Acerbic stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope is touring the UK with his latest show. Mike Shaw spoke to him and in between giggling like a pathetic fanboy, had a half-decent conversation…
Mr Stanhope! How are you?
Hello! The tour is going well, we’re having a blast. It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed myself over here, I think.
Normally I’m stuck in Leicester Square in London. This time I’m on the road and get to leave in the morning.
Do you tailor your material at all for UK audiences?
Only when it’s absolutely necessary. Normally I’ll just drop the bit if it doesn’t translate, but if it’s something minor that doesn’t matter yeah, I’ll swap it out.
I suppose now because the whole world is so embedded in US culture, there will be very little that doesn’t cross over.
Exactly. If the essence of the bit is something American, I pass over it, but for minor things…
Do you find audiences over here behave differently?
Yeah, in theatres they do. They treat it like a play. I usually play rock and roll clubs of some kind where there’s immediate chaos and banter with the crowd, over here there’s a lot of hands folded in laps and they’re more polite which takes little growing used to.
When I’ve seen you in the past it’s been in smaller venues, but on this tour you’re in some pretty big places.
Oh yeah, they’re big venues. Crowds are the same, but the venues are bigger!
Why do you think that is? Smart people like us have followed you for years, but it seems like you’re becoming more well known to the general public. Is that something you’ve picked up on too?
I don’t feel it, but I don’t really pay attention. While the venues are bigger, my life is the same. We’re still going to go back to the hotel bar and have cocktails with my friends and my girlfriend and go to bed.
You did an episode of Louie and had a string of appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe at around the same time. Did you find they gave things a boost?
I don’t know how much Louie influenced things over in the UK, I don’t know if it’s shown over here… although that doesn’t matter because everyone here seems to know how to steal stuff, which is good. But Charlie Brooker for sure, that gave me an immediate, noticeable bump. That worked out very well.
Has that made you want to do more TV work?
No! No, I never want to do TV stuff. I have to be bullied into it. I don’t look good on camera.
You’re turning 45 soon aren’t you?
Yeah, I’ll be in Milton Keynes. That was where I wanted to spend my birthday. I demanded it from my manager.
Have you found that your material has changed as you’ve got older?
I don’t think so. I mean, when I was younger it was mostly smut and sex stuff because that’s all I did, so I didn’t really have a world view. But I think it’s pretty much stayed the same over the last 12, 13 years.
As an audience member, there seems to be a more thoughtful side to things now. Bits are tempered with a bit more… humanity?
I’ll go with you there, but I’ll go so far as to say it’s less funny.
There might be fewer laughs per capita, but it gives your shows more depth.
That’s kind; less jokey, I guess I should say.
Is there anyone you enjoy watching at the moment?
Jeez….well, everyone loves Louie CK, he’s the biggest thing going in the States. But I don’t get to see a lot of comedy because I live so far away from it. If I’m going on the road and taking anyone with me it’s one of my friends. This time it’s Henry Phillips who’s incredibly fucking funny. Sean Rouse is a guy that will probably never be known because he’s brilliant, but I couldn’t name people because there’s so little crossover between the countries.
Oh you’ll be hearing all about that in every town I play, every single night, to anyone who’ll listen.
What about that disability rights campaigner who called you “a bully with a microphone”?
First of all, that disability campaigner is fucking self-titled and she’s just baiting me to respond to her, but I won’t. I guess she got a big fucking head when Ricky Gervais entertained her, and now she thinks she’s a professional because Ricky Gervais talked to her.
Have you had any serious repercussions from this?
They suspended my artistic licence for two months… (laughs) seriously, what trouble can I get in?
What you need to remember is, I’m right. This isn’t my controversy – it’s hers. She’s the one saying ridiculous things about some tetraplegic. I said the word “cunt” and prayed for a cyst, and they’re trying to spin this as I’m a misogynist. No, you’re some creepy evil badger woman and I will drag your name through the mud on every night of this show.
The thing is, in the canon of all the things you talk about, this wasn’t actually all that offensive.
I know! It’s completely benign!
Do you ever get that little siren when you’re writing or performing that says “stay away from that, best to just leave it alone”?
No. My standard answer is, unless I think there’s a better than even chance that it will result in immediate physical violence. Like, right now I’m debating putting out a tweet…
(Laughs) They keep showing these new Olympic and Paralympic uniforms and there’s a dwarf swimmer in the Paralympics and I’m debating tweeting: “I’ve been taught that dwarfs have a natural aversion to swimming because sharks tend to mistake them for seals.” But I don’t want to distract Alison Pearson right now by creating a different controversy.
Doug Stanhope’s UK tour continues until April 21, 2012 – www.dougstanhope.com