Award-winning stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope doesn’t just crack jokes about inflammatory topics like abortion or child pornography, he cracks funny jokes about such material. His uninhibited advocacy for drugs and booze (“Did you ever try to sleep sober? It’s impossible!”) can disguise his rigorous support of individual rights and willingness to attack any religion for “retardation of human intellectual progress.” You may recall Stanhope from telling a filthy joke to a baby in The Aristocrats, co-hosting Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” or briefly running for U.S. president as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2008. He performs Aug. 8 at Relapse Theatre, and wants the word to get out that the show is BYOB: “Most of my audience are raging alcoholics, so I don’t want them to get the DTs.”
Sometimes you talk about soul-crushing corporate jobs. I was wondering, what was your most boring job?
I had so many. I had jobs that were as short as an hour and a half. One was putting circulars into newspapers, and I worked at it for 90 minutes before I said “I’m going to the bathroom” and never came back. I never spent a lot of time at a boring job. I’d either quit, or I’d try to make it fun and they would try to fire me. When I worked for a collections agency, I’d fuck with people until it became like a Jerky Boys routine. My bosses would tell me, “You’re still supposed to get the money from them.”
One of your quotes goes, “Complaining that a comic is drunk is like going to a titty bar and complaining because your lapdancer is a communist.” How much do you drink when you do stand-up?
I drink during every show. I can’t remember the last show I did completely sober. It works for me. I use it as a tool. It’s like steroids are for athletes. I’m looser and more self-confident. If I drank less, I wouldn’t have been on stage this long. But I don’t want to give an indication that I drink more than I do. Once I came out and there were nine shots on stage. I can’t drink that. I’m 160 lbs — I’d die!
Is there anything you wouldn’t say?
I wouldn’t say anything just to say it. It has to be something that I think needs to be said. I stop if I have a good feeling that there’s better than even odds of physical violence. I don’t want to deliberately turn the audience against me. If I was doing a firefighters corporate picnic, I wouldn’t do a lot of 9/11 jokes. When people get upset, it’s usually for some benign thing that you don’t expect. I can talk about abortion and child pornography, but once I mentioned diabetes in passing, and a woman stood up and said her father died of diabetes, and I shouldn’t joke about it. Guessing what will make the audience laugh is no different than guessing what will make them angry.
Do you get in trouble for what you say?
No, not anymore. Earlier in my career, there would be a lot more problems, usually from managers of comedy clubs who had no idea what was funny, and just made decisions based on comment cards. Now I’m playing alternate venues, so 90 percent of the people at the show know what I’m all about. One of the great things about the Internet is that we no longer have to rely on comedy clubs. They no longer decide what’s funny. It used to be like the way radio stations would decide what’s going to be the new hit song. They’d tell a guy “You’re too blue,” and he stops working.
Was that the impetus behind your organized tour of comedians, the Unbookables?
That was a way to get guys out there who were funny and don’t have a strong work ethic. It seems like the best comics have the worst business skills and work ethic. The guys who’ve got it all down, who have everything in a black binder and say things like, “You want me to call you back in November? Great — what time?” Those guys suck.
You briefly sought to become the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 2008. Was that a serious bid?
At the time, the Libertarian Party was wide open and in disarray. I thought there was a good chance [I could be the candidate], but I had no idea what was going to be involved. I never had less fun in my career, because of the amount of bullshit paperwork. I’m still a big supporter of Libertarian ideals, but someone else is going to run for office.
You voted for Barack Obama, but some of his policies would seem contrary to those ideals.
I voted for him as an entertainer. If I’m going to have to watch a president in office for four years, he’s the guy I would want to watch. It’s like, if I’m casting a president for a movie about an asteroid heading for Earth, and Bruce Willis has been coaxed out of retirement? I like him on that level. Yeah, that guy’s cool as shit. He smokes, for Christ’s sake. But nothing’s going to change in my life no matter what he does.
You and Joe Rogan took over hosting “The Man Show” in 2003. Was it hard to come up with fresh “Man Show” material since the show already had been on for four years?
We didn’t try to come up with “Man Show” material. I co-hosted with Joe Rogan, and we have a similar sensibility, so we tried to put that square peg into the “Man Show’s” round hole, and failed miserably. But it paid well and was a good learning experience.
I loved "The Man Show” promo you guys did where you were at a job fair, and I think Joe asked a potential employer, “Do you have color copiers? Black and white is unflattering to my junk.”
At least somebody remembers that.
Do you do much political material?
If anything strikes me. It’s a really dull political climate for comedy, because of the economy. “The economy” is now used as this shorthand for “America.” There’s nothing really funny on the news these days. “Short selling on Wall Street” — oh, that’s funny. “Sub-prime mortgages?” Let me get my notebook! But I was never really political. My stuff might have social relevance, like about abortion or gay marriage, but it’s not so political.
How has your material changed over the years?
I’m always looking for something new to say. That’s the problem with doing it for this long, thinking of what haven’t I beaten to death that I care about? You try to break yourself out of your comfort zone, because comfort is deadly for a comedian. There’s a reason why jokes start with “Don’t you hate it when…?” and not “Do you know what’s really great?”