. It’s three times as crowded as New York, overpriced and doesn’t make sense.
Do you remember why you started doing comedy? I knew I was funny and thought it would help make girls talk to me. That’s no longer the case. The early lean years were the best — living out of my car, doing $100 gigs, most of which I’d spend getting from state to state and just staying alive. I was out there with a wild mullet, fucking fat girls on the road. It was a blast.
It’s been a big year for news and uprisings. Are we on a highway to hell? No. I remember as a kid when they’d interrupt a TV show with urgent breaking news like Reagan getting shot. Now they interrupt their own news with breaking news and their breaking news with more breaking news.
Back in 2006 you stood for nomination as Libertarian presidential candidate. Do you still feel political? If I ever did, that sucked it all out of me. Once we made it official, the amount of bullshit you had to learn — paperwork, accounting — I just couldn’t take it in. I hire handymen just to install a DVD player.
You talk about some pretty personal stuff on stage, like your mother’s suicide. Is that hard? No, not at all. There’s not enough shit like that so you have to pay attention when it’s happening and think, “This is an actual fucking experience.” There’s only so much you can bitch about food and stuff.
You seem to court a fair amount of controversy. It’s so easy to get publicity over here. You say nothing in an interview, you’re very polite and then a Down’s Syndrome charity gets angry when they look up some stuff you did on stage. It’s laughable. But it makes me want to make fun of retards and I will. I’m going after them.
Does drinking on stage work as a useful prop? Yes, and the drinking itself. If I’m not drinking I’m so self-aware. I’m thinking, “That guy’s twittering, she looks bored, he looks familiar, maybe he was here last night…” Everything except the comedy.
What about drugs? The only remotely comedy-friendly drugs are coke — dangerous because you don’t even finish sentences — and ecstasy. I was so happy on stage it almost didn’t matter what I was saying. But it depletes your serotonin so badly I’ve literally found myself crying at a Simpsons episode.
What about the other kinds? I remember a New Year’s Eve in Alaska when I took some mushrooms and tried to time it for the show six hours later. There were hooters, people wearing tuxedos and I was there sweating, not wanting to be around people. The venue owner said it was the worst gig he’d ever seen.
Doug Stanhope’s new DVD, Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere is out now