Arts & Culture News

Comedian Doug Stanhope on Pedophiles, Prison, Suicide and Other Hilarious Topics

You may remember him from his aborted run for the 2008 Libertarian presidential nomination, from his fight-provoking confrontational 2004 Austin set when he followed the political bombast of Alex Jones or from the riots that occasionally ensue at his shows when he touches a particularly sensitive nerve in his audiences. But perhaps provocative comedian Doug Stanhope's greatest moment to date is his role as Eddie, the bitter lowlife comic at the end of his rope in the episode of the same name on Louis C.K.'s brilliant FX series Louie. Mocking Louie's attempts to talk him out of suicide, Eddie makes checking out sound almost rational.

In fact, Stanhope was originally scheduled to perform May 19 at Trees in Dallas but had to postpone the show in order to film the episode. His Trees show is rescheduled to Thursday, November 17. Tickets from the May show will be honored, or you can buy tickets here.

In between bursts of profanity and bemused laughter at a vending machine that gave him a Milky Way bar instead of a fucking Coke, he parried Mixmaster questions by phone from his hotel in Oklahoma City. Read on for his thoughts on the Penn State scandal, performing in an Icelandic maximum-security prison, bringing back the Eddie character and why he remains staunchly pro-suicide.

How's the tour going? How'd Houston go last night?
Houston, I was sluggish. Comedy clubs, I fucking hate comedy clubs. You're on stage for like 20 minutes and then you see them start passing out tabs. One of the worst things about comedy clubs that you never really focus on is, because they're a corporation, no one there is making money off you. The guy making all the booze sales is nowhere to be found. Why don't you let the show go on all night? Well, it's all employees. There's no boss who's trying to rake in cash, it's all employees who wanna get the hell out of there. They don't care how much the house takes in.

Texas has got to be full of targets for someone who's as confrontational as you are. What are some of the things you might make fun of, or are you even baiting your audience?
At this point, I have my audience. It's all preaching to the choir at this point. I much prefer to try to find things that they all have problems with. How do I figure out how to offend the people who like me? I'm not going on stage talking about Rick Perry, the fuck. It's not my business.

I'd think Rick Perry would be of interest. Having run for president, to some extent, yourself, is politics still something you follow closely?
No, not at all. If I ever had any interest, which I never really did, the run for president should have been a goof, but I took it a little too seriously. But even talking about them as though they have any credibility -- those guys don't affect your life, and talking about them gives them more power. It almost feels like ... just don't even mention that they exist, all of those assholes. ... I'm trying to figure out how to get these goddamn coins in this machine. I'm getting a soda, lighting a cigarette and then I'll be focused. I'm absolutely stupefied by this vending machine. I've never seen a vending machine that ... NO, I DON'T WANT A FUCKING MILKY WAY! [chuckles]

Your DVD was filmed in Oslo, Norway, and you recently performed at a maximum-security prison in Iceland. Do you have any places that are off-the-beaten-path that you want to do?
I was just talking about that with my manager. Once you've done a maximum-security prison, how do you go up from there? How do you get weirder? You start running out of ideas. If this gives me another Milky Way, I'm going to freak out on the phone with you. Goddammit. The dollar-bill thing doesn't take dollar bills. I want this entire interview to be me walking back and forth trying to get dollars. All I want is a goddamn Coke and a cigarette. So yeah, it's hard to top yourself after a while. "Oh hey, we've got this gig, we want you to do a cemetery in L.A." Well, you've already done it, and I just played a maximum-security prison in Iceland, so ... I guess that's how life is. I guess that's why old people are boring.

Any plans for more prison shows, maybe in the U.S.?
I would love to, they're just so hard to set up.

Did you get a sense while you were there of how you would fare as a prisoner?
I know I'd fare as well as I would if I were a soldier -- I'd be in Canada. I played paintball once, get shot once, and then go "Yeah, I'm gonna be a sniper, off in the distance somewhere. This hurts." That's how I'd fare as a prisoner. I would definitely kill myself. Even just a drunk-tank thing. I'm claustrophobic.

Have you ever been to jail?
One time when I was like 17 or so, just for disturbing the peace because I laughed. My buddy was getting arrested for unpaid warrants, and he was very vocal in his dislike for the police. "Your mother sucks cocks in hell, you faggot. Take me out of this paddy wagon. Take off that badge and I'll ... " So I was just on the other side of the street laughing my ass off, and they said, "You think that's funny? You're under arrest for disturbing the peace." So I use that for my argument for why it should be legal to shoot cops in the face. Because if I was just a 17-year-old kid laughing my ass off because something was funny to me and someone grabbed me, held me down, restrained me, cuffed me, put me in the back of a car and held me in a cage, I would be well within my rights to shoot that person in the face, and the headline would read "Crafty Youth Evades Kidnapper With Swift Shot To The Face." So if you think police should be held to the same standards as civilians, the thing with me is you should be able to shoot a cop in the face. This hasn't passed the Supreme Court. ... Hey, can I get four quarters? Where did you get that vending machine? I've never seen a vending machine like that. The one that has the door on it with sodas behind it? I just got a Milky Way when I was trying to get a Coke. ... So yeah, I would be a terrible prisoner.

You're a big football fan. I don't know if you follow college football, but I'm sure you have thoughts on the whole Penn State thing.
It's really difficult to, uh. ... All right, I got my Coke! Now this interview should go smoothly. ... The Paterno thing, the story is hard to find. They're not talking about the guy at all. They're talking about Joe Paterno and his legacy and was it morally wrong even if he's not legally culpable, but there's nothing about the guy, it's all just breaths of fucking opinion. Why can't I find, you know, why this guy just got arrested? This happened in the '90s. How did he just get arrested now? Do you know? I'm asking, this isn't rhetoric.

I don't know. I think one of the kids finally came forward.
They came forward several times over the course of years, and there was never charges filed. There was a mother of one of the victims being questioned on ESPN. I fucking hate crossover stories, where they're ruining ESPN and CNN. She was saying what he did, and it's like, what did you do? You're the mother, why weren't you filing charges? And that was being completely ignored.

I'd imagine it's just the money that the university has and the sway it has on the politicians and the police in that town.
That's called team spirit. But they're saying they were aware of the issue but not the extent. And it's like, he was in a shower with a 10-year-old boy who's not his own. How is that not enough? "Well, I didn't know he was fucking him in the face and ass." What, you thought they were playing Penny Penny, Who's Got the Penny? The guy will be dead in six months. He'll completely Andy Rooney it. Sandusky, that's a suicide. I'm in a death pool now, so I study these things. Andy Rooney retired and I'm like, "Motherfucker." Our death pools run an entire year, so you don't get to pick new ones until New Year's. Andy Rooney retired and I'm like, "Fuck, he's going to be dead in a minute."

Who else do you have in your death pool?
You pick 20 people at the beginning of the year, and you get 100 points each, less their age. I heavy-loaded Celebrity Rehab, so so far my only death is Jeff Conaway. But I have William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Tom Sizemore, Heidi Fleiss. On my personal wish list, I have Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I had to pick a comic, so I went with Ralphie May, who just had a pulmonary embolism but didn't die. I have Ali, and then down goes Frazier. I had Refrigerator Perry, Dave Duerson committed suicide. Same team, '85 Bears, same side of the ball, wrong fucking jersey number. I was so close. Fucking no one had Osama Bin Laden, which was stunning to me. When he got killed, I was like, "How the fuck do I not have Osama Bin Laden?" Half the military on the planet trying to kill this guy, I called my buddy who runs it, no one has it. Yet four out of 11 people in rural Arizona had Amy Winehouse. So to say her death was a surprise, not exactly.

Speaking of death, I'm sure you get asked a ton about your appearance on Louie, but "Eddie" was my favorite episode on my favorite show on TV right now. I was glad to see on your blog that you want to play that character again.
In all seriousness, I want to play that character everywhere. I'm on Two Broke Girls, but I'm Eddie committing suicide for some reason. I'm on Dexter, and I'm Eddie committing suicide. I don't want to go outside of my comfort zone.

So you do think he did commit suicide? It was left open-ended, but looked pretty bleak. You think he went through with it?
I don't know, I'm not one of those guys that puts a lot of thought into the character. I didn't become Eddie. I just said words off a piece of paper. Acting is so grotesque. Actors are the filthiest people I've ever met. Of all the arts, actors are the most bereft of substance. They're just shells of people, and they're so consumed with themselves and what they do. Like it's important. Or difficult. It's difficult for me because I'm so aware of how fucking stupid it is.

So you weren't drawing on some past part of yourself?
It's me if I'm still living the same life I started in. That's what I was doing for the first four years of comedy, just driving around living in my car, getting $150 gigs, eating cheese cubes off happy hour buffets. But it was a blast back then. You're 25 years with a mullet and a used car, it's a fun run. You don't have a job, you're getting fat girls in Montana. You're 44 and you're living out of your car, yeah, you're Eddie. Nobody's making you a sack lunch anymore. "Follow your dreams." You're 44, it's not "follow your dreams," it's "Get a job."

I did find some other parallels between Eddie and you, or at least you as you are in your act. One clip, you're talking about how if the first half of the movie is not that great, it's probably not going to have an awesome ending. You're not exactly anti-suicide.
No, I'm pro-suicide. My mother killed herself. It was the fucking bravest thing I've ever seen anyone do. She was dying of emphysema and was like, 'Fuck this, I'm not going to drown in my own fluid.' Still not a lot of great bits about it. It might have to be a book. ... Three years ago, past the statute of limitation on some of the jokes. I still don't know how much I can admit any complicity in it. That statute probably doesn't go away. But when you're a comedian, everything you say is a joke.