With not much else to hype besides his stand-up and a book that will make its way to the world this summer, the Worcester native makes his way back to Boston as a part of what he cheekily calls his “Hand Sanitizer Tour,” which has found him in Seattle and Baltimore before hitting Tremont Street, followed by a string of shows in San Francisco. While not really fully knowing what to expect from himself, as a result of his constant writing habits, Stanhope is looking forward to catching up with the kinda-sorta-not-really home crowd, and bringing a fresh batch of material along with him to share.
Vanyaland recently got on the phone with Stanhope to discuss his return to Boston, and came away with a whole hell of a lot more than that as we chatted about everything from the coronavirus to how shitty of a year 2016 was for him. Check out the full chat below.
Jason Greenough: You’ve got a show at The Wilbur coming up on the 13th, which sold out pretty quickly. When I saw the show announcement, I wanted to reach out, but I thought I missed my chance once it sold out, but I’m glad we could make it happen.
Doug Stanhope: Well, this gives me a way to connect with my friends and family that I’ll be avoiding when I’m there. This interview is for them, so I don’t have to say all this to them. [laughs] I would have to have King Arthur’s roundtable for everyone who thinks we’re going out to dinner. I don’t go out to dinner, or even eat before a show. I try to get the shakes off before a show.
I definitely feel that. What’s your pre-show ritual to get the shakes off?
It’s all about timing your cocktails properly before a show, and sitting with a long yellow legal pad full of shit you’re trying to remember to say. I remember one time when I was playing The Wilbur, I just wanted to go and get a drink after the show, and Saturday down there is already chaos, and I looked like the fucking pied piper with 18 people that I know trailing behind me. All I kept thinking was how there’s no way I’ll find a bar that’ll fit eighteen people who want to get a drink before last call.
With this being a sold out show, what’s the feeling bringing this material back to Massachusetts?
It’s always kind of nerve-wracking. I mean, I’m not from Boston. I’m from Worcester, but still, when there’s that many people that you know and possibly don’t remember in the audience, it’s the only time I get a little bit of nerves going.
Does the fact that it’s a sold out show, not even in the specific case of it being a Boston show, add to those nerves?
Oh no, sold out is good. The opposite would be bad. “It’s only half full. Stanhope’s not that populah.” I had to go up against the fucking Red Sox playing in Boston for the World Series one of the times I was there.
So does a sold-out Boston show add any extra layer of energy, as opposed to nerves, to your set as you get closer to the night?
No, I don’t generally worry about a show until I’m about to walk on stage. I’ll be flying in from Baltimore and getting in right before the show, then leaving first thing in the morning. But I fucking love The Wilbur. It’s a perfect sized theater. I don’t like theater shows, usually, but that place is a good size.
Without giving too much away, what can fans expect from this new batch of material?
I don’t know, really, because I’m writing every day. Let’s hope that by the time I get to Boston, I haven’t been quarantined because of the fucking coronavirus.
Let’s hope not!
I’m not worried about it. It just generally affects older men with respiratory problems. I say this as a 40-year smoker while I’m smoking a cigarette off my balcony. I’m not worried. Then I fly to Baltimore and Boston like a fucking Typhoid Mary, and if I don’t catch it, I have to fly back to San Francisco for three shows after that.
You’re just tempting fate at this point, huh?
Now, with you constantly writing new material, and being one to shed light on certain political or social topics of the time, how do you put what’s going on right now into words?
I mean, I spent four years without having the word ‘Trump’ come out of my mouth even once. Maybe now I should start talking about it, but it’s just so fucking boring to me. Every comedian is now a political comedian, so I kind feel like I should go the other way. Over the last three or four years, my entire twitter feed has turned into Crossfire on CNN, where it used to be just funny jokes.
It really has been sort of beaten to death.
I think most comics that do any kind of social commentary go through phases of being political, and then atheist, and then you go through a conspiracy theorist phase, but even when I was vaguely political, I realized that I didn’t really know what I was talking about and I kind of feel that way about all these people that are Trump-infused political commentators. I don’t think they know what the fuck they’re talking about any more than I did when I was talking about it.
Does it make you feel better knowing that there are comics who don’t know what they’re talking about? Or does it make you feel worse about how things are going in comedy?
In some ways. Depending on the comedian you’re talking about, there are times where you kind of just shake your head as if you’re watching someone play with a leak. ‘Oh, you’re cute.’
I’m 53. I’ve never seen an election that wasn’t “the most important election of your lifetime,” but it is different now. Shit is just weird. There’s a huge difference between a Trump and a George W. Bush. That’s fucking ridiculous, but yeah.
It’s so weird to see how things have changed, not just in terms of pop culture, but even how people look at something like a presidential election, just since the turn of the century. Maybe it’s just my limited view of things, but it’s definitely changed a lot, even just over the last 10 or 12 years.
Yeah, like, cancel culture is something that makes you think “from what angle has this not been talked about yet?” But that is my arena, so I still touch on parts of it. I just don’t fucking beat it. I’m not a political commentator, but when it comes to what you can and cannot say onstage, that affects me and I do have opinions on that, but I’m not heavy-handed with it. I have enough of my own problems to talk about.
In a way, I think people appreciate that, especially when it comes to your comedy, where it is heavily personal in your past and present. You’ve always maintained the ability to keep things in that perspective.
Yeah, there should definitely be plenty of that stuff.
Your last show in Massachusetts was at Ralph’s Rock Diner in Worcester back in 2017, correct?
Oh, god. That was a terrible show.
Oh no! What happened?
I don’t know if it was just too big of expectations from the audience or something. All I really remember is it being a dead show, and spending most of the time chiding them for being an awful audience.
If I’m doing my math correctly, 2020 marks your 30th year in comedy, huh?
Well, I guess it’s technically my 29th.
Well, closing in on your 30th year, does it change your approach to comedy at all to still have shows like that, that don’t pan out the way you had hoped?
Shows like that are rare, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Worcester and how much of it was in my own head, but I mean, if they all went perfectly, and you could repeat the same stuff every night and anticipate the same reaction every night, it’d be completely pointless.
I feel that. Well, it’s been a few years since you’ve been back to the area, but what’s been going on in the world of Doug Stanhope since your last visit?
Well, I’ve been writing a book for the last nine months, off and on. Then it’s been small sojourns on the road to do stand-up, then back to writing the book, and that’s been pretty much it for the last year or so.
You had mentioned a while ago that you were writing a book, but you were avoiding finishing it. Why is that?
You’re a writer. You know. I set a deadline for myself because Audible hadn’t given us any timeframe, so I spent three months hardly writing, and staring at the laptop a lot. Then they gave me a deadline six months later, so I decided I’d go back out on the road, and you’re always pushing it to the last minute.
Again, I don’t know how much you want to give away or let folks in on, but what’s the overall idea of the book going to be?
It’s going to be about 2016, which is the year everything went to shit. I split up with my wife, we got back together, she went to a mental institution, I got sued by Johnny Depp’s wife, I had to go on my first book tour, I had surgery. It was just endless parties, substance and alcohol. Then it ended with my wife going into a coma at the end of the year, and Trump got elected.
Jesus, that’s going to be a hell of a story.
Yeah, it’s actually the best one I’ve done. There’s a lot of meat to it.
I remember seeing the stuff about [your wife] Bingo going into the coma, and I couldn’t help but think about how terrible that experience must have been.
Oh yeah, and it was perfectly bookended within a year. It started in January when my wife and I split up, and it ended with her coming home for Christmas after a month of being in hospitals and rehabs.
Looking back on all of that, four years later, how does it feel to look at it and think about how you made it through that? Is it sort of a time capsule effect?
It is, and the essence of thirty years of stand-up comedy is brought into it, where this is just one year. Every possible thing that could possibly go right and wrong, like I had a new special coming out but then we decided to sell it to Seeso, which went under quicker than Bingo went into the coma.
And there were all these possibilities that took disastrous turns, like we were filming a pilot through Johnny Depp’s production company, and then his life went to shit. He was a pariah, and there’s a Johnny Depp foreword for my book [2016’s Digging Up Mother: A Love Story], and we had his production company’s name on my special. The Emperor still wore clothes, but his coattails had fallen off.
Is there anything else you want to hype? No thoughts of putting out a new special or anything?
Well, the book comes out in the summer as an Audible exclusive. We’re gonna do it like we did the other Audible books, where we have the regular written book, but we’ll cut out and have people from whatever the stories are come on, podcast-style and off-script, and then go back into the book, which was a really fun thing to do on the first two books.
And then, I don’t know. I’ve got international stuff going on later, but who knows what the fuck is gonna be going on with international travel at that point.
Above all else, what are you looking forward to most about bringing this show back to not-necessarily home turf?
I’m not one to carry a lot of nostalgia. Where I came from is trivia. I moved as soon as I was legally allowed to and never looked back, but I do enjoy some whole-belly fried clams, though. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m gonna be at Legal Seafood at the airport. Fuck the traffic.
DOUG STANHOPE :: Friday, March 13 at The Wilbur, 246 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 7:30 p.m., sold out :: Event Page :: UPDATE: This event has been postponed to July 10.