If I had to describe legendary comedian Doug Stanhope in one word, that word would be “tolerant,” mainly because he tolerates me.
Doug is known for being a one-time potential libertarian presidential candidate, once hosting a Girls Gone Wild tape, and for temporarily co-hosting The Man Show with Joe Rogan, but mostly he’s built a reputation over 20 years as one of the most uncompromising and respected stand-up comics in the galaxy.
I first met him about a dozen years ago after he did a set at Dante’s in Portland. As we sat around the green room after the show, a hippie acquaintance of his—who is now doing hard time in a Brazilian prison on drug charges—brought in a dry used plastic yogurt cup full of absurdly potent psychedelic mushrooms. They were passed around and eaten, and about a half-hour later as we sat in Mary’s Strip Club with our faces beginning to melt, my girlfriend of the time got a phone call from a friend who was threatening to kill himself.
I politely excused myself and explained why to Doug. And he was cool about it. He understood. It was then that I realized he’s probably the type of guy who has had to interrupt a psychedelic experience to deal with a suicide threat.
I also attended his desert party in Death Valley in June 2005. We again did mushrooms—Doug was also snorting Ritalin, but I demurred, seeing as how speed is horrible for my combination skin. At one point I stood under a lamp outside the motel staring as a swarm of bats were circling it. I openly speculated about their race and sexuality. I concluded that the bats were Mexicans but preferred being called “Latino” and that they were straight—but if you were gay, they didn’t have a problem with it.
Again, there Doug was, being tolerant as all get-out. He was open to hearing alternative views about ethnicity and sexuality in the bat kingdom.
Likewise, the material he covers in his act is wide-ranging and, uh, rather broad in what it embraces. If I had to pick my favorite stand-up bit of his, it’s a three-way tie between how he “didn’t exactly” say Irish women were too ugly to rape, how he defamed Jews just so he could get publicity like Mel Gibson, and his legal argument that he should be able to watch child porn because he finds it hilarious.
If you’re unfamiliar with him, his No Refunds special from 2007 is a good primer:
My favorite candid moment of his is when, surrounded by other comics, he rips into an uber-pious Janeane Garofalo, who would have gone on solemnly jabbering about politics forever if left unrestrained. Doug tells me they cut out the most vicious parts, but at 2:02 of this video he suddenly breaks his silence to ask her, “Do you still give a shit about all that politics?”
After nearly a decade since I’d last seen him, our ships crossed again last week as he passed through Atlanta for two shows at the Improv. This was the first time we didn’t do any drugs (or at least he didn’t offer to share any), and also the first time I met his longtime girlfriend and life partner, Amy “Bingo” Bingaman. Doug mentioned during one of his routines at the Improv that Bingo is “papered” as a certified mentally ill person, and online accounts describe her as schizophrenic, bipolar, and paranoid. I’m pretty sure she and Doug met right after she was released from a mental hospital, but then again it seems rude to ask, but come to think of it, probably not any more rude than it is to speculate openly in public like I’m doing right now, so all I’ll say is that she was very nice, smart, and funny.
During the first of his two nights at the Improv as things were winding down after the show, a giant meat-headed dudebro stepped into the green room’s doorway and rather intimidatingly asked Doug if he was, indeed, Doug Stanhope the comedian. Bingo initially slammed the door shut on the intruder, but then Doug asked her to open the door again to see who it was. It turned out to be former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who is possibly known more for making racially and, um, homosexually insensitive comments about New Yorkers than he is for being a baseball player.
Doug invited him in, and for about a half-hour, that walking steroid named John Rocker held the room in thrall. He was unexpectedly hilarious and quick-witted. Even one of Doug’s opening comics, who hated Rocker not only for his racial comments but also because he was a Mets fan, wound up being won over. Rocker seems sort of like Ted Nugent, where even interviewers who admit they were prepared to hate him found him frustratingly likable.
Again, there were Doug and Bingo—two beacons of tolerance—tolerating me and John Rocker, two men known for being intolerant. How do they do it?
The next night Rocker was supposed to join us for Doug’s podcast but flaked out, so me and Doug recorded a little over an hour, interspersed with comments from Bingo and Doug’s tour manager Greg Chaille. We covered topics such as obsessive fans, offensiveness, prison, brain surgery, and libertarianism. You can listen to the whole podcast HERE.
Doug and his crew are now headed West for more tour dates, breaking every taboo while tolerating everything in their path. Fools don’t know but wise men understand that breaking taboos and being tolerant are highly correlated. They might even be the same thing.