Doug Stanhope on subversive comedy, NFL aesthetics, and music snobbery

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Doug Stanhope: Before Turning the Gun on HimselfDoug Stanhope: Before Turning the Gun on Himself… (Roadrunner, 3/6/12)

Few comedians are as inspired by sociologist James Loewen as by abortion jokes. But Doug Stanhope, in case you haven’t noticed, isn’t your everyday comic. Yes, most of a set might be devoted to Japanese nether regions, odorous urine, and ripping on Dr. Drew. Underneath the sophomoric exterior, however, is an educated everyman: someone as taken with the hacktivist group Anonymous as with football-jersey aesthetics.

Following the release of his second album for the Roadrunner Comedy imprint, titled Before Turning the Gun on Himself…, we caught up with Stanhope during a massive UK tour — including a stop in Wolverhampton, ranked fifth on Lonely Planet’s “Cities You Really Hate.”

What’s the dumbest argument that someone has made to you for why you should believe in a god?

Maybe the dumbest one was a friend of mine who said he’s Catholic. I go, “You really believe that?” He goes, “Well, I know that it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but I don’t care, because it makes me happy.” He knows it’s all bullshit but chooses to believe in it. I don’t know if that’s the dumbest or smartest reason to believe in religion.

What’s your dream NFL matchup, aesthetically speaking?

It would be the Creamsicle ’76 Buccaneers and probably the old Patriots one with the Minuteman snapping the football. Right now the Patriots have the worst uniform in the league next to maybe the Giants and the Broncos. I love the old Oilers. It’s always nice when they match up well — I always liked Redskins/Saints.

What’s the weirdest or smallest place where you’ve performed?

In the early days, when you’d play anywhere, I played a bus once. It would take people from Minneapolis to the Indian casinos, and you’d walk up and down the aisle of the bus, telling all these old people whatever jokes you could think of that an old person would laugh at.

What are your favorite bands? Do you prefer music with a sense of humor or wit?

Rarely. If it’s dark — Warren Zevon, I don’t think you’d refer to as humorous, but a lot of it is really dark humor. And of course Zappa. I don’t like music that relies on its humor.

But guys you’ve never heard of — The Mattoid is always one of my opening iPod songs for pre-show, as people are coming in, and Mishka Shubaly. I rarely listen to music, but if I do, I just download a shitload of Count Basie and Duke Ellington — great background music. I listen to music the way that most people watch comedy: they watch it rarely; they don’t know what’s good or what’s current.

I’m the same snob about comedy as most people are about music. If you said, “I like Jeff Dunham and Peanut,” I’d completely judge you for that.

You’ve mentioned wanting to be “Anonymous’s favorite comedian.” Have you figured out a way to be subversive through comedy?

I’m working on it, actually. I’m such a fan of Anonymous, and I really don’t know how it works — I don’t know computers or hacking for shit. I just love that whole “fucking with the system.” I found out about them through our mutual hatred of Scientology. I just read a book called Inside Scientology — it’s absolutely fucking unfathomable. It goes through how L. Ron Hubbard started the whole thing, how he promoted it and the cutthroat tactics through the years — lawsuits and blackmail, “black ops” kind of shit. It really inspired me to use some of those same tactics but on an Anonymous level, doing it for good instead of evil. That’s sort of what’s guiding me right now.

I want to adopt some of the same principles but attack lower-rung targets and make it fun and ridiculous. I don’t want to take down the CIA’s website; I’d much rather get the GEICO cavemen off the air.

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