Like a latter-day George Carlin or Sam Kinison, comedian Doug Stanhope is as obscene as he is insightful, as wickedly funny as he is gleefully provocative.
Stanhope on overpopulation: "If you want to do something to help Mother Earth, try sodomy. Sodomy is eco-friendly, and abortion is green."
Fresh off three weeks of shows in England, back home in Bisbee, Ariz., Stanhope, 43, talked to CP about why British audiences rule -- and why he's doing just one night, Thu., Sept. 30, at the Pittsburgh Improv.
So, the Brits?
They're great audiences, and they're smart, and they're attentive. They understand. They pay more than here. It's much better than being here. I explain that to them as a bit: "You're everyone I should want to be with. You're the perfect person. I just need to be with a whore in Tampa right now. I know they won't laugh, those barrooms in America -- but that's where I like to be."
Why the difference?
They're smarter because they kinda have to be. They're more cultured. They're always talking about how they're much more well-read. Well, you have really shitty television [in England]. And as you get more Americanized, when you have 300 channels of cable TV, DVR where you can record, and fast-forward through commercials -- yeah, you're gonna stop picking up fuckin' books.
Do you do different material there?
All the stuff you resort to over here to get a laugh when you're over the heads of the crowd would get you groans over there. You try to dumb down your material over there -- everything an American audience wants from me that I'm reluctant to give them because I'm trying to step it up a notch is everything [Brits] won't even tolerate.
Just basic smut: "All right, let's get into the fist-fuck jokes, 'cause this whole bit on BP oil isn't quite taking."
Is it discouraging to come home?
It is. But at the same time it's very comforting to know that I know how to do that here. I never have to worry when I go onstage here. I can throw a show in the toilet if I want to. But if need to kill for any reason -- if I've done ecstasy the night before and my serotonin has dipped so low that I can't tolerate the blank stares, I can go into that folder in my head and kill. ... I just hopefully don't have to do that too often.
What in the national news gets your goat lately?
The guy burining the fucking Koran -- how is that a story? That's like if I decided to do that to promote my comedy. I'm going to have an international day of burning the Koran. How is this fucking international news? How are people in Afghanistan getting this story? They live in mud huts yet they're out burning American flags in protest of a church nobody's ever heard of -- including probablay people who live within blocks of that church never heard of it.
On your web site, you wrote a long essay about comedy classes. What's that about?
It came to a head because this Louie Anderson class is becoming a touring, heavily promotoed thing. There's always been some guy at a community college, or some washed-up cruise-ship comic who now he has a wife and has to stay home, so he puts a blurb in the newspaper, index card at the comedy club. But it wasn't a fraud on a mass level like this.
Your argument is, you can't teach comedy?
You can't be effective. If you go throught the beats of their course, which I did, you're doing everything you would not want a newcomer to do. "Oh, we're going to make a tape of you, and send it out to all these booking agents ..." You don't want to do that when you're brand-new. The last thing anyone wants is for someone to see a tape of them when they've been doing comedy for five days.
You can teach someone to do comedy like you do it. I would have told Dane Cook to quit comedy and go sell shoes. He's not funny. To me, that's what I think. So how could I possibly teach a comedy class effectively?
How did you learn how to do comedy?
By failing miserably. That's the only way you learn. You write, perform, fail, rewrite, repeat. And you keep doing that. To assume that you could teach someone, anyone to be funny ... anyone's 400 dollars is good. That's like saying I can teach an audience to like any comedian. "If I just spend enough time with this audience, they'll learn why this comedian's funny."
You've played Pittsburgh before?
I've only been there once and I did a full week at the Improv, which I don't do any more. I have a very niche audience. I do have stuff with social relevance, and I do have fist-fuck jokes and brutal, crude humor. I mix it well, but comedy clubs attract people who have no idea what they're coming to see, as though comedy is just one product.
Like if you have a club to see music: "Oh, I like music!" Tonight its punk rock and tomorrow it's bagpipes. So they tend to book comedians that are at least somewhat middle-of-the-road to appeal to the pedestrian who comes in because they have a coupon.
So if I do seven shows, I'll get a small portion of my crowd there every night, and then a bunch of people going, "What the fuck is this?"
Doug Stanhope 8 p.m. Thu., Sept. 30 Pittsburgh Improv, 166 E. Bridge St., West Homestead. $20. 412-462-5233 or www.improv.com