By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — During his disquieting act, Arizonian comedian Doug Stanhope calmly becomes unhinged. He’s oft drunk and anarchistic; lobbing chunks of scathing commentary that have resulted in walk out and “incidents.” He consistently lampoons societal norms with ferocity onstage and off.
Case in point: in 2013, Stanhope spearheaded an Indiegogo campaign that eventually raised $125,760 for atheist Oklahoma-ite Rebecca Vitsmun after a tornado. Why? Because when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her “do you thank the Lord?” for sparing her life during an interview, she responded with “actually I’m an atheist.” Stanhope’s gleefully anti-Christian campaign offered Prayers, Free Bibles during your next hotel stay or Get Out of Hell Free Cards in exchange for helping out a fellow atheist (also known as a godless heathen).
Onstage, Stanhope confers about assisting his mother with suicide and credit card fraud and “incentive based eugenics.” Thanks to his scathing fearlessness, his notoriety has steadily increased since 1998 and he is now known as one of the best living comedians despite remaining relatively obscure. You know how some bands are criminally underrated, yet frequently touted by musicians? Stanhope is that comedic equivalent.
BeatRoute: How’s it going?
Doug Stanhope: Fine! [My publicist] didn’t even tell me I had an interview. I could have prepared!
BR: Excellent. I’m going to interrupt your day and barrage you with questions!
BR: You’ve got two shows coming up and one is sold out already. Why does Calgary love you so much?
DS: I don’t have any idea. I don’t think I’ve reciprocated.
BR: It seems odd that you’re a comedian rather than a talk show host like John Stewart or Lewis Black. Your act addresses a lot of societal issues.
DS: Well, then I couldn’t drink and use obscenities and that’s where all the fun is. You couldn’t tell people to go fuck themselves.
BR: I thought you weren’t drinking anymore? According to your blog, you’ve gone to “rehab,” which is a trailer you stay in when you want to cut back?
DS: Well, I did, but I got a book deal. Which is the worst thing you can do in that place.
BR: So you’re backing to smoking and drinking?
DS: Oh yeah, I was never not drinking. Yeah, I have a two-drink minimum.
BR: What’s your book?
DS: It’s about my lifeless mother. Yeah, I don’t know what it is. It’s difficult.
BR: You talk in one of your skits about what happened when your mom passed away and how you and your sibling helped her and roasted her while she passed.
DS: (Starts laughing). I’m sorry, my girlfriend [Bingo] just walked in, and when you were talking I wrote down ‘interview’ on a napkin but when I looked down I realized I had actually wrote ‘intervention.’
BR: Freudian slip?
DS: I actually watch Intervention. It’s back on the air and almost all the new ones are Canadian. You kind of ruined the show. Canadians can handle themselves really well and it’s no fun to watch.
BR: Are you looking for people who are falling apart?
DS: That was my thing to do, Monday nights. Crack a bottle of wine, which is what I drink when I’m not drinking that night, and take a Xanax and watch Intervention.
BR: Given your reputation for drinking, you hold it together really well. Not at all like the people who are falling apart on that show.
DS: The problem is those people get fucked up around people who aren’t getting fucked up themselves! That’s the only reason people intervene. Why do you get shit faced at your auntie’s birthday party? You should be with other drunks!
BR: Calculated substance intake.
DS: Hang out with like minds. Back to whatever we were talking about. My book. I am trying to do it, but right now I’m trying to remember a whole bunch of shit my mind is fighting with me over.
BR: How much have you written so far?
DS: Right now it’s just getting the chronology accurate. Calling everyone from my past, asking ‘is this right?’ ‘What decade did that happen in?’ I’m not sure! Right now it’s news, getting the facts right. Then I’ll work on the story and the funny.
BR: After the funny comes the movie? Because you’re more successful now than you’ve ever been. It’s weird that people are getting your comedy. Do you have any theories as to why that is?
DS: I really have no idea. I just show up and talk. I don’t pay attention to the numbers. I don’t know where my audience comes from. I’m just glad they show up.
BR: I have a theory that it has to do with the fact that people are more isolated than ever with the Internet. In addition, the news right now is so incredibly negative and sad and violent.
DS: And relentless.
BR: How do you navigate that?
DS: I don’t want to know a lot of that stuff. I fuel up on it before I go on the road, but when I’m off work, I don’t want to know that shit. It’s depressing.
BR: It’s weird to hear you say that, given how much of your comedy addresses real, tangible social problems. Are you ranting on stage? How much of your act is premeditated?
DS: It depends. I haven’t been on stage since November, so when I come back, I’ll have to put a lot of effort into it. Once I get the base template, then I can fuck with it.
BR: What’s the template for these upcoming shows?
DS: I have no clue. I have no earthly idea yet what I’ll be talking about three weeks from now… the thing is, with the things going on in the world, allegedly, they are not in our world. The Baltimore riots, they were the only thing on the news for a week. But now it’s over. Who cares? Old news.
BR: Saying things like that makes people angry; despite how true they are. Has anything notable happened with angry fans, other than the infamous Austin Incident?
DS: The days of people paying $40 to show up without knowing what they are going to are over. My audience tends to be more really shitfaced people; I obviously attract a heavy drinking audience and a lot of them, well… tailgate the fucking thing like a football game. You check your Twitter at four o’clock in the afternoon and you’re tagged in ‘OH PRE GAMING FOR THE STANHOPE SHOW!’ while they’ve got a 12-pack in their car. Oh, you’ll be a fucking charm at 9:30 at night…. Calgary has always been funny.
BR: Oh yeah?
DS: This place I’m about to play sounds great, but the place before that… downtown somewhere. I remember there was a train station right in front of it. That was the legendary place, I didn’t know when I was first walking to the gig, I didn’t know it was there, and I crossed the street to get away from the creepy looking people assembled at the train station. So I crossed the street to avoid them until I realized ‘oh…. Those are the people going to my show’ (sighs).
BR: I’m sure you’re going to have a similarly colourful crowd at the upcoming show. Anything else you want to add before I leave you alone?
DS: Feel free to add any interesting lies (laughs).
Watch Doug Stanhope at the Laugh Shop. His shows on June 17th and June 18th are both sold out.AB, Alberta, Doug Stanhope, The Laugh Shop