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Aggravated Assault

Doug Stanhope's abrasive approach has made him an underground comedy favorite

By P.F. Wilson · November 3rd, 2010 · Onstage
“Hello,” says a voice on the other end of the phone.

“Is this Doug?” I ask.

“As far as you know,” he replies. “Sometimes I have other people do my interviews if I think the reporter doesn’t recognize my voice. But this is me.”

It’s a plausible premise, as Stanhope sounds gregarious on the line. The trademark intensity, it seems, is reserved for the stage.

“If you were yelling like that in a general conversation it would be pretty annoying,” he says.

Occasionally, though, he has to kick-start the stage persona.

“If I accidentally find myself in a good mood before a show, it’s scary, and it’s detrimental,” Stanhope says. “I go, ‘Everything sucks, remember that! Stop smiling; you’ll ruin the show!’ ”

But Stanhope has a lot to smile about. He’s a huge draw not only in America but the U.K. as well. Apparently anger and annoyance are universal. The only hitch is that he can’t ad-lib certain pop culture references overseas if he decides to stray off course a bit.

“I don’t change (my set) so much as it has to be more structured,” he says. “I have to think it through. If I’m digging a hole, I can riff my way out of it (in the U.S.). You realize that 60 percent of your arsenal is gone (overseas). ‘That guy is like that douchebag on that commercial’ — it’s not going to translate. I do have to prepare more over there which makes it a lot more like work, which makes me hate it, but they pay me more over there.”

Stanhope is known for his abrasive assaults on, well, everything.

“At a certain age you realize, ‘Wait a second, I’m going through the same revelation that every old person has: Everything has always sucked,’ ” he says.

In his twenties, Stanhope recalls, he talked about girls and sex.

In his thirties he started to look at the world around him and began getting more worked up on stage.

“I’m gonna change the world by yelling at a 100 drunk people every night,” Stanhope says of his initial move to a more abrasive style. “Then you get to a point where you say, ‘I’m gonna live by the border. Have cocktails in the afternoon.’ I’m not breeding. I think when I realized I’ll never have children I said, ‘Why do I care so much?’ Just treat this Earth like the rental car that it is. Trash it. I’m not leaving a litter behind.”

Opinions like that can draw strong reactions from the crowd, but by now his audiences know what they are going to get. Mostly.

“It depends,” he says. “If I’m playing Go Bananas, I still have that threat of a bachelorette party wandering in accidentally.”

Go Bananas is one of the few comedy clubs he’ll still play, preferring instead to work Rock venues like Newport’s Southgate House, which is where he’ll be performing Thursday.

“There’s a different threat there all together,” Stanhope says. “The audience is on the same page as far as the material, but they may celebrate you being a drunk so much that they’re throwing up on themselves in the front row. It’s a different kind of chaos, but as long as it’s chaotic I’m interested.”

Something Stanhope is not much interested in is Twitter and Facebook, but only because he feels his comedy doesn’t work in snippets.

“I’m not funny in a 140 characters,” he insists. “My other outlet is trying to make the lady at the grocery store laugh, because that’s where comedy matters.”

And comedy does matter to Stanhope. He says he doesn’t like to knock other comedians, though he often wonders about the fans of some of his peers.

“I don’t dislike Dane Cook,” he says. “I abhor his audience. What are they doubled over laughing at?”

Stanhope’s love for the art of stand-up caused him to get quite upset earlier this year when he heard that comedians Kyle Cease and Louie Anderson were running an expensive stand-up comedy course. An angry blog post got other comedians talking, though the dust-up seems to have died down.

Stanhope wasn’t critical of Cease or Anderson’s comedy, but how they appeared to be making a lucrative business out of their unproven “course.” Also, as he wrote in his post, he doesn’t like how they “prey off the innocent delusions of the incapable.”

Stanhope called Cease out for promoting the idea that, to be successful, a comedian just has to believe in themselves. Stanhope wrote that he could name 1,000 great, self-doubting comedians who disprove that premise.

“I honestly don’t think I’m funny,” Stanhope insists. “It’s not self-deprecating. Most of the stuff I do, I don’t know why they are laughing at it.”

DOUG STANHOPE performs at the Southgate House Thursday with local stand-ups Mike Cody and Brad Thacker. Buy tickets and get venue details here.



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