Jim Gaffigan he is not. Comedian Doug Stanhope's cynical, taboo-bashing stand-up is built on drugs, hookers, atheism and all sorts of stuff your grandma would not approve of (unless your grandma is really wild). The former presidential candidate and "Man Show" vet is the main attraction tonight at Jazzbones, where he may be grumpier than usual since the law says he can't smoke and booze on stage.
Recently, I called him at home in Bisbee, Ariz., to learn what makes him tick.
You’re a little edgy. Where does that in-your-face style come from?
It was probably just from getting burned out on comedy. (Doing) comedy definitely ruined stand-up comedy for me. It’s to some extent like going from being a fan of magicians as a kid and then going to the magic shop and going, “Aw (crap)! You can just buy this stuff?”
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Did you actually start out with a kinder, gentler brand of comedy?
When I first started, it was all masturbation jokes. It wasn’t dark at all. If it was dirty, it was probably pretty (lame) dirty. I was 23. You don’t really have a point of view, or I certainly didn’t when I was 23. So I talked about what I knew about.
You’re pretty blunt on a whole range of topics. Do you consider what you do to be political in any way?
No, no. But then again most comics that are considered political aren’t really … the exception being, obviously, Jon Stewart. I wouldn’t consider myself political. I don’t know (jack) about politics.
That said, you did run for president (in 2008).
That’s why I dropped out. I realized how much I didn’t know, and knowing your weaknesses is half the battle. I actually got textbooks and stuff trying to read up. That’s why I quit school after the ninth grade. If it’s boring to me, it doesn’t stick. I have no chance of learning things that I’m not interested in. But I have points of view that fall under political umbrellas.
So what I’m hearing is there’s no chance of the Rogan/Stanhope ticket in 2012.
No, not unless it’s a complete joke, which was what the 2008 run was gonna be. And then someone talked me into running on the Libertarian ticket and taking it seriously. We thought if we could somehow scam the nomination, we could get on the ballot because they really had no candidates. They wound up getting hijacked by a Republican (Bob Barr) who saw the same opening.
What kind of stuff are you riffin’ on this time? Are you trying out new bits?
I’m always tryin’ out new bits. We’ll see what’s goin’ on that day. (Laughing.) Hopefully, another Corey Haim dies or another killer whale eats its trainer at Sea World. Whatever goes on that week or that day … I’ll frontload as much of my act with as much of what’s in the moment as I can.
Can you point to when your comedy got darker?
9/11 was definitely a turning point because I was already on that path of anti- authority, anti-government and looking at a lot of (material) other than just (hooker) stories. (He laughs.) I was kind of burned out on all that. I was reading more, and then (after) 9/11, the country went into such a state of lockstep and denial that it just fueled me.
I remember (comedian Dave) Attell calling me right after 9/11, going, “Your act’s (ruined) now,” and it was just the opposite. Now I’ve got a reason. Before I was yellin’ about all this stuff and people are going, “What’s wrong? Everything’s great.”
Around that time, people were smashing Dixie Chicks CDs. Was there any apprehension or did you just kind of jump in?
Oh no, I jumped in. I did the same … joke that Bill Maher got fired for. On the Sunday after 9/11 – which was a Tuesday – I did the open mike at the Comedy Store in L.A., and I was already doing a bit about cowards. And it was just an easy tag to throw in, about calling terrorists cowards when they’re flying face first into a building. And then he did it two nights later on “Politically Incorrect” and got fired and apologized. I’m like, “(Hey), that was my joke.”
Do you think he saw your act?
No, no. I think it’s easy to point out. But I didn’t go cry ... and apologize. (In a whiney voice) “I didn’t mean it like that.” Yes you did. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves is when people apologize for … legitimate points that would be easy to back up by saying, “Listen to what I said. Tell me where I’m wrong.”
Of course, a lot of people know you from “The Man Show” (on Comedy Central from 1999-2004).
Yeah, a lot of people that will never come to my show know me from “The Man Show.”
So are you done with television, or will the right offer drawn you back in?
Yes, I would do it with the right circumstances. I just can’t imagine what the right circumstances would be. At the end of the day, TV’s a real hard … job. The reason I got into comedy was to not work that hard.
So your first love will always be the stage.
I wouldn’t even call it a love, but TV would be a hate. TV would be something that I’m only doing because it pays a lot of money and I’d get some more exposure. (But) I feel completely awkward with just the handful of people in dark corners that know me now. So I don’t necessarily want more exposure.
My next DVD is ready to go as soon as we figure out where to do it. We’re talking about writin’ a book, which takes a lot of discipline I can’t imagine fostering.
If David Cross can do it, you can do it.
Eh, David Cross, I think he has a work ethic.
Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389, firstname.lastname@example.org
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Jazzbones, 2803 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door
Information: 253-396-9169 or www.jazzbones.com