The Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene has, of late, started to get its due as a rival to New York’s legendary set of clubs. Increasingly, comics that aren’t even acting or writing on a show, have made Los Angeles their home. It’s also true that sketch improv groups are legion in the city, which also plays host to iconic clubs like The Comedy Store and Laugh Factory. Still, New York City is the traditional powerhouse.
Doug Stanhope knows a thing or two about the local flavor. The 50-year-old lived in L.A. for the better part of a decade before fleeing to Bisbee, Ariz. Despite being nearly 600 miles east, Stanhope remains a beloved and well-connected figure in Tinsletown.
Now, he’s curating a special on comedy streaming platform Seeso. Billed as The Comedians’ Comedian’s Comedians, Stanhope called upon his pals like Brendon Walsh, Morgan Murphy, and Glenn Wool. Together, Stanhope loosely included pals who represent the L.A. stand-up scene. The special was filmed at South-by-Southwest in March.
“That festival makes me crazy,” he says. “There’s crowds and crowds of hipsters and the show was in a small room, which I usually would like, but it was all industry fucks, which was the worst audience ever. Besides that, for a guy who hadn’t been on-stage for six months, what can I complain about?”
Sporting his trademark slightly disheveled jacket, tie and untucked shirt, Stanhope gets after it from the jump. His rough, yet cynical bits about the election — in particular voting for Gary Johnson — murder, and a passage from his upcoming book landed as well as they could have in front of the unusual audience.
“If I were to do it again, I’d have to write specifically for hosting,” he says. “My bits run 20 minutes long. I don’t have shit to interject between acts. A lot of my friends are great comics, but they’re terrible hosts, and you don’t want them to open. A lot of the time I’ll go out and welcome everyone to the show and get the bullshit out of the way and bring up the next comic and end up headlining as well.”
Outside of the streaming network selecting the time and place for the recording, Stanhope was heavily involved in cultivating the special’s lineup. Instead of lauding this as some noble championing of a revived West Coast stand-up scene, Stanhope attributed his selection to people he knows and — more importantly — likes. He gave the network a short list of names of comedians and from that, selected Walsh, Murphy and Wool. “I don’t know how they picked them out of the ones I gave him or they were just the ones available or money, who knows,” he muses.
Longtime Stanhope pal Johnny Depp executive produced the special. Though there’s an admiration from the actor to the comedian (“I don’t see him asking me to produce any of his shit,” Stanhope says), the two are better buds than business colleagues. In fact, a photo of the two, along with Ryan Adams, Kerry Mitchell and Brett Erickson backstage at the Comedy Store — where they saw Murphy perform — made the rounds last year, publicly cementing their friendship. “He keeps putting his name on shit that I film and it helps, I guess,” Stanhope says. It doesn’t hurt that Depp lives five minutes away from Stanhope’s favored L.A. spot, the Comedy Store, either.
Stanhope’s familiarity and comfort with the L.A. scene, with the Comedy Store serving as home turf, allowed him to befriend up-and-coming comics. Whenever he swings by the Store, Stanhope is treated as a returning hero, which has as much to do with the respect he garners from his contemporaries and the newer faces.
“I’m there just enough that when I go to the Store, it’s fucking amazing,” he says. “I see a million people I haven’t seen in years and there’s such a scene at the Store right now like nothing else. I’ve never seen a scene like the Store has right now.”
Mentioning sets by big timers like David Spade, Chris Rock, Dom Irrera, all of which he saw when he was in town last, Stanhope praises how places like the Store continue to be fertile ground for both up-and-comers and veterans.
“That was kind of the point of the special is that I gave all names of people who aren’t as well-known as they should be,” he says. “That was the point of Doug Stanhope and friends.”
Murphy and Walsh are two of Stanhope’s favorite comedians as a writer and stand-up, respectively. As they’ve become staples in the L.A. and popular follows on Twitter, the duo haven’t translated that degree of success into touring and gigging. The Comedians’ Comedian’s Comedians, thus, offers them the opportunity to go beyond their day jobs as writers. “I prefer they be on my schedule, but I don’t have their bills,” Stanhope jokes. But does know the potential boost that a special like this can have for their careers.
“There’s a lot of good comedy out there,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years and I remember long droughts of horrible comedians ruling the roost, like Dane Cook.”
With a new special slated to be released on Halloween, Stanhope is continuing to forge ahead with his own material. Unlike the half-baked stuff that wasn’t fully fleshed out for The Comedians’ Comedian’s Comedians, new material will be prevalent throughout. This special may ultimately serve as something to get Stanhope back in the action on a personal level, his attachment to the comedians he’s helping promote. As much as Stanhope unsurprisingly despised the sterile nature of this special, there was an element that he did enjoy.
“The best part is always great hanging out with other comedians,” he says. “Festivals or the Comedy Store, it doesn’t matter. My friends are the funniest people in the world and that’s the only downside of living where I live. There is no comedy there, and you get spoiled when you go to L.A. and your friends are some of the funniest people in the world.”