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The High Times Interview: Doug Stanhope

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The High Times Interview: Doug Stanhope

Actor Johnny Depp found a kindred spirit in comedian Doug Stanhope. After taking in Stanhope’s 2007 comedy special No Refunds, Depp made a point of reaching out to the stand-up, anxious to learn more about the man he saw telling raw truths on stage in the vein of the late great Lenny Bruce. After connecting by phone, the two formed a friendship that led to Depp executive producing two of Stanhope’s stand-up specials, The Comedians’ Comedian’s Comedians and No Place Like Home, both now available on Seeso. Depp also penned the foreword to Stanhope’s 2016 book Digging Up Mother.

While the two have achieved different levels of renown in different fields, they bonded over a shared comedic aesthetic that places truth telling above all else—at any cost.

Setting aside the traditional High Times Interview format this month, we decided to hand things over to Mr. Depp and Mr. Stanhope who got together for a freewheeling conversation about, among other things, comedy, creativity and fame.

The following is a (small) portion of that conversation.

Johnny Depp: I don’t know if I’ve told you this or not, but I’m a great admirer—maybe even a little more than admirer. Maybe it’s a man crush, but your sense of style … well, to me, it speaks volumes about a person, obviously—their sense of style.

Doug Stanhope: I have two outfits: I have ’70s vintage and pajamas.

JD: Well, that’s exactly it, because you could have gone in the direction of, say, the Pips of Gladys Knight fame or the Temptations or whatever, but you went for the early Mike Douglas look, which I like a lot.

DS: The used-car salesman. When you have leisure suits, they’re flat-belly. My gut sticks out—I have the bloated, alcoholic, distended-internal-organs belly—so I can’t wear them.

JD: No, I saw you recently … you looked great. You looked fantastic when I saw you.

DS: No, no, I wear, like, the sport coat—the Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati.

JD: You were describing the place you’re in. Do you remember when I first tracked you down and we had our first interaction?

DS: Yes. That was Victoria, BC—I think it was a Days Inn—and you called me. I was standing outside in a parking lot in the pouring rain, trying to stand under a tree so I could smoke when I talked to you, because I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know when I’m not smoking or drinking. My tour manager and I were doing acid, and I called you again in the morning. I go, “Hey, whatever happens, if we’re doing acid, don’t let me fucking acid-dial Johnny Depp, because he just called me and I have his number, and that would be bad.”

JD: It did sort of spring out of nowhere. The first thing I saw of yours was No Refunds. I know we’ve talked about this before, but it was the one that really took me aback. It made me—well, not to blow too much smoke up your ass just yet …

DS: You were the first person that I remember hearing that from. It was a bit that I thought was only for me: “Did you every try to sleep sober? It’s like a carnival in your head when you’re trying to sleep sober.” I thought I was the only alcoholic fuck-up left—but so many people since then have said, “That’s the bit! That’s the bit that I fucking heard!”

JD: That’s it right there. That’s the one that really struck me, and why I was truly captivated then.

DS: Those are the bits that you really enjoy. The cliché is that “some of these are just for me,” and you go, “Oh, wow, I wasn’t trying to be Jerry Seinfeld on that”—but people still jumped in and went, “Oh, shit, that happens to me all the fucking time!”

JD: That’s the thing, though: It’s the absolute truth. I mean, you know my obsession with the fucking truth, and so for me it was like, “Well, there’s Lenny Bruce. There’s George Carlin. There’s Don Rickles. There’s Richard Pryor. This guy’s a bundle of gifts—absolute nonstop information and correctness.”

DS: I’m kind of happy to live in this age. When I grew up, there were four channels, and now there’s the Internet and cable. There’s a billion channels, and I like to be in a watered-down field where if the Kentucky Derby went from 20 horses to a billion horses, yeah, the people that like my horse will find me. But I don’t have to deal with fucking people outside my gate with cameras like you do. You’re fucked.

The High Times Interview: Doug Stanhope

Photo by David Lee Dailey

JD: Well, it’s a weird thing because, certainly both of us, to a degree … I mean, it’s all relative.

DS: You live under a microscope where nobody has a clear view from the other side. You’re the amoeba, and all the students have glaucoma.

JD: We’re in privileged positions, you know what I mean? We must say that. I mean, the last thing that I’d want to hear ever in my life is some fucking actor whining about his inability to deal with certain occupational hazards. It’s ludicrous to complain about.

DS: You never go out.

JD: No, but I mean, that’s just a part of—

DS: That’s what I love about you: I live like you … even though nobody knows who the fuck I am, I still never go out.

JD: (Laughs) Well, you know, it’s a weird road. I became an actor by mistake—I mean, literally by accident. And I wonder if there was ever a conscious moment of choice for you. Did you make a conscious decision—saying, “I’m going to be a fucking comedian”—or was it actually not really having a choice in the matter?

DS: No, I was never a guy who thinks, “This is what I was sent here to do.” I fell into it—I couldn’t sing karaoke, and I wasn’t attractive and wasn’t athletic, and I still wanted to get laid. But I had that funny thing going on, so I said, “I’ll try this open-mic shit”—and it just carried me from there. I never planned any of this. Every credit on my résumé is a pile of dog shit that I accidentally stepped in.

JD: (Laughs) What age were you then?

DS: Twenty-three. That’s about the same age you started with the acting because your band sucked.

JD: Exactly … that’s exactly the age. But you were weaned on some pretty abstract humor, right, by your mom?

DS: Yeah. When we were young, my mother had a truck-stop waitress’s sense of humor. So when we were kids saying “fuck,” she was on board … and farts were funny too. But she established a lot of it.

JD: The thing of it is, important comedy comes from somewhere. It’s built in and, as I remember reading, essentially by the age of 3 years old, we’re cooked, we’re done—that’s who we are. So that was built into you. The timing was built in, because you don’t learn that shit now. You just don’t learn it now … it’s lost.

DS: The one thing I’ve learned is, I never try to analyze it. I don’t know why the fuck I do, I just do. And it works …. You don’t know why you are what you are—stop fucking asking questions when you’re just throwing darts at the answers.

JD: Yeah, Hunter Thompson very wisely said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” People are so afraid of the ride, or so hooked on the result of the ride—

DS: Or the meaning to the ride.

JD: That’s exactly it. What I hope is that—right before that hideous, God-awful moment of the funny face and just “Toodle-oo!”—they don’t have the thought: “Aw shit, none of this meant anything. I labored, I worried, I searched, I prayed—I did all this. It’s all horseshit …. ”

DS: I have no answers, but every day I wish I could have the same point of view for any 24-hour period. I wish I was in some system where I don’t constantly question myself.

JD: Well, of course. But I think it’s a good thing that you don’t necessarily audit—I can’t see you holding back. I mean, I don’t remember you telling me about any performance that you just felt was an absolute dog. I can’t see you saying, “All right, I’m sorry,” or whatever. I just see you plowing through.

DS: Oh, no, there were lots of fucking tragic messes coming up. (Laughs) I mean, it took a lot of failures to beat this kind of callus onto my back. Those are still the funniest stories. No one lays back in their chaise lounge and goes, “Hey, remember that time I killed in Cincinnati?” No, you talk about the beatings. Kind of like war veterans.

JD: Sure. It’s sort of like when I did my first few movies—in my mind, I was still a musician, so I never really made a conscious decision to become an actor. It just happened because I needed dough, and I was asked to audition for something, and I did and I got it. You know, it was just a weird cycle of events.

DS: Yes. Sometimes I understand why people would hate you: “Yeah, I was trying to be in a band, but I had to do ‘movie star’ as my side gig.”

JD: Yeah—and again, I will never be the fucking whiny actor going, “Oh, poor fucking me.” You know, people want to take their photograph with you. When they stop wanting to take a photograph with you, that’s when you should fucking worry, I suppose, in this racket.

DS: I say the same thing about weed. People always try to palm me weed when I’m always talking about how I don’t smoke weed. But they always try to … and when they stop offering me weed, then I’m going to feel kind of out of touch, like: “What did I do wrong that you won’t offer me drugs that I don’t do?” Because I’ll trade those drugs out for drugs that I do do.

JD: What is your relationship with marijuana these days?

DS: I gave marijuana every possible opportunity to work for me ever since I was 13—and now I’m 50. I remember being a kid, skipping school and smoking weed and going home and just having the bed spins, hiding from my dad when he came home early from work … and up until a couple years ago, eating brownies: “Well, no, if you eat this edible, it’s different.” It’s never different. Some people, weed doesn’t work for. Joe Rogan—I smoked some of his [pot]. Joe Rogan is the most radical, hard-core weed smoker—like I am as an alcoholic. I can sometimes drink 20 drinks in a night and still maintain. Rogan can smoke this monster weed, where I just took a hit and fell apart—to the point where he had to tweet people that were at the show: “Sorry about Doug Stanhope’s performance. I’m to blame. #weedforeveryone.”

JD: (Laughs) Okay, this is a weird question, because I don’t know how to do this at all. I’ve tried like hell, but it just doesn’t work for me yet. Do you have the ability to unwind? If you do, how the fuck do you do it? Because I’d like to know.

DS: It’s [hard], because there’s always something that needs to be done, and you know this. But three years ago, I did my own personal rehab. I have an old vintage trailer on my property, and I sat in it for 30 days. Two drinks a day, no smoking, because I was trying to quit smoking—that’ll kill me long before alcohol does. We podcasted every day, even if it was just 10 minutes, and I’d put out how it was going, and it was good.

JD: Did you find yourself a bit jumpy?

DS: (Laughs) Jumpy, yes, but if you tell people, “Listen, I’m going to rehab,” they think it’s dire straits. No, I just need you to stop fucking calling me. I need to make it sound dire because, if I say, “Hey, I’m starting to get in better health,” they go, ‘Well, fuck you. Jimmy’s only in town for two days. You’ve got to drink with us!” So if you say “rehab,” they go: “Oh, you must be dying!” You have to bring it to extremes before people stop fucking with you. So I was in my own rehab for 30 days. But I felt so much better. I didn’t wake up every day thinking about dying. I felt great. So, yeah, I go on rehabs.

JD: (Laughs)

DS: Let’s do the worst sitcom ever … just for fun.

JD: I could do that in my sleep.

DS: There’s a lot of money in it. You can have it—I’d just like to be part of a fucking prank. I just want to fuck stuff up. Not in a suicide-vest kind of way, but just to goof on this whole stupid fucking industry.

JD: Exactly—

DS: I’ll do it high. I just want to be the guy that’s awkwardly high in every episode. I get high and I can’t talk to anybody. But out of respect for High Times, I’ll get high in every episode and then I won’t say shit. Because that wouldn’t be acting.

JD: Well, you’d have to actually get high, though.

DS: Yeah, I know. That way, I wouldn’t have to act—I’d just sit there paralyzed and wouldn’t make eye contact.

JD: (Laughs) Here’s another question that I’d really love to know your answer to. Since coming up the ranks and everything, people kept talking about this thing “success,” and it confused me. I really didn’t understand success. I couldn’t quite get a visual of it, or a feeling of what it was supposed to be. I didn’t know what any of it meant. Do you have a visual for success? What does it look like to you?

DS: I think I have, like, 12 or 14 albums out, and I think it’s the second one where I talked about people saying, “Hey, keep with it. You’re going to make it someday.” And I said, “I thought I already did … I’m doing comedy for a living.”

JD: Right.

DS: Comedy fucked me in that I never had an adulthood. It stole that from me. I started it at 23 and now I’m 50, and all I do for a living is get drunk and yell at people. I never get to be an adult. Yeah, I’ve been a kid my whole stupid life.

JD: One of the most brilliant things you said in No Refunds was, “You die at the end, stupid. Didn’t anybody tell you?”

DS: If I had a catchphrase, that would be it: “You die at the end.” You’re worrying about fucking minor shit, and so-and-so said something over the other side of the cubicle about your work ethic? You’re dead at the end. Is that what you’re going to worry about?

Q&A with High Times 

High Times: What do you think of the current cannabis-legalization trend?

Doug Stanhope: I think it’s destroying a great black-market economy for people who were otherwise unemployable. You used to buy your weed from Sean at his bachelor apartment behind Applebee’s next to the fire station. You were happy, Sean was happy. Then all of a sudden they’re selling weed at Walgreen’s, and anyone with a planter’s wart or a bad haircut can get a medical marijuana card. Now Sean is fucked: Not only is his under-the-table livelihood ripped out from under him; now he doesn’t even have those friends that used to pretend to like him. Sure, he can still sell weed, but he’ll have to do it at Walgreen’s wearing a blue smock and a nametag for nine bucks an hour before taxes … if he can pass the drug test, that is.

HT: Do you think the Trump administration will halt the progress of marijuana-law reform?

DS: Are you seriously asking me to predict what the current administration might do? Are you fucking high? Trump might tweet that he’ll implement the death penalty for having paraphernalia at 3:30 a.m., and then at a noontime press conference deny ever tweeting it.

HT: Do you have any desire to get involved in the cannabis industry?

DS: If I were money-motivated, I would spread insidious lies that marijuana is dangerous and addictive and leads to dancing with white women, that your children are at risk of riding that freight train straight into hell or an opium den. Then I’d parlay that fear into a chain of overpriced “rehab” centers that can cure them and shake Satan from their souls. But I am not that ambitious. I am a drunk.

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