Doug Stanhope is known for many things- he’s one of the world’s best and most most interesting stand up comedians. When you talk about being a no-bullshit, tell it like it is stand up, you would be hard pressed to find someone who fits that bill more precisely than Stanhope. Doug is a two-time winner of Time Out New York’s “Best Comedy Performance of the Year”, his specials are infamous, and his performance are known for taking the word unapologetic to levels that make dictionaries feel inadequate. That energy rolls directly from his personal life, which is filled with stories of excess, and outrageousness, shocking situations and even more unorthodox responses to those situations, which is why Doug’s books about his life are riveting. Sex, drugs and rock and roll are deeply embedded in every part of his stories- personal and professional. His two books both made it our list of the top ten books of the year- in years where competition was stiff, and both years, our readers voted him #1. Both books became undeniably great audio books, because Doug believed in making them great- reading them himself and making them conversational. When it came time to record his second audio book, he thought long and hard about how to make it even better- involving his band of friends in the recording.
Now Doug is coming back with a third book, but this time, he’s taking it straight to Audible, creating it specifically for that medium and it promises to be as fucked up and electric as the two prior achievements. If this goes half as well as it sounds, we know we can reserve space for him right at the top of our list once again.
Titled End of the World, the upcoming book will take a deep dive into the worst year of Stanhope’s life. It was supposed to be a breakout year for him. His first book was coming out, a new comedy special was in the works and his friend Johnny Depp had agreed to back a comedy pilot that Doug was about to start filming. Then everything fell apart. A cruise to kick off the year ended with Doug’s partner of 11 years, Bingo, catching him in bed with another woman. Bingo confesses that she, too, has met someone else – a vagabond musician named Washtub Willie – and she’s moving in with him. This was only to be the first domino falling into what became a seemingly endless string of failures, breakdowns and misadventures that would test the limits of all involved.
The disastrous pilot filming, Bingo going missing only to wind up in a mental hospital, a besotted book tour, a lawsuit, an unexpected surgery, a tour through some of the USA’s most decrepit and dangerous cities, allied to a lot of bad decisions, bad business and bad company, all on an epic bender of alcohol, stimulants, heartbreak and hedonism. And when it couldn’t possibly get worse, Doug would find himself trying to keep his love alive both figuratively and literally. Set against the backdrop of the 2016 election, End of the World is the story of the wildest year on record and a classic love story from the inebriated mind and tenderized heart of an acclaimed “comedian’s comedian”.
I spoke with Stanhope while he was still working on the book about that year. In the midst of delving into these personal devastating events, we chatted about the process, the stories, and being a great author. The key, he found, was being conversational, and it was during the recording of the audio versions that he discovered that. “Both those books,” he explained, “the audio was so much better than the book and my audience frankly, not big readers.” He’s referring of course to Digging Up Mother, a Love Story and This is Not Fame.. “Yeah. Absolutely. I get too writer-y at times. I’m saying too much. I get too deep in the thesaurus.com looking for fancy words. Just shut up and get to the point. They know when you’re fucking faking it.” The disdain for “faking it” keeps Stanhope fascinating even to an audience who aren’t typically “readers.”
Those of you who follow Stanhope’s career will find the title to be familiar. It comes from a podcast he did in 2016 on the eve of the election with Joe Rogan, Bill Burr and others, live from The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. “[The story] ends up there. That was the night before that…. It was my wife’s 40th birthday party that she went into the coma and I still went to do the show. I don’t cancel shows. I was out of my mind. So yeah, that End Of The World podcast was happening while we were waiting on a phone call to see if she was going to live.”
He chose this year to write about it because, he said, “it was so perfectly bookended into a year of this every fucked up thing. The last book was mostly road stories and life in comedy. This was a perfect year of that. Everything that went wrong and all the stories. This was a succinct year of tragic comedy.” Which of course, will make a fascinating read.
Stanhope’s fans are familiar with parts of the story- he’s always been pretty open about talking about his life on his podcast and as a guest on other shows. But there will be many elements that nobody has heard before. “There’s a lot of stuff there I couldn’t even talk about on the podcast– that I’ve never talked about.” Nothing writing this book is easy for him, or for Bingo or her family. But she’s on board with the project, at least as much as she can be. Her memory he says, is pretty vague, pretty thin, but he shares passages with her as he writes. “If there’s one thing she didn’t lose it’s her ego. If it’s about her, she loves it. I had to get her parents down and I Connie Chunged them onto the podcast,” he said. “I wanted to get all of their memories of the month in the hospital. But I got them off mics. I can go back and listen to it later when I’m writing about that. But it was great. Stuff I had completely forgotten. And afterwards, I said you know using that for the audio book, right? But my point was that Bingo was in the room for a lot of it and to hear her mother talking about a lot of this was really hard for her because her mother was breaking up. So yeah, when I talk to her, there’s not a lot of tears. It’s all goof. But yeah, she still has difficulty, blame issues.”
All of this went on with the background of Trump being elected President, something he says didn’t phase him much at all. “It was pretty fucked up, but the whole Trump election didn’t phase me, and it still doesn’t really. The timing of it put so many things in perspective immediately. My wife is going to die. Who gives a fuck who the president is? No matter how ridiculous, it’s not going to affect my life.”
Doug’s first book, Digging Up Mother: A Love Story also dove deep into complicated and tragic events- his mothers death, an event he helped her to realize with the assistance of morphine, at the end of a painful terminal illness. In some ways, he says, this new book is more difficult. For one thing, the events are recent “The scabs are still there,” he explained. “I’m getting into that part of the writing. So I’ve sequestered myself in Tucson away from as many distractions as possible and yeah. It’ll be a lot of ugly nights with a bottle of Bushmills. In other ways it wasn’t as difficult. He had some experience this time around.. “Mother was definitely the harder one, memory wise and just having never written a book, just figuring out a process. This one I thought I knew what I was doing and now I’m still not fucking doing it. But again, I have a lot more places to research. I was just going through my tweets of that year– “Oh fuck, that happened, too. That was the same fucking year” — so I have a lot more tools than Digging Up Mother. That was a lot of going through actual photographs from tubs in the crawl space and old report cards. It wasn’t as easy as a Google search.”
.Writing doesn’t come easy for Doug. In fact, when we spoke, he was still struggling with putting it together. It was December. The draft was due in January. He had taken the summer to write it, but ended up with about 12 pages in three months. “A lot of this stuff is definitely going to have to wait until last minute,” he confided. But he’s excited about doing this book for Audible. Audio books have always been interesting to him and in fact, he says they changed his life when they were still called “Books on Tape” and were actual audio cassettes. “Back when I lived on the road, driving 80 hours between runs you’d go to Flying J truck stops. They had what’s called Audio Adventures where you could rent them from one truck stop and return them at another. That was back before satellite radio or anything, so you had radio when you were in a city for a limited time only and you’re listening to fuzz between Casper, Wyoming, and Billings, Montana. So yeah. That changed my life when I found those. Truck stops, they’re catering to truck drivers so your pickins were slim if you didn’t want to listen to Louis L’Amour or some Vietnam green beret novel. So yeah. I’d find as much nonfiction as I could. But I would have never read 26 hours of Crime And Punishment by Dostoevsky if it wasn’t for Books on Tape.”
The key then, he said, was narration, something that remains true today and is guiding him throughout the writing process. “I remember getting A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking; it starts with Stephen Hawking doing it himself. So I listened to about three minutes. I’m not fucking listening to a computer talk.” A few more comments about favorite audio books and remarks about how Stephen King reads his own books and swallows his L’s and Stanhope has to return to working on the book, with his deadline looming.
With two must-read books behind him, End of the World has a lot to live up to, and we can’t wait to check it out.