We recently had a long conversation about drinking with often-pissed comic Doug Stanhope, a dude who would basically be your mum’s least-favourite comedian ever. He’s got a new record and DVD out and all – see details and shit at the bottom.
Hi Doug. You’re in a van at the moment. You must be pretty used to spending a lot of time in vans.
Yeah, although it’s nicer than a lot of alternatives. It’s better than flying. You just shove all your shit in the back, with no airport security, no pat-downs and I don’t have to take my laptop out. There’s no crying babies, and I don’t have to wait for miserable hag to bring me a cocktail, I can make my own.
You kind of self identify as a drunk, so we thought it might be kind of fun if instead of doing a straight up normal interview, we could talk about booze for a while.
Sure! I mean, I’m no connoisseur, I’m just a booze bag.
So you’re a whatever’s-around kind of drinker?
Yeah – well, I’m not drinking cooking fluid or anything. I’m mainly a vodka guy, but on stage I pretty much stick to beer most of the time, though I’m starting to drink vodka on stage. It’s just that places have a tendency to try and impress you with how much they pour in, so it’s harder to figure out how much you’re actually drinking. I know exactly how much beer I can drink and still put on a good show.
Is that the product of trial and error? Finding exactly the optimum level over the years?
Yeah, you have a basic idea in your head, like, “I’ve gotta eat at least this much and not have more than this much”.
Does that work as a kind of curve then, like up until a certain point it improves the show, and then there’s an “oh shit” point?
Yep. There’s one slur too far when the audience starts to worry for you. A general rule is to try to be as drunk as the audience. If you’re ahead of them, they’re looking at you like you’re a problem. Like when you’re drinking with your friends, when there’s one friend who started at 5.30, y’know, now he’s already hammered, and you know you’re gonna end up like that, but right now you see how pathetic he looks. You wanna try and all get drunk at the same pace.
What’s your earliest drinking memory?
I remember my first drunk, it was the night before Thanksgiving in 1980, so it would have been a Wednesday night in late November. My older brother had a girl round from next door, his age, and there were all the cool kids at school drinking and, uh, they indoctrinated me. They said I could hang out, so I got a bottle of white wine and I drank most of it, and I remember getting really fucked up, and I smoked a cigarette and that almost made me fall over, because cigarettes do that when you’re young, they make you feel genuinely high.
Did you then continue with wine, or experiment with other drinks?
Yeah, I did the whole gamut. My dad didn’t really drink so the liquor cabinet that he did have was full of weird stuff. Like, I remember trying vermouth because he had it laying around from a party or something. You know, they’d decided to make martinis at a dinner party and there was still half a bottle of vermouth around. I drank it and was like, “Who would drink this?” I only found out later that nobody drinks vermouth straight.
Straight vermouth is pretty hardcore…
Yeah! When I started drinking beer, I had to mix it with cranberry juice to get it down, I hated it so much.
Do you have any hideous drinking anecdotes?
Hideous drinking anecdotes? Which night do I pick? Well, the only time I’ve ever vomited on stage was in Liverpool. It wasn’t from being overly drunk, but I’d ordered a tequila and they brought me up whiskey, so my mouth was ready for tequila. I’m not a whiskey drinker so my body rejected it like a bad kidney transplant and I just puked all over the stage. Here’s a note to any young comedians reading this – if you’re gonna puke on stage, make sure it’s your closing bit. All the funniest jokes in your arsenal aren’t gonna amuse people as much as vomiting all over yourself on stage. You can’t follow that. I guess I could’ve followed it by shitting my pants.
So you were saying before you’ve found the optimum drinking level. Do you have a pre-gig routine?
I usually have at least two or three cocktails before I go on, maybe four, and then I’ll usually drink a couple of beers and a couple of shots on stage. And after the show I just drink until I go to bed. That’s the nice thing about downers, Whitney Houston drugs, you don’t have to drink yourself to sleep. You can just go, “Alright, this is getting boring”, take a Xanax, have one more drink and then go to bed. I’ll still feel like shit in the morning, but at least I slept. It saves you a lot of time in bars you don’t want to be in.
Have you ever accidentally been booked for a show somewhere where they don’t sell drink?
They’d never have me anyway, but that’s the reason I’d never go do one of those Afghanistan, Iraqi tours, for the troops, cos there’s no way I’d go 20 days without cocktails. Fuck that!
So you’re not gonna book a tour of Dubai any time soon?
Oh no, not at all. I won’t even play a place where the audience can’t drink. It’s happened a few times where I didn’t have any idea there was no booze at the venue ’til I walked out on stage and could just feel it. It was like “is my zipper down? What’s going on?” The entire room kinda feels weird when that happens, then you realise no one has a drink, and you’re just sat there with a bucket of beer on stage.
Is there an optimum drunkenness level for an audience member, then?
Yeah, but in my audience there’s always someone that’s had too much. We were in the van yesterday morning at 9.30 and Henry, this comedian that’s travelling with me, looked at his Twitter and someone had said, “Just started drinking, getting ready for tonight’s Doug Stanhope show”. The show was at 10.30 at night. I do have to have some kind of empathy in dealing with drunks, since I kind of, y’know, promote it. But a lot of my fans, you know, they’ll start drinking at 5pm for an pm show, and there’s plenty of pukers, and guys that have just had to leave. I know they mean well, but just talking really loud like, “I love you, man” doesn’t really add anything.
You ever get people burst into tears or anything, really letting themselves down?
There’s a routine on my old DVD where I talk about how people always think I smoke pot, and try to give me it, but I don’t smoke pot. Then at a show a guy tried to give me drugs, and he walked right to the centre of the stage, trying to give me the heavy-handed handshake. I’m going, “I’m in the middle of the spotlight, on stage in a theatre, this is probably not the time” and this guy’s just handing me coke going, “Don’t worry, it’s not pot!”. He was just so blotto drunk y’know, he just kept saying, “It’s not pot!”.
We got a kid in San Francisco who I saw from the stage who was clearly not gonna make it through the whole show. It was a standing event, so he was just wobbling from foot to foot just trying to stay standing up, and after the show, when the venue’s closing up he was one of the last guys there. They’re dragging him out, and he starts vomiting profusely, so the bouncers are trying to aim the vomit away from them. They set him down outside, and it’s really dark, in a kinda nowhere area, and this kid’s so fucked up that he can’t tell us where he lives. We’re trying to get him in a cab, cos we can’t leave him on the street, because he’s out of his mind. Then finally his phone rang, so I took it, and it’s his mother! It turned out to live 40 miles away, we had to get his brother to come and drive and pick him up. He lived, though.
Ace, so there’s a happy ending. Just think how bleak that story would have been if it ended with you saying, “And then he died in my arms”.
Hahaha, I got a sheepish message from him afterwards going, “Evidently I was a little bit out of control last night, and I appreciate you getting me home”. But it really reeked of embarrassment.
Generally, only people that have done something pretty fucked up use words like “evidently”.
Right, let’s please some PR people. Hey Doug, why should people buy the new record and come and see you at any given opportunity?
Oh, I’d tell ‘em not to! If they don’t know why they should come see me then it’s probably not their thing. Look at a YouTube clip or two – I have the kind of act where it’s like thrash metal or something – if you’re not into it, and someone brings you along, you’re gonna wanna leave. It’s for a certain taste. Right now I’m not trying to recruit rookies.
Or people can steal the album online, and then if they like it, then buy it.