Ladies and Germs, Brutal Honesty has a name. It’s Doug Stanhope. He’s from Arizona, and has been a traveling standup comedian for more than 20 years, at which time he’s spewed his unique brand of uncompromised vitriol over countless audiences. He has a new standup album/DVD out, Oslo—Burning the Bridge to Nowhere. Why’d he record in Norway? “Because I’m washed up!,” he says to the crowd. “You guys get everything 10 years after it was popular.” Brutal Honesty. This week, Stanhope brings his hysterical act—think Bill Hicks/ Lenny Bruce-style blood-soaked truth-to-power—to the Trocadero. PW caught up with Stanhope during his last tour for an interview that never ran in print. We run it here, now, for your pleasure, as Stanhope riffs on the difference between American and European audiences, people’s insistence on recording everything with their cell phones, and the best advice he ever got.
On doing comedy shows in rock clubs/bars, as opposed to comedy clubs: “It’s more of where I belong. It’s where I started doing comedy—one-nighters in barrooms in shithole towns where that was considered their comedy club, where every Tuesday some guy from Spokane will come in and tell dick jokes. Comedy clubs always felt like movie theaters. People come in and they sit there and they know they’re gonna be there for 90 minutes. They listen and they leave. Barrooms have a sense of chaos where you’re talking to people who were sitting at the bar before you showed and they’ll be sitting at the bar after you leave. It just has more adrenalin to it, more of a feeling of anything can happen.
“I have my fan base now, but when I first started doing this there was risk financially, not knowing if people were gonna show up. But after experimenting through it we know we’re gonna do better at a rock ’n’ roll club. The risk I don’t have any more is a group of bachelorettes coming in thinking all comedy’s the same, like they’re at a comedy club where they treat it like it’s an adult Chuck E. Cheese for all occasions, and they come in for an anniversary or a company Christmas party and they’re being barraged with fist-fuck rape jokes.
“There are times I really miss that though. It does get dull preaching to the choir. I think I’m gonna start working a few more comedy clubs just for fun and so my audience doesn’t get too incestuous. Bring in some fresh meat from the comedy clubs and bring a few dark ones out of the improv mailing list.”
On the best advice he ever got from a fellow comedian: “The best advice I ever got was ‘Never give anyone advice because all you’re doing is telling them how to be like you.’ And it’s absolutely true. I would’ve told Dane Cook to quit and go sell shoes because he’s not funny. Had we met at an open mic 10 years ago I would’ve told him to hang it up.”
On people filming his shows with their cell phones, and uploading them to the Internet: “YouTube could really fucking ruin standup comedy. It really could. Just in the fact that, it’s not like music, comedy’s only funny once. A good comic will take a year to put out a new CD or DVD to get a full hour. And that’s if you’re working hard. And if at every show there’s some douchebag with a cell phone camera putting shit on YouTube—I’ll have people in Baltimore yelling out jokes I did in D.C. the night before. It could be brand new jokes. Videos on YouTube, for comedy, it’s like they’re giving away the ending of the movie. If you go see a band, Green Day, and you record them on your phone, it’ll be shitty quality and the sound will be shitty. But you can do that with Green Day because people just want to hear the songs. You hear the joke when it sounds like shit and it looks like shit, and now you’ve already heard the joke. It doesn’t come across the same way as it would live, but you already know how the joke goes so it doesn’t entice you to see the person.
“I probably have 15 minutes of material to use for fucking people with cell phones filming me trying to find a way to get them to fucking stop. You’re here! Put the fucking phone down and experience it. ‘I like a live performance, but I think I’d prefer it later on on a laptop all grainy.’ It’s hurt my comedy—the privacy of it. You’re in a dark room with drunk people. I can tell you anything, I used to fucking be able to say anything on stage. And now, every show there’s a prison snitch with a cell phone camera filming you. Say I was doing Ecstasy with my buddy Billy last night. Well, if I’m in whatever Pine Top Nowhere and people know Billy is my friend and he’s a fireman and they know we were hanging out that night—you’re ratting someone else out. I can’t tell you about my sister’s girlfriend who’s a bitch. You’ll put it on YouTube and my sister’s girlfriend will find it.
“And another way that cell phone cameras just destroy the atmosphere is it’s live and it’s in the moment and it’s temporary. When people are fucking recording it ... immediately you just see these fucking tourists of life, you know, you’re here fucking live, man, and you’re staring at me through a lens on a cell phone.”
On doing <em>The Man Show</em>: “It just definitely put all the cliches you hear about television into crystal-clear perspective for me about how much networks fuck up comedy. You have a funny idea, and you say ‘OK, this is funny enough and we can do it and here’s our idea.’ And then the writers’ room passes it around, adds some things, takes some things away, and they send it to the executive producer. He scratches a little bit off and sends it to the network. Comedy Central people scratch a little bit off and then the censors get a hold of it. It’s like if you had a painting, and you say ‘This is a really nice painting. I painted it. Here it is.’ And then every single person associated with the painting had to sign it—the person who made the canvas, the delivery service who shipped the canvas, everyone who was involved with making the paint. Get far enough along and you can’t even see the painting anymore. Everyone’s fucked with it. And the lawyers fucked up more than censors. ‘Oh we can’t do that, we could get sued.’
“Standup comedy really spoils you as far as being lazy, and being ... I hate to say being an artist, because that sounds so pretentious. But, really, I work an hour, I have some cocktails, I tell people to go fuck themselves, and I do anything I want the way I want to do it. I can do it in a different city every night and I can change it and there’s no one there to say anything or change anything. The only thing I have to worry about is whether or not people laugh.”
On the differences between American and European audiences: “They’re smarter in Europe. They’re more polite, and you have to try harder. It’s harder to just let loose and talk because you, consciously, you get four minutes into a rant and realize the payoff has nothing to do with them and they’re not going to get the reference and this is completely America-centric and you think ‘Ah fuck, this is gonna go nowhere.’ I have to prepare a lot more [for European audiences], and I really hate being stuck to a set list.”
Doug Stanhope performs Fri., May 13, 9pm. $24. Trocadero, 1003 Arch St. 215.922.6888. thetroc.com
20 nights of summer laughter