Doug Stanhope on Festivals, “Industry Tools,” and Other Things He Hates
Doug Stanhope has been called all sorts of things like depraved, rude, hostile, and raunchy. All of those are fitting descriptions, but one trait stands out above all others: honesty. His candor extends from the stage to his everyday interactions. Take this interview, for instance. The goal was to promote his new special The Comedians’ Comedian’s Comedians, which premieres today on Seeso. Recorded at this year’s SXSW, the show features Stanhope in the host’s seat, doing a little bit of material before introducing three of his handpicked, favorite comics: Glenn Wool, Morgan Murphy, and Brendon Walsh. At the time of taping Stanhope hadn’t been onstage in six months. He also hates festivals. The audience was industry-heavy, filled with the kind of people who could afford the expensive all-access passes required to squeeze into the smallish Esther’s Follies theater. Stanhope turned on the crowd, calling them “fucking industry tools.” Despite the special being edited, the tension is still apparent, especially during Stanhope’s parts. In fact, even discussing it months later gets his blood boiling. So rather than giving me some fluffy “I’ve got a special to promote” bullshit, Stanhope just went with his gut. We talked about the problem with big festivals, what makes for a good room, and his upcoming book of road stories.
You’ve always been good about bringing people up and showcasing comics that you like. Is this the first time you’ve ever done it in a recorded format?
Yeah, this was the first time anyone asked. They asked me for names and I gave them a dozen or so people that I’d like to do it with. I don’t know what their process in choosing was. I guess it was who was available, but those were the ones they picked out of my short list. They’re all fantastic.
You recorded this at SXSW. Was the show during the part of the week where most of the other comedy stuff was happening?
I don’t have the slightest idea. I hate festivals like that with every fiber of my being. I hate crowds of anyone, much less crowds of hipsters…even the audience. I haven’t watched the special so I don’t know what was left in and cut out. I don’t know if they left in me excoriating the audience for being a bunch of fucking suits.
I didn’t notice that part specifically, but there was definitely a vibe from you and the comics. The audience seemed afraid to laugh. It made me wonder if they didn’t know what show they were there to see.
That’s the thing. It was a small room with a large portion of suits who had the $1,600 platinum pass so they can get into whatever was popular. My fans couldn’t even get into the fucking thing. At some point during the second show I realized how many people are sitting there with laminates on while my fans are outside in the alley somewhere, people who would have actually enjoyed it. I kind of turned on them in the second show.
It did make for an interesting watch.
I didn’t like those audiences. Fuck ’em.
It’s funny to me that you’re supposed to be promoting this special, but you’re like, “Festivals suck. I hated that audience.”
Well, this is the first time I’ve done a special that was not to my audience. It was a bunch of agents and execs. I’m sure if I was playing a theater that 65 agents with laminates around their neck wouldn’t hurt the landscape. But when that’s more than half of the audience they are the worst audiences.
You never want to get in the habit of blaming the audience, but I was watching this and couldn’t stop wondering what was going on with that crowd. I think each comic – including yourself – had at least one moment in the special where they did a good joke that didn’t hit and then looked at the crowd like, “You fuckers.”
Now you’ve got me interested. I’m going to have to watch it now.
You’re about to head out on tour again. Who are you taking with you on the road?
[Morgan] Murphy is coming for the first half and Andy Andrist is coming for the second half.
I know that you favor unconventional venues. When you go back to play in cities do you have your stock places that you always return to or are you constantly looking for newer, weirder spots?
The weirder ones tend to not be there next time I go. We still haven’t finished booking this tour. We’ve still got to fill in some Pennsylvania dates. There’s got to be a fucking venue in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but we haven’t found it yet. [As of yesterday a Scranton show has been booked.] It’s been such a long time since I’ve played outside of Pittsburgh or Philly that, yeah, a lot of the venues I played last time I was there years ago are gone, vacant, not there any more. It’s usually as easy as putting out a tweet: “Hey does anybody have a venue in La Crosse, Wisconsin?” Then you get a thousand responses like, “Play my bar. Play my living room. You should play this place.” I’m like, “No, I need a guy who has a venue and actually books stuff.”
Well, let’s put it out there and establish the criteria. What are you looking for in a venue?
It’s got to have a stage, sound, lights. It’s got to have full sight lines. That’s one problem if you don’t do enough due diligence. “It holds 250-300 people, has a stage, a mic, and a PA.” Then you show up and they didn’t tell you that it’s split in half and 150 people are around a different corner by the bar where they can’t see you. Sure, it holds that many, but can they see you all at once? That’s what you need. And cocktails. That’s the motherfucker. It seems like the perfect little seedy back alley place and then you get there and they say, “Oh, yeah, we don’t have a liquor license.” What the fuck?
You’ve got a new book coming out called This Is Not Fame. Your last book Digging Up Mother was incredibly personal and dark. What’s this new one about?
In the first one I found myself trying to veer off into fun road stories, but still tried to keep it within the confines. But this one is just straight-up road story filth and fun.
You once told me that booze is your comedy partner and that without it you wouldn’t have a show. How is your health holding up? Do you check in…
Oh, I don’t go to doctors. That would ruin everything, I’m sure.
How do you feel, though?
Right now, a little bit sluggish, but I’ll pick up as the day goes on. There’s an old joke I used to do: “I used to call them hangovers and now I just call them mornings.” I don’t feel like I have to check into any kind of facility. You know, when you hit it too hard and get the booze shakes the next day you just say, “Maybe I should take some milk thistle for my liver. I heard that’s good.”
Head over to Stanhope’s website for the full list of tour dates.