Talking to comedian Doug Stanhope for the first time can be an intimidating experience.
It's not that he's an angry comic or even an angry person. He's probably one of the most pleasant, affable comics you'll ever meet, but he also has a legendary streak of self-loathing that sets the foundation for his stage material and sense of humor.
Add in a keen eye for spotting bullshit in odd places -- like the NFL promoting breast cancer awareness or the utter meaninglessness of the sexual experience -- and it's easy to psyche yourself out as you dial the number to his self-styled compound in Bisbee, Arizona.
"When you're talking to someone who has to do an interview and doesn't give a shit, there's nothing worse," Stanhope says with a laugh, setting the tone for our conversation. "It's just all right, are we going to go through the motions on this like talking about old people fucking and where do you get your ideas from? Go fuck yourself. I get them out of a vending machine at the bus station."
Stanhope is one of the last success stories in comedy to come out of the old generation of road hogs who would drive from coast to coast in search of any place with a microphone. These days, he's upgraded to more comedy clubs like his upcoming shows at the Addison Improv, April 29 and 30, and theaters, a venue he said he loathes for its comedy-destroying flow, even though most comics who are lower on the totem pole probably dream about even getting to open for someone at such a venue.
"Generally if it's set up right, the smaller the club, the more fun you have," Stanhope says. "It is intimate. You can see the people in the back of the room. You can see their faces. You can interact. In theaters, there's nothing fucking worse. Watching comics I know play theaters when they do a special and 1,500 people or 2,500 people, the laughs are delayed and you know it's fucking up their timing because you've seen them work the Comedy Cellar or the Improv in L.A. where it's 150 people and you know how they usually talk.
"Jim Norton is a great example. He's so quick and so fast that when he's in a theater, you know the theater is just ruining his fucking act. The audience is the worst part of doing comedy," Stanhope added. "It's like the State of the Union and you go, 'Stop with the fucking applause breaks and let the guy finish a fucking sentence.'"
Of course, Stanhope is at a point in his career where he doesn't have to scramble for whatever gig is promising him a check or a comped bar tab. He has a strong audience ready to be stripped down by his ugly truths and unique opinions.
"I live my life right so I don't really need money," he said. "So I can do shit I like."
These days, he spends about a year and a half honing his material and act until he decides it has had long enough of a shelf life. Then he puts it out as an album or a live DVD as his way of forcing himself to produce something new for his audience, he said.
"For me, I'm always working on an album because you get to a point where it's like, all right I'm done saying this but I don't want it to just be left up to memory so I tape and sell it," he said. "That also keeps you working, where you go, 'Oh I can't do this anymore. I can't be lazy if I've already put it out as a CD.' The comedy album is my nanny forcing me to work."
He also likes to keep an eye for unique projects or ways to get attention, like his Indiegogo campaign that raised over $125,000 for Rebecca Vitsmun, a former Oklahoma resident who lost her home to a deadly tornado last year and famously told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she couldn't thank God for sparing her life because "I'm actually an atheist."
He said in one of his commentaries for Charlie Brooker's News Wipe show on the BBC that he wanted to raise money for her because "I did it simply to be a prick to her hokey Christian neighbors hoping that they were still eating off of FEMA trucks when someone drove up and presented Rebecca with a giant cardboard check. It's funny how hate can make you do real nice things now and again."
Stanhope recently interviewed her for his podcast and called the meeting "fun" and "wonderful," despite the fact that she had to bring her 2-year-old son with her, "which sucked right off the bat."
"It was one of those things that was really well timed," he said. "I'm constantly looking for that without trying to force it."
He also regularly rails against fellow comics, particularly ones who have gotten so big that they don't produce material worthy of such accolades and admiration. Sure he's had appearances in movies and most notably as a suicidal comic in one of the more memorable episodes of FX's Louie, but his true aspiration is to become a true "comic's comic," which he humbly suggests he isn't yet.
"If I knew that to be true, it would be the highest accolade to be a comic's comic," he said. "Those are the only people who you care about their opinion when you compare it to the alternative like the 'people's comic.' How many of those are respected? Not necessarily to name names, but when comics are shaking their head in disbelief at the amount of people who like the comic, it's never good."
But he's far from a comedy snob. He may joke about the more famous names of his industry but even his comedy isn't above scrutiny.
"I never want to think that I'm so clever that I'm funnier than farts," Stanhope said. "Farts are the only thing that have remained funny from my first laugh to this day. A fucking ripping wet fart will fucking double me over and don't ever think that you're funnier than farts. ... Farts are timeless."