“It’s been a blast. We’re having tons of fun." Not exactly the kind of optimistic comment you’d expect from Doug Stanhope, a man so dark he makes Leonard Cohen look like Donny Osmond.
Stanhope is in the middle of a UK tour, a country he has now been coming to for the last ten years. Relatively unknown over here despite decade of touring, his following has grown in recent times in the wake of an appearance on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe and then subsequently a regular slot on his next series.
"Charlie Brooker helped a lot, Newswipe was a big boom.” But as for how the collaboration came about, Stanhope is characteristically unable to remember, saying he has only met the Guardian columnist three or four times.
“I don’t have the slightest idea how I got involved," he added. "One day I was sitting in front of a camera, then he gave me a regular slot. They came over to the States, and filmed it in the town I live in.”
His knowledge of the British stand-up scene, as a whole, is fairly limited, fuelling temptations to force some cold fish like Jack Whitehall on him.
“I know a lotta the guys over here. The guys I know, most of them are like minds. I haven’t seen any of the shitty British stand-up. If I’m basing it on the guys I know it’s a great scene but I hang out with guys that are like me.”
The 45-year-old American, from Worcester, Massachussets, originally, is a career comedian who has rarely strayed from the stage, with the odd exception most recently a guest appearance on Louis C.K’s fantastic comedy series, Louie.
Stanhope stubbornly refuses to go down the standard US stand-up route into sitcoms or movies. Asked if he has ever given thought to having his own podcast like so many of his contemporaries across the Atlantic, he jokes he will eventually one day but not before every other comedian has.
“My problem is where I live is 100 miles from the closest city, and that city doesn’t have much of a stand-up scene. I was the last guy on MySpace, I wanna be the last guy on everything. I’m gonna wait till every other comic has a podcast, which should be by the end of this month.”
He remains typically direct and honest without any hint of pretension when asked why he entered stand-up. “I got into it to get laid, I guess, to show off in a bar," he said. "Every other bar seemed to have comedy when I started. Andrew Dice Clay was probably the guy that made me think about doing it myself. It was really all shock value and vulgarity, but it was everything I wanted to do.”
Stanhope released his tenth official comedy album, Before Turning the Gun on Himself, earlier this month, marking a change in his material toward something that attempts to more directly address the world around him rather than the debauched dismissive glory of his earlier work. Stanhope, who rarely doesn’t tour, has already jettisoned this material from his set and is now developing a new one.
“You just keep working it out until you have an hour that’s solid, then put it on an album and you never have to say it again.”
On the subject of his own country and the current Republican race, he makes it clear that he has no interest in party politics of this kind, considering it to make absolutely no difference. “I haven’t been keeping up with the whole Republican race but I also don’t give a shit.”
Believing the prospect a Mormon could potentially be running against Barack Obama is no worse than a Christian being in power, Stanhope reserves his real political ire for the fact that it is impossible to be successful in politics if you admit that you are an atheist.
“What’s scary is that an atheist will never get elected. There’s only like one atheist that’s even elected to Congress, some random state representative that’s the only overt atheist in any sort of power.”
Notorious for his candid discussion of his drug and alcohol abuse, he reckons it is important to have an edge in stand-up comedy and has always said his ‘indulgent’ lifestyle has played its part in his.
However, he does not believe it is essential to becoming a successful stand-up comic. “I think it was a major force in a lot of comic’s lives, some of the most legendary comics, but if I was teaching a class I wouldn’t pass out the drugs and alcohol," he said. "I wouldn’t say that’s necessary. But it certainly framed a lot of what I do.”
And on the matter of his own attempt, albeit brief, at running for President prior to the last round of elections, he describes it as probably “the dumbest thing” he's ever done.
“That became un-fun immediately so I quit, because I’m really good at that. I can quit something in a second.”