Doug Stanhope hides his appeals to human reason and antiauthoritarian rallying behind X-rated humor, so the comparisons to Bill Hicks come almost automatically. But where Hicks famously compared his own progressive act to “Chomsky with dick jokes,” Stanhope comes closer to a combination of Murray Rothbard and William S. Burroughs: Mistrust and hatred of government (Stanhope eventually endorsed Obama, but not before considering running himself as a Libertarian) that stems from a mistrust and hatred of people in general (when I give him a list of words writers have used to describe his act — “cynical,” “misanthropic,” “miserablist” — he responds, “I’m fine with all of those”). This most often expresses itself in transgressive, grotesque descriptions of sex and violence. In short: He’s created a website offering Bristol Palin $25,000 to get an abortion and move out, posed online as a 12-year-old girl to lure a would-be pedophile into nightmarish cybersex (but only after the perv analyzed the symbolism in Huckleberry Finn), and one-upped everybody, including Bob Saget and George Carlin, in the gross-out-contest doc The Aristocrats, with a version of the joke he relayed to an infant.
So this is your first time playing San Antonio?
I was booked there years ago, but I got fired before I even showed up. The same people that owned Cap City Comedy Club owned the place. I ended up getting naked onstage in Austin, so I got not only fired from there but all my other dates with Rich Miller, the guy that booked for them.
So you’re playing more rock clubs now?
I’ve been doing that the last few years pretty much primarily. It’s more intense. It’s more of a feeling of chaos, that anything can go wrong at any moment. … There’s no crying bachelorette parties storming out because they got 20 free passes to see whomever was there. It’s a whole different kind of scary element. I have some pretty fucked-up fans. I mean, there’s a lot of normal people that come to the shows, but there’s a handful that are, like, serious dangers to themselves or others. It’s really weird to have kind of stalkery fans when you’re not even famous. I think I’m up to five people who have tattoos of me, and one of them is the most grotesque, awful `laughs`, and it’s the guy’s whole back of his calf and it looks awful; it doesn’t look like me at all. … He has Rodney Dangerfield on one leg and me on the other. That doesn’t explain `the tattoo of me` any more.
Does having more fans there change the dynamic of your show?
There’s less people walking out, but there’s more chicks standing in the front with their tits out waiting for you to notice, or a guy that’s so drunk that he’s bringing me drugs onstage while I’m onstage and trying to make a subtle heavy-handed handshake in the middle of a fucking spotlight. This was at the Varsity Theater in Minnesota. I go, “No, dude, this is probably not the time.” And he goes “It’s not pot!” On one of those old DVDs I did a bit where I go, “Everyone wants to give me a heavy-handed handshake, but they always give me pot, as much as I talk about the fact that I don’t smoke pot. Potheads don’t remember. If anyone wants to trade out for pot after the show for a different kind of drug, someone just gave me a lot of pot.” So this guy just kept quoting back to me, “It’s not pot!” That’s not the point. It makes it worse.
So you get that and the fucking drunken idiots — the stuff I kind of encourage on some level. If it happens to the extent that it doesn’t completely fuck up the show and the material, that’s the whole point of going to live shit — not to just sit there with your fucking legs crossed and order your minimum and some jalapeño poppers and go see fucking Gabriel Iglesias again.
Do you feel like you thrive off that antagonism?
Yeah, definitely. That’s the hardest thing to keep going into towards 20 years in the business — just trying to muster up that fight when inside you’re all happy, in a good mood in the green room, and you’re like, “Oh shit I’ve got a show to do. I can’t be enjoying my life. There can be no upside.”
Do you think you’ve ever had someone going in expecting a typical Jerry Seinfeld knock-off or something, and you’ve changed their perspective, or do you think you just piss them off?
I’m sure the numbers aren’t in my favor, but yeah, there’s been a lot of people that — that’s where I got the draw from. I did my first 15 years doing comedy clubs. I was culling some out of that herd, and those are the people I have today.
`But` as you get older you realize, “Nope. Nothing I’ve ever said has really made a difference except given other people who are angry for the same reason a place to find good company.”
I don’t think I’ve ever changed anyone’s mind. It’s preaching to the choir to some extent. By the time someone’s old enough to go to a bar, they’ve pretty much made up all their decisions about who they are, and if you get a girl pregnant, you marry, or whatever, your belief system is you already know it by the time you’re drunk at an Improv. So it’s just a matter of finding like minds. … But there’s no one mindset for my crowd — half of them will want to hear fist-fuck jokes and the other people will want to hear about the economy. •