Doug Benson is leading a new wave of cannabis comedians spreading the word both through his TV exploits and his web presence.
By Tyler Davidson
There may not be any single comic more readily associated with marijuana than Doug Benson. In 2004, Benson co-created The Marijuana-Logues, an off-Broadway show in the style ofThe Vagina Monologues. Three years later, the former Best Week Evercommentator churned out another parody, this time taking a cue from Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, in which Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days straight; so it was that Super High Me came into being, where Benson smoked every day for a month straight, chronicling the effects that it had on him. Now, the comedian is experiencing a surge in popularity, having just wrapped up the first season of his new Comedy Central series The Benson Interruption and amassing a legion of fans on the Web, both through his (very active) presence on Twitter and his numerous podcasts. CULTURE recently caught up with Doug to discuss why he’s one of the nation’s foremost cannabis comics.
How would you say The Benson Interruption has been received thus far?
People seem to like it. We did six of them, and they have all aired, so now I’m just waiting for Comedy Central to decide if they want to make more.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews how, when you first began doing The Benson Interruption in a live format, doing it with comics you didn’t know could get ugly. Any specific stories relating to that?
Not really. Basically, whenever I did it with a comic that I wasn’t particularly friends with or didn’t know very well, they would sort of turn into a…every time I would interrupt, they would sort of try to fire back with some sort of insult. They’d treat it more like we were trying to one up each other, rather than just trying to have fun together and just kind of crack each other up. I haven’t made that mistake very often, because, especially for the TV show, I made sure it was all comedy friends of mine who I knew I would have a good rapport with.
You squeezed a lot of comics into the first season, are there any you didn’t get a chance to do it with that you’d like to?
Oh yeah. There’s definitely some that didn’t make it in. I’d say I’m probably friends with about 100 comedians, maybe more, and you know, we only used… [Pauses] Three times six is 18…[laughs] in those first episodes, so yeah, there’s lots more. Patton Oswalt wanted to do it, but we just, scheduling-wise, couldn’t make that happen, then there’s lots of other ones.
A big part of the show is your Tweet-offs, and aside from that, you’re pretty well known for your activity on Twitter. What would you say are some of the best and worst things about Twitter?
Well the best thing is that I’ve really genuinely made some new friends and connections through Twitter, and that’s pretty awesome when that happens. The downside is just that, especially as a happy-go-lucky stoner comedian, I just like to read the nice stuff, but unfortunately, if you wanna read all the nice stuff that people are writing about you, you also have to read the negative stuff. It’s weird how quickly sometimes someone will turn on you. It just happened to me today, where someone wrote some comment to me and I wrote back, “Thanks,” and they wrote back something like, something complimenting me further, then I wrote back again, and then they wrote something that I didn’t really understand, and I wrote back, “What did that mean?” and then they wrote back something else, and next thing you know, I’m like having this kind of back-and-forth and it seems like, “Oh, this person doesn’t know that I’ve got other things to do.” So then I kind of said, “Could you please not mention me so much? Just because I read everything that people write about me so I can write back to people,” and then it just kind of turns this corner where the guy starts going like, “Well you’re not funny anyway and all you talk about is pot and you should write a new joke,” like all these things started flooding out. And it’s amazing how quick someone can turn from a fan to a hater just if you don’t give them exactly what it is they’re looking for from you in terms of response. So that aspect of it can be pretty frustrating, but ultimately it’s pretty cool that there’s that outlet for me to not only tell jokes and plug my upcoming projects on Twitter, but also to hear back from people. There’s never really been anything like that, because certainly you’d never give out your phone number or your e-mail address, but if you’re on Twitter, you’re just on there, and you can see what people have to say.
Right, Twitter has almost become a breeding ground for new material.
Well it’s a great place for me to try out jokes. When I think of a joke, I’ll usually Tweet it and then just sort of sit back and see how many people Re-Tweet it, or if people write back and say, “That’s stupid” or whatever. It’s definitely a real nice sounding board for what could potentially work some other way. Either in my stand up comedy act or one of my podcasts or something.
What would you say are some of the best and worst things about the current landscape of comedy, so to speak?
Well I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in comedy outside of my own experience. Sometimes I see stand up on TV or there’s other comics going on before or after me in a club, but for the most part, I haven’t necessarily spotted any trends, other than kind of a do-it-yourself attitude. A lot of young people, a lot of young comics have kind of figured out that if they put on a show and they get a quote-unquote “name,” you know, a bigger act, to participate, they can sort of get the opportunity to open for a well-known comedian. That’s worked out pretty cool in some cases. Like this one guy out in Oklahoma City contacted my representatives, my personal appearance agent, and said, “We’d love it if Doug Benson came out and performed in Oklahoma, we’ve got a venue, we’ll charge X number of dollars for people to get in and we’ll give Doug a certain amount of money,” so then when I got there, I went with my buddy Graham Elwood and we both did sets, but then the guy who put it all together, he hosted the show, and he actually turned out to be a pretty good comedian, and then he did more shows like that with other comedians. It’s just a smart way to get the opportunity to work in front of a crowd and also work with somebody you like. I think there’s gonna be a lot more of that sort of thing, especially because of social networking, because of Twitter and Facebook. When you put on a show, you can let lots of people know about it, and then especially if you get someone involved like me or something, I mean, I’m not telling people to start banging down my door now to do shows for them, but basically, if you could make that happen, then that’s a great way to get more people to hear about you and your show and your venue because you can take advantage of the Twitter following that they have. Because, I mean, the guy doing the show could only have a few hundred, a few thousand followers, but I’ve got over a hundred thousand followers, so like, I can get the word out to an even bigger number of people, and certainly people outside of the area where they live. You get the idea.
Do you have any up-and-coming comics you’re keeping an eye on?
Well that’s the thing, I just know the comics that I’ve been friends with for a while. I meet a new comic like every once in a while. I worked in…I was in Orlando, Florida recently, and there was this young guy named Nick Pupo…P-U-P-O, and he’s as funny as his name sounds, he’s a funny guy. [Laughs] But that’s just because he was just like the local opener that opened for me and the guy that travels around with me. So I saw him, but more often, the shows are just like…I sort of put them together, so I’m not necessarily seeing young, new acts as frequently as I should. One way I [used to] see a lot of new people and sometimes use them on my shows, [was] through…when Last Comic Standing was on, but I think that show’s done for good this time. I know it’s been on and off, but I think it’s done for good. So I won’t be able to necessarily use that as a way to see new comics, because it’s mostly just Comedy Central at this point, and if somebody’s already on TV, then they’re not necessarily so new and young, because it really takes a while to get that first TV spot.
You’re also known for your Doug Loves Movies podcast…what’s your pick for Best Picture this year?
Well my personal pick for Best Picture is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, with a special honorable mention to Kick-Ass. But if I had to go with the kinds of movies that are more realistically going to get awards, I really liked The Social Network, as did all the critics. I thought that was a really good movie. A few of the other ones that are big contenders, I enjoyed quite a bit. I liked The Fighter. The King’s Speech was good. There’s been some solid movies. Nothing that really excites me in the way that those first two I mentioned [did], Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass. To me, those movies are what I look for in a movie, and also movies that I can watch over and over again. Like, as much as I appreciate The King’s Speech, I’ll probably never watch that again. Social Network, on the other hand, I think that goes both ways. I think it’s a very well-crafted, smart kind of awards-winning kind of movie, but I also find it pretty enjoyable to watch. I’ve seen that one a few times.
On the other hand, do you have any predictions for what might take home Worst Picture at the Razzies?
The thing I’ve been doing lately is…if a movie doesn’t look like it would be something I would enjoy, I don’t go. Because I’ve seen so many bad movies over the years, and I used to go and think it was fun to just laugh at bad movies, but now I just sort of sit there and cringe and get kind of mad and wonder, “Why did this get made?” [Laughs] So it’s less fun. There have been plenty of bad movies throughout history that I don’t really need to seek out new ones in order to have something to make fun of. But, on the other hand, I will say that if one of these bad movies shows up on the screen on an airplane, I might check it out. Like I saw…I think one of the worst movies last year was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Nicolas Cage. Because no amount of weed can help to make how pointless and nonsensical the movie is worth while. When I saw it, my mouth was hanging open because I couldn’t understand how that movie was made and who it was made for. It was the weirdest cross between a kids’ movie and an adults’ movie where neither audience seems to be serviced. It doesn’t seem to be for kids or adults. And I think that’s one of the problems with the marketing on Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass, is that those movies worked the same way. Then when you actually see them, they’re great. Because I get so many people on Twitter saying “Thank you for going on and on about how much you liked Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim, because I didn’t think that movie was for me until you wouldn’t shut up about it, and then I decided to check it out.” Then they say they really liked it.
How would you say “coming out” as a pot smoker, so to speak, affected your career?
Well I’ve been pretty honest about it from the beginning because I was kind of a late bloomer on pot smoking. I didn’t really start until I was 28, and then once I got going, once I got into it, I think I was just talking about it onstage pretty frequently and pretty early, just because that’s where my act comes from, just stuff that’s going on in my life, and weed has certainly been a big part of my life, so I have been talking about it for years. That’s what kind of led to a couple of other comedians, Tony Camin and Arj Barker, coming to me with the idea of doing the Marijuana-logues. Once I did that, that was a real big coming out, because we toured around the country with it for a few years, then we played in New York for a year, off-Broadway, and then we didmore shows on the road, sometimes with Tommy Chong sitting in and playing one of the parts. Once that happened, that really did kind of put me out there as a pot smoker. Then, of course,Super High Me took it to a whole other level. But…what was the question? [Laughs]
How has being associated with marijuana affected your career?
Well that’s the thing, by talking honestly about pot, I think it just became clear to me that it was a subject that people were interested in and, like, laughing about and talking about in a way where they didn’t necessarily have to feel ashamed or stupid or like they’re some sort of drug addict just because they smoke pot. There’s so many people that feel that way. So it helps my career immeasurably to speak about it, because sure, there’s lots of comedians that talk about marijuana, but there’s something about how I just sort of live a life of…I have my medical card in California and I smoke every day, and to speak about that openly doesn’t seem to be…there’s still some kind of taboo feeling to it. Certainly, some people wouldn’t want to be labeled as a “pot comic.” But that’s why I’m lucky; I think my comedy, while I do speak about pot quite a bit, doesn’t have to solely be about marijuana as much as it’s just fueled by marijuana. I do plenty of shows where the subject doesn’t come up. Well, I shouldn’t say plenty. I never do a show where the subject doesn’t come up, but it’s not necessarily front and center. Sometimes it just gets a mention or sometimes I’m just high, which is, in and of itself, a positive promotion of marijuana use. That I can get up onstage and be somewhat coherent and tell funny jokes and everybody has a good time. You know, like sometimes, people will come up to me and say that they watched Super High Me with their parents, like they made their parents watch it just to kind of show them that marijuana’s not such a bad thing. And it seems to work.
Medically speaking, how does smoking help you?
Well I think…I’m just kind of a worrier in general, like I just worry about things. I can thank my mom for passing that down to me in my genes, because she was a super-worrier. So I feel like it just keeps me calm. But then, on a completely…not necessarily in a medical sense, it just helps with creativity. I mean, you can’t really go to the doctor and say, “Hey, I’m not being creative enough, I need weed,” you know? [Laughs] So you have to go with anxiety. It helps me sleep, things like…it helps me to come down and relax after a show or something. If I have to fly out early the next day or something, it helps me go to sleep. It helps me to sleep on planes as well. But to just point to any one medical reason, like I need it because I have a bad back or something like that, I think that’s not doing marijuana or medical marijuana justice. I think someone [that smokes], it enriches their life in some way. That’s what’s important. It’s not about curing specific ailments, although they keep saying all the time…they keep coming up with new things that marijuana can help. Now they’re saying it might stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. Which is awesome, that’s the thing about weed. It’s not like every other day, they’re discovering new things that alcohol can do for you. They’re finding out more and more how bad it is for you. Except for the occasional story about, “A glass of wine a day can help you…” What is it supposed to help you with? I don’t even remember.
It’s supposed to help decrease your chances of heart disease or something, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that’s always about…you know, it can help if it’s done in moderation, whereas with marijuana, you never hear, “So and so OD’d on marijuana,” or, “Someone blacked out because of marijuana,” or all the terrible things that can happen with other drugs and alcohol.
How long do you think it will be until total, full-on legalization?
I have no idea. I really have no idea, the way things are going now, even a supposed liberal president like Obama doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to legalize it. I think all politicians are scared of it, because it’s an issue that everyone’s somewhat divided on. And also, no one’s really pushing them to have an opinion one way or the other. It just seems like a political risk to come out and say you’re for or against it. [Laughs] So it’s like, you could lose half of your constituents just by saying you’re for or against marijuana, so why would they say anything? They’ve gotta keep it quiet. Even abortion they don’t really speak of very often these days. Like it comes out every once in a while, but it’s sort of like an unspoken thing, who’s for it and who’s against it. But I think, unlike abortion or gun laws or something like that, I think that everyone could be convinced that marijuana is not such a big deal, it just takes time. I don’t think everyone could be convinced that abortion and gun control are issues that people feel one way or the other about, and convincing somebody to change their mind [on those issues] seems very difficult. But I think people can be convinced that marijuana is no big deal, especially because of how it little it affects their lives. If I smoke a joint at home and watch a Law and Order marathon [laughs] or a marathon of anything, or if I just don’t even turn the TV on [and] just stare at it, who am I hurting, besides potentially myself? I want to tell old people that think, “Marijuana’s illegal, so it should stay illegal,” like their attitude is just to go with tradition and what’s always existed, but they don’t know the origins and why marijuana became illegal, and they also don’t understand that young people…if you told an old person, “Your grandchildren are going to try marijuana. They’re going to try it, they may like it, they may not like it, but they’re going to try it at some point. Do you want them to be incarcerated for trying that?” And the answer’s no! Of course not. Should anybody be incarcerated for something the last three Presidents of the United States have admitted to doing? They all tried it and they all had varying levels of success with it, [laughs] but they all admit to having tried it. What other law can three presidents all agree to having broken? [Laughs] Other than maybe like they’ve all driven too fast in a car, they’ve all maybe gotten speeding tickets, but that’s like as bad as it gets. So I think it will be legalized, I just think that it’s really a question of time. With the way politics swing back and forth, it’s hard to know when that time’s gonna come. Like if the Tea Party really did take over the country, I think that would pave the way to legalization, because the Tea Partiers, they believe there’s too much government, and [marijuana prohibition] would be a great example of too much government, in that the government is telling you you can’t smoke a plant that grows out of the ground in the privacy of your own home. That’s the sort of thing the Tea Party would be…they would be helpful in that area. But that doesn’t necessarily make me want to…I don’t agree with everything that they’re about. I think there does need to be a certain amount of government and that we should be helping each other more than we are, as a society.
Doug Benson isn’t shy about making himself known on the Web; fans can attest to his numerous podcasts and Tweets. For Benson, Twitter has almost become a breeding ground for new material. “Well it’s a great place for me to try out jokes,” he tells CULTURE. “When I think of a joke, I’ll usually Tweet it and then just sort of sit back and see how many people re-Tweet it, or if people write back and say, ‘That’s stupid’ or whatever. It’s definitely a real nice sounding board for what could potentially work some other way. Either in my stand up comedy act or one of my podcasts or something.”