Doug Stanhope - comedy that’s on the edge

Dark comedy: Doug Stanhope is coming to Leeds in June. (photo: Brian Hennigan).
Dark comedy: Doug Stanhope is coming to Leeds in June. (photo: Brian Hennigan).
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US stand-up Doug Stanhope comes from the school of hard drinking, straight-talking comics. Chris Bond talked to him on the road.

It’s fair to say that Doug Stanhope is more of a night owl than an early bird. “I could quit comedy tomorrow and never look back,” he says, with the world weary voice of someone who’s seen it all before and is less than enthused at the prospect of a return journey.

“The expectations become more and the pay-offs get less... But that’s because you’re talking to me at 10 o’clock in the morning with a hangover in an airport. If we were doing this with three or four cocktails in me at eight o’clock at night then I’d be more upbeat.”

We’ve all been there. Though perhaps not Calgary International Airport in Canada, where Stanhope is waiting for a flight to take him to Vancouver. He’s on the road with a new tour that lands in the UK this weekend and arrives in Leeds later this month.

Stanhope has gained a cult following since starting out as a comedian nearly 30 years ago. He’s been praised by Ricky Gervais as “possibly the most important stand-up working today”, while Chris Rock once said of him: “If we both were fighters I would avoid him at all costs. He’s a bad, bad man.”

The US-born comedian is opinionated, brutally honest and near the knuckle at times, so if you like more genteel comedy then he’s definitely not for you.

TV fans may recognise him as the ‘voice of America’ on Charlie Brooker’s BBC show Newswipe, though anyone expecting him to get stuck into Donald Trump will be disappointed.

“I never mention that guy’s name on stage. It’s too obvious,” he says. “Every single comedian is talking about it and I don’t have any insight beyond what other people would see.”

His latest show is much in the same vein as his previous ones. “I haven’t changed or become born-again or clean and sober,” he says, defiantly.

Stanhope comes from a long line of American stand-ups that includes Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks for whom no subject is off limits.

It was another comedian, though, who first ignited that spark to get up on stage. “Andrew Dice Clay was the one who was big who made me think I could do this, too. He was my impetus to get on stage the first time, but most of my influences weren’t even comics – they were just funny people I knew, grew up with or worked with before I did stand-up,” he says.

Stanhope was 23 when he started doing stand-up while working in telemarketing. “The idea I could get a gig being funny made me start writing my own material and going to open mic nights.”

He first appeared on stage in the UK in 2002 with the fallout from 9/11 still reverberating around the world. “I was talking about this pointless patriotism and over the top flag-waving nonsense and it drew some ire in the States, but when I did it in Britain they couldn’t get enough.”

Not that he takes what he does seriously. “I don’t ever try to deconstruct comedy or what makes some things funny. All I know is I’m still getting laughs, and sometimes I don’t even know why people are laughing... but I’m still doing it.”

Doug Stanhope, 02 Academy, Leeds. June 11.