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Canna-Comedy: Stand-Ups Weigh in on How Weed Helps (and Hinders) Their Work

"I smoke weed before I go to the beach or fill in an adult coloring book, but before writing jokes? Why make my job harder?” said comedian Annie Lederman.

by Carolyn Hanson

by Carolyn Hanson

Finding a comedian under 60 who doesn't smoke weed is kind of like finding a rare Pokémon. You know they're out there, but that doesn't mean you expect to see one out in the wild. Sure, there are comics who have become sober and talk about that, or there are comedians who are family types and don't want to be associated with drug use publicly. Some comedians have never tried a psychoactive substance in their life. But saying "comedian" can be kind of like saying "rock musician," in that it's a term that encapsulates a large group of people, but there is a somewhat standard model most follow. And seemingly, most comedians smoke weed.

Comics's penchant for cannabis can likely be attributed to a couple of factors — the amount of free time many have during the day being one. "It makes you go stir crazy," Kim Congdon, co-host of podcast Stoned Science, told me in passing when I mentioned a recent personal bout of too much free time. She's the first comedian I spoke to about the odd-but-symbiotic relationship between cannabis and her profession. Congdon's personal association between the two is undeniable: "I feel like [using] weed for writing is like my coffee," she tells me. "People need to wake up, they need to get their coffee, they need to sit at their computer to write… that's how I am with a blunt."

With Sherrod Small, however, it's a different story. "I do it so casually that I'll probably smoke something while I'm writing, or right before or right after," the comedian and co-host of podcast Race Wars told MERRY JANE. As a regular smoker, he doesn't really consider whether pot affects his joke-writing or not, although he says it does help him get out of his head. A big perk for Small, though, is that he doesn't suffer from the laziness or lethargy some people feel after smoking. "I can be pretty productive on it," he said, after admitting that using cannabis is always a unique experience.

Above, comedian Sherrod Small

This doesn't mean comics always fuse their comedy and their consumption; for many funny tokers, the two aren't mutually exclusive. "On purpose?!" balked writer and comedian Annie Lederman when I asked if she writes while stoned. "I smoke weed before I go to the beach or fill in an adult coloring book, but before writing jokes? Why make my job harder? Like, I wanna write another tag for this joke, but is there ice cream in the freezer?" Despite the fact that comedians are frequently heavy smokers, sitting down to write isn't easy — or possible — for everyone.

In fact, the always outside-the-box Ari Shaffir throws my mental image of comedians sitting down to write with a spliff ready-to-go out the window. "I just write onstage," he said casually, as though getting up in front of strangers with only a vague concept of what you're going to talk about is completely natural. That said, Shaffir isn't the average comedian. As the host of podcast Skeptic Tank and Comedy Central show This Is Not Happening, Shaffir has become known for his distaste for cultural norms and willingness to push anything to the limits — his big break was as "The Amazing Racist," after all.

"I think I used to [sit down and write]," Shaffir deadpanned. In contrast, he brought up an old roommate. "His theory was that weed just keeps you doing what you're already doing. So if you smoke on the couch and are watching TV, you're just going to do that for five hours… And so he would start writing and then smoke and then just keep writing, and then when it hit him he'd get way, way into writing."

Comedian Ari Shaffir, pictured above

The way comedians relate, or don't relate, their comedy to their smoking is always variable. For example, although Sherrod Small smokes casually enough while writing (to the point that he doesn't even notice himself smoking), he likes to be relatively sober when he performs. "One time I did mushrooms onstage, just to see what it was gonna be like," he mentioned offhandedly. "I did three shows on mushrooms. That was crazy. The first show was great. The second show, I couldn't really tell how much time I was onstage on. I didn't know the difference between 10 seconds and 20 minutes," he said laughing. "I would never do that again.

Small continued, "I need to be in control onstage, that's why I don't even like to get too baked before I go on. I don't like to drink before I go on, either."

Lederman told MERRY JANE she doesn't really like to be high on stage, although she smokes before sets on occasion. "Technically any high is too high for me," she said in an email interview. "I try to not smoke before my sets because it slows down my reaction time, and some shows require more herding of the audience." Her reasoning is sound as any: "I always have to remind myself that this is a job. A fun job, but a job. And I want to do my best work. I don't look back on my SAT scores and think, 'I'd have done so much better if I'd just smoked that blunt Tito offered me on the bus beforehand.'"

Comedian Annie Lederman, photographed by Mindy Tucker

Unlike Lederman, Shaffir takes an unconcerned approach to weed and stage time. "Well, once you get used to smoking, it doesn't do the same shit anymore," he remarked, likening comedians who have just started smoking to teenagers learning to handle their alcohol. "You just know how to handle it, you get to the point where you're having a good time." He does, however, acknowledge that it can contribute to a slight lack of control: "When I tape specials, I'm not going to smoke right before I go onstage, but I'll smoke a couple hours before, or in between shows when [I've] got an hour off."

"But!" he continued enthusiastically, "I'll tell you what. [A comedian friend] used to do this thing where he wouldn't get high all day, and then his first high of the day would be right before he went on at the Comedy Store. They would be like 'Alright, madam, light's up,' for whoever was on — say Ryan O'Neill was onstage — like 'Hey, madam, I'm lighting Ryan, three minutes.' And then he'd run to the main room and just huff down smoke, just hit it hard over and over and over again in those three minutes, and get onstage. It would hit him hard, and it would hit him while he was on. Five minutes into his set he'd be like 'Whoa, here it is.'"

Of all the comedians I spoke to, Kim Congdon might be the most relaxed about being on stage high. When asked about her first time mixing weed and comedy, she can't fully remember. "It would have been the first time I did comedy. I was probably high, to be honest," she revealed to me. She doesn't even really feel like she's been too high onstage. "I've done podcasts like Getting Doug With High in the morning and then had a show right after that. I don't feel like [using cannabis] hurts me. It definitely doesn't hurt me as much as it does getting onstage after I've been drinking," she commented. "I just feel more relaxed [after smoking]."

Comedian Kim Congdon, photographed by Frankie Leal

Comedy and weed aren't inseparable. Plenty of comedians smoke with their fans and plenty don't smoke at all. Some, like Lederman, smoke to get away from their job, while some, like Congdon, smoke to do their job. Both Small and Shaffir make a point to note that European comics, unlike American ones, mix tobacco with their weed — a habit Small picked up, and one Shaffir actively shames. "It's not a joint, man. It's just tobacco," he said.

Despite the plant's pervasiveness in comedy, most stand-ups who smoke intentionally avoid writing any weed-dependant material. "To me, personally, it's kinda neither here nor there as a topic," Lederman said. Small agreed, and explained his lack of attraction to the subject, helping me understand that it's largely out of a desire to avoid conflating a comedic or public identity with cannabis. "Some people only accept it through one lens," he remarked. "I think that with everybody having access to [legal cannabis] now that'll go away… but right now we're still in the middle of it," meaning an era still filled with stoner stigmatization. 

Though marijuana has interacted with all forms of comedy over the years, comedians feel that their audiences aren't necessarily ready to detach the plant from its associated stereotypes and novelty factor. Case in point, when each comedian was asked what about pot feels played out or done to death in comedy, three out of the four comedians interviewed gave the same answer: the munchies.

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Carolyn Hanson

Carolyn Hanson is a Northern California native living in New York. Her words can be found at L’Officiel USA, NYLON, V Magazine, PAPER, and more.



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