He’s one of those stand-ups that you’ve either never heard of or are obsessive about. British viewers may know him from a glut of appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe and Screenwipe back in the early- and mid-noughties, but there’s a lot more to Doug Stanhope than that...
He’s created dozens of books, DVDs, CDs and hundreds of podcasts, and has gigged every year since 1990. With so many performances in the bag, Doug admits that he doesn’t get to know many of the places he visits: “I’m in and out, I don't make any vacation time out of it. If I'm working, it's 'Wake up, hit the next town'.”
But he does remember some things about our city, having performed here a couple of times for Just The Tonic. “I always play that same comedy club because I know they put on quality shows,” says Doug. “Last time there was a guy walking through the crowd with a dirty case selling fish and people were buying it and eating it. What was that about? I hope he’s still there when I come back. That kind of weird shit never gets old to me.”
Doug might think Dave “The Fish Man” Bartram is odd, but this comes from a man who’s made a career of doing some really strange things. He filmed his own vasectomy to boost ticket sales for his tour, he once took a job in gay phone-sex to gather material, and takes class As on stage to experiment with the effects on his performance.
“Ecstasy's the best one to do for a gig, especially when you're trying to yell and rant with a big smile on your face,” Doug says. “I’ve done hallucinogenics several times but even when it seems like it's a good idea, it rarely is. Some of my worst shows ever were on mushrooms or acid; you’re highly aware that you’re the only one doing acid. I can’t smoke pot on stage ever again, either. I get weirded out and paranoid, but I wouldn't do that off stage for the same reasons. Cocaine can be good if you're tired after a long flight. Unfortunately, the only time anyone offers you that is after a show, and I don't wanna hang out afterwards.”
In 2008, Doug was present when his 64-year-old mother Bonnie, who suffered from emphysema, killed herself with a heavy cocktail of White Russians and prescription morphine. A couple of years ago, he released the book Digging Up Mother: A Love Story.
“It was a fun night, it's definitely the way to go,” Doug says. “It shouldn’t be like that 104-year-old guy from Australia that had to fly to Switzerland to kill himself. Everyone should be able to go when they choose. She was always a big influence on me. She drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak.
“She got into AA while we were kids, so I’d be there as a ten-year old doing my homework in the back, listening to people's horror stories. That was a major influence on my storytelling because those guys still exist in their prior days, you know? They celebrate all of their scars but they also tell great f**king stories and you'd get subjected to a lot of that.”
The book also contained a foreword written by his friend Johnny Depp. But how did he become friends with one of the world’s most famous actors?
“He called me up and told me he liked my stuff! That's pretty much how it happened,” recalls Doug. “I was in a car park at the time, about to play a gig to 65 people. He asked if I wanted to meet up, so we hung out a few times. I haven't seen him in a few months because I don't live anywhere near him. But then I never see any of my friends because I live in the middle of nowhere on the Mexican border and I'm always on the road.”
Another bizarre moment in the life of Doug Stanhope was in the late nineties, when he posed as a travelling salesman whose wife was leaving him on The Jerry Springer Show.
“I was unknown back then, so no-one even questioned it. That was when Springer was just exploding. I pulled it off for the entire time of filming, but it didn't air because 20/20 [US news magazine show] started doing an investigation, so I ended up on there with my story instead. They cut out my segment from the main show, but inexplicably I’m still in it at the end where all the guests on the episode are out answering questions.”
That’s not the only TV he’s done either. He worked here in Blighty with Brooker on Screenwipe. “I had a lot of fun doing those shows,” says Doug. “Working with the BBC is so different to television in the US. Over here you’d have a crew of 25 people minimum, but the BBC just sent a producer and a cameraman and that was it. We would sit out there and drink beers and then film, try it again and have another beer. It's all much simpler and it looks better. It was great working with Charlie Brooker too. I'm waiting for the call from him to do an episode of Black Mirror. I'm a terrible actor, so he’ll probably just have to write an episode about me.”
As a comedian who’s made a career out of saying the unsayable, I wanted to know if there was anything that’s not okay to use as material? “My answer to that question was always no, but recently I was playing a show in Bangkok and I had to draw the line at the King of Thailand. They have these laws where you can go to prison for offending the King and people are actually getting jailed for liking a Facebook comment that was deemed offensive. I’m like, ‘Holy shit! I've got get out of this country straight away.’ But now I’m out I’ll be talking about it in my sets for the rest of the tour, and probably never going anywhere near that place again.”
Doug Stanhope performs at The Belgrave Rooms as part of Just The Tonic, on Sunday 3 June. Tickets are £29.
Doug Stanhope website