In preparation for Doug Stanhope’s June 21st show at the Arcata Theater Lounge, Savage Henry had an in-depth conversation with the world-renowned comic about his career, road life and, of course, drinking.
Isaac Kozell: Are you at home in Arizona right now?
Doug Stanhope: Yeah.
IK: What made you decide on Bisbee?
DS: It’s this weird little half artist small town. You can live here and no one bothers you. It’s cheap, no traffic, and I like being in the middle of nowhere.
IK: Is living in Arizona how you stay so tan?
DS: I think my face is permaflushed from boozing all my life.
IK: Yeah, but it’s so even. You have a nice complexion. It’s not all splotchy or isolated around the nose and eyes like most legendary drunks.
DS: I will get that if I don’t leave the house during the winter. If I don’t make at least one run to somewhere, even if it’s just to Florida, if not Costa Rica or Hawaii, I’ll start getting that look by March.
IK: Speaking of drinking, what’s the best place in the United States to get day drunk?
DS: You know what, I was actually going to do a Top 5 list for… I don’t know if it’s Maxim or some magazine like that. They said it could be a Top 5 anything and I was going to do the Top 5 Hotel Day Bars. A day drinking bar that you can crash in. Definitely the Jupiter Hotel in Portland is up there. It does reek of hipster and they know it exists. When it gets crowded it’s full of douchebags, and you go, “Oh, why do douchebags ruin everything good?” So, I would have to push that down to Number Two.
Number One would be The Ikki Woo Woo Tiki Bar in the Thunderbird Hotel in Treasure Island, Florida. It’s always going to be good weather. You can sit outside right on the beach. There’s great food right across the street. Treasure Island is a part of St. Pete and there are all these 1960’s Mad Men era hotels that have been kept up, including the original vintage people who still drink there and were probably there in 1960 when they were Donald Draper hot. Now they’re just elderly and sun-stroked. My next on the list would be this dive bar in Montana called Sip ‘n Dip where they have a pool – so the bar looks into the pool – and they do these mermaid shows. I’ve considered flying in just to day drink at that bar. But again, I’m not the first guy to find out about it.
IK: This sounds like a good show pitch for the Travel Channel.
DS: Yeah, I was thinking about trying to do a day drunk tour, where we do the show at noon but you’ve been drinking since 8 a.m. Physically, it would be so demanding because you would have to change your entire schedule. So instead, I think we’re going to find day drinking hot spots for the end of the tour. The last show of the tour would be the day drinking show.
IK: You’re a famous drunk, which seems to be working well for you. But how do you feel in terms of your fan base…do you get a lot of people who idolize your level of consumption and if so, how do you balance…
DS: That’s always a problem. There’s no way around it. Young people who don’t know better. I’ll read my tweets before a show and see someone tweeting at 4 p.m., “Duuuhh tailgating the fuckin’ Doug Stanhope show!” and there’s a picture of them sitting in their car with a fucking 12 pack. It’s like, you’re not going to be in any condition to watch me at 9 o’clock at night. Just throw yourself out of the show now and save yourself the embarrassment.
IK: You have an intense performance and people come in ready to get absorbed in it. But how do you wrangle a crowd who has that kind of tension built up? They’re drinking hard and you’re intense. That creates a volatile dynamic. How do you keep them in control?
DS: It’s one of the reasons I try to stay playing small venues. I don’t want to make that next step into theaters. When you play a theater with that same kind of barroom crowd, it can get out of control too easily. So, I just prefer to keep upping my prices and playing the same small venues rather than play a theater. When there are 300 people in a room, you can spot the problems from the stage and there’s a million ways to corral them. But you can’t do that when there’s 1200 seats and balconies and you have no idea that those problems even exist in the room. I’m a saloon comic. I want to stay on that level.
IK: I imagine that at a larger level it would take some of the personal touch out of it.
DS: Right. When we go to England we have to play theaters because they don’t really have that kind of mid-range venue that we have a lot of over here. It feels like you’re doing a fucking school play. They sit there all polite because in London, it’s not like here. There’s no, “Whoop, whoop!”
IK: Other than the size of those crowds, when you do the UK or other places in Europe, what do you notice to be the biggest difference between the way those fans take your comedy and the way American fans take your comedy?
DS: I don’t know if it’s because there’s so much more theater there but they do treat it like a theater show. There’s a level of manners. They’re smarter. You don’t know if you’re dying on your ass or not, which isn’t necessarily good. They’re more likely to poo-poo the poo-poo jokes. They want you to be smarter. You know, I’m still the same fucking dumb American, though.
IK: Then what do you think it is that they like about you? What draws them to the show? If you’re filling a theater, there has to be something they connect with.
DS: I have no idea, to be honest. I think that’s why I’m terrified of them. I don’t know what they want. I might not know what they want over here but I think that I know and that thinking that I know, whether I’m right or wrong, still gives me comfort. Over there, I have no fucking idea. I always feel so out of my element. You can’t just look down in the crowd and size someone up by their look. They dress differently, talk differently. I don’t know one accent from another. You can tell a podunk when one talks to you over here because you know all of the accents. I still just drink until I don’t care anymore and then I yell. It’s all the same show anyway. I don’t know why I worry. Take it easy, Stanhope.
IK: Do you ever perform sober?
DS: No. I’ve performed less drunk.
IK: You mentioned being intimidated by the UK crowd, then drinking to get your courage up. Do you think that by repeating that so many times that the booze has become a crutch?
DS: Absolutely. It’s not just a crutch, it’s a partner. It’s my ventriloquist’s dummy. It might be headlining at this point.
IK: I appreciate that level of honesty.
DS: It’s an abused analogy – and I don’t mean it in a cliched way – but like steroids in sports, it does help. If there were any fairness, it would be just as illegal to be drunk or on narcotics on stage as it would be for an athlete. They’re both forms of entertainment. We’re both performers hurting our bodies to do this for an audience and encouraged by the audience to do it. You know what, I could do two shows a night if I knew I had coke in the green room. Is that fair to a guy who only drinks and doesn’t want to do coke?
IK: What’s your favorite drug?
DS: Cocaine is the one that comes in the handiest, if it’s around. I’m most likely to do that before a show if it’s medicinal. I rarely do cocaine for fun but if there’s a bump before a show I’ll go, “Ok, I’ll have a better show if I do this.” Then I can be done with it. I’ve never been one to chase that shit around town, unless I was trying to get pussy using it. But those days are gone. Ecstasy is fun. I’ll mess around with that. Hallucinogens I’m scared of. I took acid last August and I was just a fucking wreck. It wasn’t a bad trip but it was just so taxing on my body. I honestly don’t think I recovered from the acid trip in August until late February.
IK: Jesus Christ!
DS: I was kind of borderline sick anyways and I developed this cough that I couldn’t kick until I was able to take six weeks off the road and quit smoking. This guttural whooping cough…Tombstone, Val Kilmer. It’s nice to have a couple of weeks off to quit smoking, for the most part, lay back on the drinking and get into fighting weight in my head before getting back on the road. That time is necessary.
IK: Are you interested in your personal health? Do you see a doctor regularly?
DS: Never. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it in my act but I’m a hypochondriac that treats it the opposite way that most hypochondriacs do. I assume that everything is wrong with me but I’m not going to go to a doctor because as long as I don’t know, I’m not having a bad day. But I’m sure there’s plenty of shit wrong with me. The only way I would go to a doctor is if I had to get out of something in my social life. If I was drunk and said I would go to someone’s wedding and then I needed a reason to get out of it, I would go to a doctor because I know I would have at least three or four things that would need to be dealt with immediately. A tumor is better than a wedding.
DS: What’s your current relationship status with comedy? Love, hate…where are you at?
IK: Today, I’m having fun with it. Yesterday I was so hungover from just doing a tour of radio shows and other people’s podcasts that I wanted to die. I thought I was the fucking worst guy in the world. The more fun I have, I have almost the exact same amount of hating myself for how much fun I had. It kind of just makes you want to be normal.