“Can you just fill in my answers for me? You could probably make up my answers better than I could right now. I just woke up and then I took another downer so I could go back to bed.”
And so begins 30 minutes with Doug Stanhope – comedian, author, resident of Bisbee, Arizona, population 5,221. It’s 8pm on a Thursday night in Bisbee, and he’s sitting in his pajamas and talking to Coconuts. What follows is roughly what you’d expect if you’ve ever seen his standup — honesty to a fault, or what the millennials call “giving no fucks,” which feels pretty accurate.
Of course, it’s entirely possible you haven’t seen Stanhope’s act before. He did, after all, name his last book This Is Not Fame. It IS fame, of course, just its own peculiar type, the kind that gives him the freedom to do the sort of material that routinely leaves fellow comics speaking in slightly awed tones. This is a man, after all, who has done 10 minutes on his own mother’s suicide. And it’s funny.
You’ll have a rare chance to watch Stanhope’s high-wire act up close in just a few weeks when the 50-year-old comic hits Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok on a tour that also includes stop-offs in Tokyo and Saigon before heading to Australia.
He’s never been to Asia, by the way, unless you count a trip to Singapore’s Changi airport to maintain “Diamond Status” with his airline, which we absolutely do not.
Anyway, we’ve only got maybe 25 minutes before that downer kicks in, so we should probably start the interview.
Coconuts: When you make a trip like this, is there any part of you that’s a bit of a tourist? Are there things you want to see or do? Food you’d like to try?
Doug Stanhope: I have no interest whatsoever. I don’t care about food. I’m not Anthony Bourdain. I don’t give a shit about temples.
I like to find bars. If I could tour a prison, I would. Or a mental institution. Those are things you don’t really have chances to do. Other than that … find a good bar. My favorite bar is something stumbling distance from the hotel that no one knows about. Smoking (being allowed) would be good.
Coconuts: You’re probably out of luck on the smoking thing. At least here in Hong Kong, or Singapore for that matter.
Stanhope: I’m gonna be really minding my Ps and Qs — as we say in the 1800s — I have no fucking idea what you can go to jail for there. Stuff you didn’t even know was impolite, much less illegal.
Coconuts: I think you’re safe; this isn’t Dubai.
Stanhope: Well you never know until you do something wrong, like that kid in North Korea who stole a sign and came back a fucking vegetable and died three days later.
Coconuts: The North Koreans told me he fell down the stairs.
(Stanhope laughs. We are both going to hell.)
Coconuts: Your last television special was 2016’s No Place Like Home. How long does it take you to build up the kind of material you need for an hour-long set like that?
Stanhope: Usually 18 months or so, depending on if you’ve got other projects. I have a set that I could film right now, but I haven’t. But I don’t know if it’ll work over there, so I’m gonna show up with a whole bag of notes. It’s in play for me to do old shit if I need to depending on if anyone knows me at all.
Coconuts: It’s probably safe to say it probably won’t be an audience comprised entirely of hardcore fans.
Stanhope: Over here [in the U.S.], my crowds have become more and more podcast observant. Most of my audience knows every fucking thing in my life… It’s all material. People here listen to the podcast and know me on a more personal level. Over there, if they know me at all, I’ll be surprised.
I might just steal a bunch of material from my friends who are funnier. (laughs)
I’m not serious, but the idea of just stealing everyone else’s shit would be funny. Just steal everyone else’s material, [admit] it, and say, “Who the fuck are you gonna tell? I’m in goddamn Malaysia.”
(Ed: Well, Singapore. Close enough.)
Coconuts: You did a memorable bit a few years ago where you talked about not giving a shit anymore. Of course, nothing about your material since then suggests that’s actually true, but do you ever wonder if the kind of righteous anger that fuels your standup might run dry?
Stanhope: I can’t pretend to care about shit I don’t care about. I’m limited in what I actually do care about, and as you get older and more affluent — I wish you could see what I call affluence as I sit in week-old pajamas — but yeah, the more comfortable you get, the less you give a fuck.
That’s why they say rich people become Republicans. Well, I’m rich … I have no kids, and I’m getting closer to death, so I care about less. But I’ll always find something to yell about. Especially when I’m in the Far East, where I’ll probably be shitting in a hole without toilet paper. I want it to suck so bad that I come back with a brand new fucking act and a new outlook on the human condition, and it’s about how it sucks over there and how grateful I am that I don’t live there.
(Ed: We’re like 87% sure he’s kidding.)
Coconuts: You’re known for occasionally ripping into the cities where you perform. Given that you’ve never been here, I guess that means we’re in the clear?
Stanhope: I can pre-judge you on the ride from the airport, don’t worry. I’m gonna have enough time in the city before I go onstage. And for the record, I shit on towns that I actually hate. So, when I’m shitting on London … I fucking hate London. Then I go to Glasgow and say “you’re so much better than London.” That doesn’t mean I like Glasgow, but I like it a lot more than fucking London. I don’t just try to find something to shit on the town. If I shit on the town it’s because I loathe that place.
Coconuts: Where are you finding most of your material these days? Does your travel schedule make it tough?
Stanhope: I just put on the news and I hate something. Every comic goes through their atheist years and their ‘I can’t believe I always believed in [xyz] years’ … Now it’s just specific, bullet point, “what the fuck” hates.
Coconuts: It seems like an easy world to hate right now.
Stanhope: Yeah, but I also hate the easy. I can’t imagine talking about Trump except peripherally.
Speaking of the US’s tweeter in chief, we’ll take a quick break here to relate a tangentially Trump-related story we asked Doug to share with us despite the fact he had told it to Howard Stern a few days earlier. For the uninitiated, Doug’s girlfriend, Amy “Bingo” Bingaman, came close to dying in 2016 after having a seizure, hitting her head on some concrete steps and spending significant time in a coma. That, you might think, is not the type of thing one can mine for laughs. You would be vastly underestimating Doug Stanhope.
“We thought as she was in a coma ‘how can we fuck with her head?’ She’s an easy mark when it comes to practical jokes. She believes anything. We figured that once we proved to her that Trump was president, that we could pull off any other practical joke we wanted, like ‘marrying’ her sister … getting wedding photos of me marrying her younger sister.
A brain injury doesn’t work like Gilligan’s Island, where a coconut hits you on the head and you forget and then the next coconut makes you remember. So we told her every day for eight days that Trump was president, and she was always surprised, but would forget immediately. It was the eighth day when she finally said ‘you weren’t kidding.’ No, we weren’t.”
And now, back to your regularly scheduled Q&A.
Coconuts: There’s been an ongoing conversation in the comedy community — really dating back to the Daniel Tosh thing where he made a joke onstage about rape — about the limits of freedom for comics. Whether or not it’s truly OK to say anything. Chris Rock even mentioned in a Vulture interview that he didn’t really play colleges anymore because of how easily they take offense at some material. Do those kinds of questions even cross your mind or does your brand of comedy kind of insulate you from those considerations?
Stanhope: I have an internal audience. That’s a lot of what the book (This Is Not Fame: A ‘From What I Re-Memoir’) is about. A lot of that is the fact that if I was famous, I’d be fucked. But the only employer I have is the ticket-buyers. I don’t have a fucking Burger King endorsement deal, I don’t have an NBC network deal, so the only people that can “fire” me are the people that don’t want to buy tickets.
Coconuts: Speaking of the book, this is the second one you’ve done now. How does the writing process differ for you from working on standup? Does it scratch an itch the road doesn’t?
Stanhope: When I’m writing a book, I go “Ugh, goddammit it’s so much easier to do standup!” And when I’ m on the road doing standup, I go “God, I wish I had another book deal; it’s so much nicer to be home.”
Coconuts: And what’s a day at home like for you?
Stanhope: If I’m writing a book, my day goes: I wake up; I sit down at my computer to write; then I look at my email, my twitter, Newser; then break out my notes. Then I start writing my book. Then I have to have four or five drinks to get the booze shakes off so I can actually type. Then I write for awhile, then I take an Aderall to take the edge off all the drinks I’ve been having.
If I’m not writing a book, my day goes exactly like that without the book part. (Stanhope emits a preposterously loud belch.)
Stanhope: That belch stays in the script, sir! (And so it does.)
Coconuts: Have you ever considered going the Dean Martin route and just pretending to drink?
Stanhope: I can imagine [US reality show therapist] Dr. Drew sitting down one of his celebrity clients and saying “Why don’t you just try the Dean Martin ruse of alcoholism where you’re just fake drunk?” The Red Skelton if you will. No. Who’s the other guy? Foster Brooks!
Coconuts: Who actually used to do the old Dean Martin roasts.
Stanhope: Those were the days. Actually, I enjoy the new roasts. It’s just the person who’s being roasted where you ask “why him?”
For you youngsters wanting to discover the world of fake drunk comedian Foster Brooks, here’s a video of the man himself having a fake drunk-off with roastmaster Dean Martin.
Coconuts: Have you ever used something in a bit that you later regretted? Where you thought, “maybe I went too far with this one?”
Stanhope: No. Don’t think so. Wait a minute. Let me ask my cohort. (Semi-intelligible shouting can be heard in the background.)
Nope. There’s a few I would have reworded. I’ve used the word n***er too much, but only as an example of using it. If I’m talking about the word, I’ll use the word.
You [might] say, “your grandpa said n***er, too” … but at some point you use a different word.
Sean Rouse had the best bit about not using the n-word:
“First of all, I’m not racist. Second of all, my wife is African-American and she made me promise to never use that word … unless we were making love.”
(It’s probably wrong that we laughed at that as hard as we did.)
In case you want to close on that. That [downer] is kicking in, son.
Coconuts: Yes, that’s exactly what I want to close on. A joke with the n-word that’s not even from the comic I’m doing the interview with.
Stanhope: I would be happy if you did. Point being, your points of view change over time, and if you allow your act to mold with your age… yeah, there’s gonna be some shit you regret saying. Not “regret” necessarily, but … you just go “yeah, I don’t believe that anymore.”
You don’t want to get stuck in some kind of pigeonhole where you feel like you have to keep the same point of view just because you’ve said something before in your act. Shit changes.
Coconuts: You’re gonna be hitting three of our cities: Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. Anything in particular you’re looking forward to on your first Asian tour?
Stanhope: All the great material that you people are gonna give me. You guys are going to make this so entertaining for me, that my next set is gonna be all about you. And if you’re not interesting enough, well, you are to blame for the demise of my career, so fucking step it up!
Coconuts: See? Now that’s what you want to end on.
Stanhope: I’d drop the mic but the mic is my phone and it takes me so long to learn a new phone.
Doug Stanhope will be at Grappa’s Cellar in Hong Kong on Thursday, March 8; playing Shanghai Dolly in Singapore on March 10; and hitting Bangkok’s Westin Grand Sukhumvit a week later on March 17. You can, and probably should, buy tickets at the below web addresses.
Hong Kong (March 8): https://www.ticketflap.com/dougstanhope2018
Singapore (March 10): http://eventregist.com/e/comedyfest2018
Ho Chi Minh City (March 14): https://ticketbox.vn/event/what-doug-stanhope-69608/44889
Shanghai (March 15): https://yoopay.cn/event/DougStanhope
Bangkok (March 17): https://www.ticketflap.com/magners-dougstanhopebkk
Tokyo (March 19): http://eventregist.com/e/TokyoDoug