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Interview: Doug Stanhope, Part 2

In part one of this interview, comedian Doug Stanhope talked to Maxim about playing a prison, suicidal fans, and why drugs are better than religion. In today's conclusion, he tells us what his next acting job would be, how comedy leads to sex (and free laundry!), and OJ Simpson's role in The Man Show's demise. 

Maxim: When you were on Louie he wrote the part of Eddie for you. Was that diminishing sensitivity something he might have ever worried he saw in you? 

DS: First of all, he didn’t write it about me. He wrote it with me in mind to play it, although a lot of the things fit my reputation in comedy so it’s a little tough to follow up. If he was basing it completely on me I would understand why. I mean, it’s very similar to how I’d have been living if I hadn't gotten some breaks. That’s how I started on the road - I was exactly that guy. I lived out of my car for three years just doing city bar gigs anywhere. If I was my age still doing that…you can do that when you’re 24 years old and people think, hey, it’s “Go out there and get ’em. Make the world your own, little guy. Here’s a box lunch.” But if you’re 44 and living out of your car people tend to stay the fuck away from you.

Maxim: Even so, as much as Eddie was troubled, he was so committed to looking for truth that he was slugging it out there in the dark in the middle of nowhere like some knight.

DS: I find it romantic. I don’t know that other people would get it. I mean, that lifestyle, I can completely understand how it could be about me.

Maxim: He reminded me a lot of people I’ve known who were punk rock in high school and college and, you know, still are much later to their own disadvantage. It’s kind of like, at what point is it punk rock to stop being punk rock?

DS: Yeah. I love those guys though. And they usually seem to be fairly happy with that. Instead of lingering around the bar at the Improv waiting to get a sitcom for 20 years they’re the ones that are ugly. They don’t have any ambition. I wouldn’t want any of that stuff. That’s why I left LA.

I do think it would be funny - this is my idea and you can put it out there. Because I hate acting, it sucks. If that weren’t Louis running the whole thing and it was just some douchebag fucking director passively telling me how to act then it wouldn’t have come off like that. But I thought it would be kind of funny to do what [Richard] Belzer did with his detective character that’s been in different shows but all the same character. I’d just love to play Eddie in every show trying to kill himself. Like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Then you’re Eddie in Breaking Bad, walking through a scene with a noose going to the bathroom. I would play Eddie everywhere. It doesn’t even have to be a speaking role.

Maxim: You could get killed in one episode and get your murder solved in another one. I’ve actually read fans of Breaking Bad clamoring for you to show up as [Breaking Bad shyster] Saul Goodman’s ne’er-do-well brother. You’d better hop to it though. They got one more season.

DS: I know, it’s got to be a fucking incredible season. How are you gonna top this? How are you going to keep that level of drama?

Maxim: In your own life you have a pretty good setup. You’ve been joking that you're washed up but you’re in bloom. What’s that going to do to your schtick?

DS: Ah, that’s somewhat always self-deprecating. You always want to say it before they do. There’s some calculation in saying you’re washed up. When you’re really passionate about so many things you eventually get to a place where you want to address the things that bother you the most, or the most personal about you. Then when you’ve done that for a while, everything else seems like you’re kind of going backwards. So it’s getting comfortable with doing fist-fuck jokes again.

I like being a bar comic. I don’t like theaters. They are fucking horrifying to me and it’s just “Do it for the money.” If all the money was the same I would never play more than 100 to 125 seats. That’s where it feels comfortable. You can go into the audience without it turning into a riot and I like that. The most fun I ever had in comedy was in the up-and-coming shitty years: playing the sports bar for $200. It could be in a Red Lion Lounge up in Missoula, Montana and the girl with big hair would fuck you after the show. That was success. That was the standing ovation you were looking for. The fat girl who let you stay on her couch and do your laundry every few days between gigs.

Maxim: On a tour is it just travel, or do you get to see the city you’re in?

DS: Not unless I find it interesting and usually they’re not. “Oh, you’ve got to see the real Kansas City.” No I don’t. Usually I just recover because I do drink heavily on stage so if I have a couple of days off it’s usually to regroup, grab the notebook. My girl goes on the road with me and if I've said something hilarious while I was hammered she writes it down. So I’ll look at her notes to see if there’s anything good that magically came out of a shot of ripple on New Year. Most of the places you play are not exotic locales. I hate Europe. I hate the fucking United Kingdom so badly.

Maxim: But that’s where your audience broke for you way back.

DS: Oh I know. Yeah, I have to go there. But it’s just aesthetically, aside from the stage. The stage is fine. It’s just the rest of the day it’s just—I think it just reminds me so much of what I grew up in and left as soon as I possibly could in New England. It’s just cluttered and fucking ugly. All that architecture that people fawn over I find repulsive, desperate and bleak. Shit like that just reminds me of industrial Massachusetts.

Doug Stanhope: Oslo

Maxim: I’m going to fall back to a really basic question but I’ve never seen anybody ask you this. Who were your influences comedically?

DS: Well, you know I always say, the comics I listened to weren’t necessarily influences. I mean I listened to all the staples of that era: Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby…but my influences have always been more my peers. Chris O’Connor was an early influence. He was a funny prick. Pepper Roach, this guy I did fraud telemarketing with, he was hilarious. Matt Becker was my best friend, and still is, when we started in the open mics when I moved to Phoenix. He’s always been a huge influence.

Larry Flynt was a huge influence when I was a kid. Hustler magazine - the Bits & Pieces section. National Lampoon was a huge influence. I can still quote letters to the editor. That stuff was more influential than, you know, listening to a Bill Cosby record because your parents are there. I mean I laughed, but that didn’t make me think I wanted to do that.

Maxim: You had a flap in the UK with the radio mentioning a bit you had done years back, on why the Democrats should go for Sarah Palin’s throat and make fun of her baby’s mental retardation. When something like that happens after all these years, do you still have that urge to try and clarify to people it’s a joke? Explain to them you’re making the sane absurd and the absurd sane for illustrative affect?

DS: The urge is actually hugely incremental. It’s going on message boards and things like that when you see someone that’s taking you completely out of context. Whether it’s agreeing with you when you’re right, I’ve spent fucking hours, you know, days fighting with people, anonymous people, just like when a fucking Jehovah Witness comes to your door and you want to argue the concept of immaculate conception to them. It’s like, “Why am I wasting my time doing this?” But at the same time you can get a lot of good material out of arguments.

Maxim: It seems like as painful as your Man Show experience was, it’s done so much to form you. Like it’s almost the best terrible thing that ever happened to you.

DS: Yeah, I have no regrets about it, but it makes you want to write a book. Listen, here’s why it sucked. I remember one of the first taping days, or even a run-through, where we’re sitting in the chairs onstage and the director says “Ah, Doug can you sit up straight and act like you want to be here?” That’s my whole fucking demeanor: Slouched over and miserable. [laughs] Who did you hire? 

At the same time you try to play along and be polite and they’re turning you into a game show host, but we had some really fucking funny ideas for that show and just one by one they shot them down. There’s one that had O.J. Simpson on at the end of every episode doing, like, an Andy Rooney piece, introducing him as a Heisman trophy award winner and then he bitches for two minutes about ATM fees or something and not even acknowledge the whole murder thing. But it never would have been The Man Show. It never would have fit the template. [Original hosts Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel] were making jokes about boobs and remote control parts and chimpanzees while we were already laughing at rape and death. We just weren’t the guys for the job.

Maxim: It sounds like you get some pretty interesting stories everywhere you go.

DS: Yeah, but I forget most of those stories until someone brings them up. That’s why I was thinking about writing a--I’m calling it a blotto-biography--where I’ll find old friends and wait for the stories to come: an autobiography trip.