The great white Stanhope of comedy

American comedian Doug Stanhope comes to Galway

At the age of 18 American comedian Doug Stanhope left his suburban home outside Boston behind and travelled to Los Angeles to become rich and famous. He appeared in a number of TV movies and uncredited extra roles and eventually he left acting behind to pursue a lucrative career in telemarketing. After breaking up with his then girlfriend Doug decided that the only road open to him was the world of stand-up comedy and in 1995 he won the San Francisco comedy competition. Throughout his career Stanhope has been somewhat controversial and in recent years has toured with a bunch of comics under the banner of The Unbookables. He has upset the sensibilities of the booking agents at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival, The Edinburgh Comedy Festival and the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival. Stanhope makes his way to Galway on Wednesday September 3 to play The Laughter Lounge at Roisin Dubh.

When I phone Stanhope he is at home in Bisbee, Arizona – a place that a lifestyle magazine described as ‘one of the quirkiest towns in America’. Although the date in September will be the first time Doug has performed stand-up in Galway he has visited the City of the Tribes before, albeit accidentally.

“I was depressed in Galway for about a half an hour a few years back,” he tells me. “I had the weirdest planes, trains and automobiles experience in that this coach brought me somewhere and then I got a train to the next place and somehow I ended up in Galway. So, I can identify with the population of Galway in feeling depressed in their city. Actually if I ever meet that tour operator again I’ll punch him in the mouth!”

In the past Stanhope hasn’t had the easiest of times in Ireland and in some cases it’s purely down to what he says and does. In 2006 he failed to endear himself to the Irish female population at the Kilkenny Cat Laughs Festival when he told a late-night crowd that ‘Irish women are too ugly to f**k’ He performed for an additional ten minutes before his appearances at the festival were cancelled.

“That’s what you get when you put me on the same bill as Dara O’Briain,” he says. “That’s like putting punk rock alongside pop and that combination is always going to be trouble.”

Just For Spite

When Montreal’s Just For Laughs offered Stanhope a fee of just over $1,000 for eights shows at the festival (even though the venue was to make nearly twice that in ticket sales ) the comic decided to stage a bit of a protest. He staged a number of ‘guerilla gigs’ around the Canadian city under the banner of Just For Spite. At the Edinburgh Comedy Festival this year he is listed as doing only one show. A Day With Doug will see the comedian perform to only one person and the ticket costs an astounding 7, 349 pounds sterling! The price is estimated to be the average amount that comedians lose at the Edinburgh Fringe every year. So, has anyone yet come close to purchasing the ticket for A Day With Doug?

“No, we haven’t sold the ticket yet,” says Stanhope with a chuckle. “It was done more in protest against the festival and actually I’d be quite worried about anyone who would come up with the money.”

Of course Stanhope has also had many successful appearances at comedy festivals around the world. At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 he was lauded by the newspapers and played to packed houses. The Guardian wrote “there’s a bright side to this dark material, and it is to be found in Stanhope’s claim that our sins are our redeeming feature, the only beautiful thing about us”. The thing that worries Stanhope about festivals such as Edinburgh and Montreal is that they convinced the comedians that they are somehow aligned with major TV networks and that you have to do things their way in order to get a sitcom.

“If TV people see a crowd around a comedian and they see people enjoying themselves they immediately want to sign that person,” he says. “That doesn’t have to be at one of the festivals and it can happen anywhere really.”

For Doug it is all about the enjoyment of being among his friends and peers and he feels that sometimes the TV executives are somewhat out of their depth at comedy festivals.

“Festivals can be great in that you get to hang out with some really funny people that you’ve known for 10 or 15 years,” says Stanhope. “I went to the Montreal Festival last year just to hang out with my friends and get drunk and have some fun. What’s funny is that as well as the comics getting drunk you also have these TV execs getting drunk and it’s a completely new experience to them because most of them aren’t seasoned drinkers. I always wonder how many TV deals were signed at an early morning coffee table through a hungover haze!”

Bill Hicks and Denis Leary

Doug Stanhope openly admits that the things he likes most in life are drink, drugs and hookers. He points to the fact that decriminalising drugs such as marijuana cuts out the middle men who exploit the drug users. Plus Stanhope doesn’t really regard his body as a temple.

“I’d be very much in favour of legalising marijuana,” he says. “In fact I think all drugs should be legalised. It’s your body so you should be able to do with it what you choose. Nobody should be able to tell you what you can or can not put into your body.”

One case in point where Stanhope fears that countries are becoming ‘nanny states’ is in the case of Ireland’s smoking ban.

“I actually quit smoking a couple of months ago,” he says. “But I can definitely see things from a smoker’s perspective. You should be able to do in pubs and clubs what you would do in your own home because you’re paying your way.”

With his in-your-face comedy style and his liberal views on drug use there have been many who have compared Stanhope to Bill Hicks. The Independent On Sunday wrote: “There is a kind of Olympic torch of extreme American comedy, which passed from Lenny Bruce, through Richard Prior and Sam Kinison to the late Bill Hicks. Stanhope is the latest, and equally brilliant, bearer.”

Although Stanhope is obviously flattered by these comparisons he is very keen to make his own name. Growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, it was somewhat uninspiring to him.

“It was full of run-down factories and urban decay and it was generally your average east coast town,” he says.

It also happened to be the home of Irish-American comedian Denis Leary, who, in the past, has been accused of stealing some of Bill Hicks material.

“What Leary stole was the s**t and the bile and turned it around for mass consumption,” says Stanhope.

Whether he is the real pretender to the comedy throne of Bill Hicks is to be seen over the course of time but truly Stanhope is one of the most interesting comics on the circuit. After his current sojourn in Europe he is going to take some time off and he’s even hoping to get into some danger in order to get some new material.

“I’m touring up until November and then I’ll take some time off and just lounge around and watch TV all day,” he says, with some satisfaction at the prospect. “Later I’m going to take a holiday in Colombia and hopefully I’ll get kidnapped by some FARC guerrillas! You can only talk so much about the party after the show or that crazy girl you met one time. I need something interesting to happen.”

Tickets for Doug Stanhope are available from Roisin Dubh, Redlight Records and Zhivago Records

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