To call Doug Stanhope an uncompromising comic would be a preposterous understatement. Very little, if anything, is considered off-limits for him. Probably most famous in the UK for appearing on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, Stanhope has actually been a stand up for over 20 years, and recently released his new DVD and CD, recorded in Salt […]

To call Doug Stanhope an uncompromising comic would be a preposterous understatement. Very little, if anything, is considered off-limits for him. Probably most famous in the UK for appearing on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, Stanhope has actually been a stand up for over 20 years, and recently released his new DVD and CD, recorded in Salt Lake City and entitled Before Turning The Gun On Himself.

Alternatively labelled anarchist, libertarian or nihilist depending on the mood of the journalist in question, Stanhope has a caustic sense of humour and a dirty laugh, two things that came to the fore within seconds of him speaking to me ahead of his show in Chesterfield last month. As you can no doubt tell, he was a pleasure to interview, and left me with the impression that he is an average guy who happens to be very skilled at making people laugh at things they shouldn’t.

How are you doing?

I’m a wreck. I just got off a plane and I was shuttled to a hotel, and now they’re putting phones in my face.

So where are you at the moment?

We’re in Manchester as far as I know, but they could be lying to me. I don’t trust these people. The tour kicks off tomorrow. We might have to have those people killed if it doesn’t go well. The first one is always a rough one, but we have Zyklon B in the back room just in case.

I noticed your online poll about the worst place on your UK tour. Liverpool is winning so far, which I think is a bit unfair. Have you played there before?

I’ve played Liverpool twice. The first time was the only time in my career that I vomited on stage. I had ordered tequila but they didn’t have any, so they gave me whiskey without telling me. All young comics should know that if you’re going to vomit on stage, make sure it’s your closing bit, because it’s tough to follow.

The second time I played Liverpool there were just a bunch of assholes and I was at the end of my rope. I could’ve quit comedy at that point. It was in some… I wouldn’t even call it a theatre, some oratorium from 1292 BC. I think Caesar spoke there once.

I think my vote would have to go to Stoke on Trent. Not exactly a cultural hotspot.

Most of the places on the tour I’ve never heard of. Liverpool, at least it’s the devil you know. Whereas Stoke-on-Trent, Dorkshire… My manager is from here and he hasn’t heard of most of these places. You remember that bit from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, where they jack him up on vitamin B12 or whatever they shoot into him, and pour his melting corpse onto the stage? I predict a lot of that on this tour.

I’m going to see you at your Chesterfield gig.

[Off the phone to his manager] Oh Chesterfield is on the tour! Why didn’t you tell me?! [whoops and screaming in the background] That puts a whole new gleam on things(!)

It’s a big gig, definitely. We’re based in Sheffield, which is nearby. I’m sort of surprised you’re not stopping here.

Oh Sheffield, I’ve heard of that one! Ever since I’ve been coming over here [to the UK], wherever I play people go, “Well if you’re playing there why don’t you play here?” I can’t be more than 20 minutes away from you! If I was playing in their living room they’d say, [mock English accent] “Why don’t you play in the barth? What’s wrong with the dining room?”

How do you find British audiences in comparison to other countries?

The difference is that in America sometimes I get paranoid. I start thinking my new material isn’t ready yet, but then I think, “Hey, they’re your audience – they want you to do well.” I don’t feel that way over here. Over here I feel like there are probably a lot of cynical, snipey cunts who want me to fail, and that’s the reason they spent 20 pounds or quids or whatever they’re called. They want you to suck. I feel like the people that see me over here are as big assholes as I am. And that scares me, because I know what a miserable, cunty human being I am, and the audience that comes to see me is as miserable and not necessarily on my side.

I suppose that comes down to the politeness of British audiences. I imagine you don’t get heckled as much over here, so it might be harder to gauge a reaction from the audience.

That’s true, but if you do get heckled over here they’re fucking quoting dissertations from Plato with some spastic language you don’t understand. They’re smarter than you, you don’t get it and you look like a douche.

Do you write much material specifically for British audiences then?

I have to write material that they’ll understand. In the United States I can assume anything I say will be understood. Whether they find it funny or not is another question. Over here, I have to make sure that they understand the references.

Do you feel a pressure to come up with new material?

Yes, an extreme pressure, and then I drink until I don’t care anymore.

It’s not the same as being a musician, for example, where you can come back two years later and play virtually the same songs. Once you’ve got a laugh out of someone you’re not going to get that same laugh again.

Yeah, exactly. It would be nice to have a new hour of material every year, but only around half of that will work in the UK. So then I’m scrambling to find material anywhere I can. I might purposefully run over a kid on a bike and pretend it was an accident, just so I can have a new bit about accidentally running over a fat kid on a bike.

Do you fall back on improv in those situations?

[laughs] If I had a better brain I might! I’ll improvise anything I can. I will do everything in my power to not tell my jokes, because I don’t think I’m funny, and I’m sick of everything I’ve ever said before. So yeah, I’ll improvise, but it won’t be jokes necessarily. It will be the underlying stream of consciousness, where I start talking out loud about how much I want to kill myself and never do this again for a living, but it’s coming out my mouth rather than going through my brain first. Not quite ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’

Are there any topics that are completely off limits to you?

No, there are just topics that are too boring or long-winded to bother tackling.

Can you give me an example?

There’s just stuff that I hate so much that it never comes out funny. The justice system, prison, the wrongly accused… But really, is there anything off limits to anyone?

I think there is, and I think that’s what you’re good at – straight talking. Which is what you need from a comedian.

But there are a lot of comics that are of my genre. We’ve beat any topic that’s good to death – abortion, racism, paedophilia, rape, overpopulation… There’s nothing off limits that hasn’t already been done well. Attacking the audience is the last thing. Talking to someone at the front and saying, “What the fuck is your problem that you spend this much money to see comedy, you fucking tool?!” That would be the last barrier. “Fuck you and fuck me. Good night.”

That would probably go down quite well in some areas of this country. We can be quite self-loathing.

I hope so, cos that’s my closer [coughs violently]. Sorry, I just drank a bit of cocktail down the wrong hole.

Now that I am entering the waning years of my career and I have this reputation for brutal honesty, I should just start lying. I could reinvent myself just by making shit up. I don’t know why I can’t do that.

People like me can help you out with that.

Oh I know, but there’s something so wrong about it. If I could just start lying I could get 20 more years out of this pig. Write me some lies and send them over. Seriously. I’ll pay you cash. Please lie in this interview. Make up one small detail. Say I’m going to be on the new season of American Idol or something. Anything, whatever. Just one tiny lie to amuse me and I’ll back you up.

Interview by Sam Walby.