Doug Stanhope is a legendary comic that has performed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival, Aspen’s US Comedy Arts Festival, Chicago Comedy Festival, United Kingdom’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Kilkenny Ireland’s Cat Laugh’s Comedy Festival, and numerous clubs and theatres all over the world. He’s also been on various TV shows like The Man Show with Joe Rogan, hosted his own radio show on SIRIUS satellite radio and has been releasing stand up comedy albums for over twenty years.
His harsh examination of people’s pitfalls and the state of political preposterousness that seems to saturate our current day media apps and outlets has garnered him a special place in the comedy world and gained him a legion of followers and fans. His dark and raunchy humour may not be for everyone, but you can’t deny his ability to spin captivating tales of life, death, and everything in between.
Doug will be weaving his unique take on things in Ottawa, on Tuesday May 15. You can catch him at the Ottawa Little Theatre, which also happens to be home to the longest running community theatre company in Canada.
In the lead up to his show, I got the chance to sit down for a chat with Doug.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: What was it like growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts?
Doug Stanhope: You don’t know any better: I think that’s why people grow up in war zones and still continue to have kids because the fucking kids don’t know any better… Now that I go back, I know it’s a shit hole. When you’re little, it’s basically… you got four houses around you, there’s a pond at end of the street and I used to think it was paradise.
Did you always know you were going to get into comedy in some way?
I must have thought about it, but I don’t remember ever having serious plans to do stand up comedy. You know, it wasn’t until the threat of an open mic, at a bar near where I lived, when I moved to (Las) Vegas, (that is) what actually made me sit down and write jokes.
So did you move to Las Vegas shortly after leaving Worcester?
I moved to LA for the first six months, then moved to Florida, then back to (Massachusetts), then to Oceanside, California, then back to (Massachusetts), then Idaho, then Las Vegas… I was everywhere in those years, going to targets of opportunity.
Did you find there was a much larger boom in comedy back when you first started doing stand up?
In 1990, when I started, there was still that boom from the 80’s. You know, there was stand up comedy on network television, Sunday night. There were a lot fewer comics. I started in (Las) Vegas and there was a ton of work because there was a handful of comedians. Nowadays, you go to an open mic, there’s forty or fifty comedians there.
Was your family supportive of your comedy career early on?
Yeah. You know, my dad just wasn’t funny. He was happy, he wasn’t funny. He didn’t get jokes, but he was always smiling. My mother was the dark one. Her sense of humour had peaked when (my brother and I) were developing one. She was hilarious… she would fart and let us read Hustler magazine and smoke cigarettes…
How old were you at that time?
I didn’t start smoking until I was 13, but back then… I was probably eleven or twelve, reading Bits & Pieces section of Hustler magazine. Every month had the most tasteless cartoon and there’s always something really graphic. We were into Monty Python and National Lampoon… for a kid of twelve to even have a National Lampoon sense of humour was pretty dark.
Do you have a particular method of how you create your comedy?
I don’t have a system, nor do I dissect comedy because it just makes it unfunny. I find something and say: ‘“you know, I could talk about this on stage.” You just know how to make it funny or you don’t. But I don’t have a system or a strategy… I don’t. At this point, you go: “I’m pretty sure this is gonna get a laugh.” It’s very rarely wrong or where I go: “yeah this isn’t gonna get a laugh, but I’ll try it anyway.” I’m pretty much bullseye every time. And I know my audience. I’m not trying this out at the Comedy Cellar for fifteen strangers or NYU students. I don’t do that shit. Other comics do that. If I’m gonna try something out, it’s gonna be in front of my audience… I don’t need to attract more people. I got enough fans and don’t need anymore.
Do you have a good story from doing stand up somewhere, seeing as how you’ve performed all over the world?
The stories that stand out the most are the ones I’ve done on stage. If the story is obviously that good, then it’s going to be in my (stand up) act. For one to stand out after 30 years… on the road that much… and drunk every single night… yeah… nothing specific stands out. In fact, it’s to the point where stuff that stands out, like a highlight for someone where the story would stand out for the rest of their life, and it happens to me and you don’t even notice it. You’re talking about it at breakfast and people are going: “What the fuck?! That really happened?” and you forget that (those stories) are really weird to other people.
What was it like performing at a maximum security prison in Iceland?
Yeah… their version of a maximum security prison; their only one. It has only 82 inmates. We’re hanging around in their cells, bullshitting with them, while they’re playing their video games. It’s a fucking college dorm, it’s fantastic, it’s everything a prison should be: reformatory and helpful.
That’s all I got, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Oh good, I’m sweating my balls off in the car. I didn’t realize this was a boring interview that would make me sweat my balls off. See you in a couple of months Ottawa!
Doug Stanhope will be at Ottawa Little Theatre May 15. Tickets are available online for $60 plus fees.