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Doug Benson Isn’t a Pot Comic — He’s a High Comic

The perma-blazed stand-up talks smoking with fans, his involvement with the upcoming International Cannabis Business Conference, and realizing it's impossible for him to get too high to perform.

by Beca Grimm

by Beca Grimm

Photo courtesy of ICBC

Comedian and filmmaker Doug Benson may cop to the classic trope of stoner giggles as well as, say, smoking weed daily, but his C/V is far from slacker status. In addition to all the hats mentioned before, Benson continues working as a touring comedian (catch some of that on Spotify’s recording of “Lexington, KY 5/7/17”) and podcaster, the latter for his combo film and comedy show “Doug Loves Movies.” Then there’s his Comedy Central series The High Court and celeb smoke-out webseries “Getting Doug With High.” In other words, this dude is not booking zealous hours on the couch.

We caught up with the decorated — albeit glazy — comedian and cannabis user extraordinaire as he preps to chat onstage at the 2017 International Cannabis Business Conference in Kauai alongside other marijuana enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. The event goes from December 1st through 3rd, and you can get tickets in advance here. We never explicitly asked Benson if he was high during our interview, but it seems like a safe assumption.

MERRY JANE: You know, it's kind of a big day, because Twitter just increased its character count.  
Doug Benson:
Yeah, I thought at first that I was special. That I was one of the chosen people that gets all the extra characters, and then I saw everyone was doing it, and I'm here to say that I am not a fan.  

Why not?  
Because I like the brevity of Twitter. I like the fact that people don't get to write an entire — what now feels like “reading.” I like the 140 characters because it just forces you — especially if you're a comedian making jokes — to get the joke out quick.  

Makes sense. And plus you just don't want to feel like you're reading, obviously.  
Yeah. It's just different. I don't know. So far it's making me less interested in Twitter. I'll still post stuff on there, but I'm less interested in reading what all of the people I follow have to say if they get to say that much. I'll skim and just look for the shorter ones.  

You haven't seen anybody using this new power wisely?  
No, I just see people using it to be like, oh I've got all these extra characters, I don't know what to do with them, but I'm just going to keep typing stuff because you know, I can.  

You mean kind of like the tweet that you made where you were trying to run out the clock? Where you were just like listing as many expletives as possible?
Well, I put a couple of them in there, but at the end where there was still space to go, yes. I'm starting a hashtag, #keepingtweetsshort, and writing even shorter than 140 character tweets just to go the other way with it.  

Makes sense. Maybe you can get the pendulum to swing back. So, tell me how did you initially decide to start slanting your comedy towards weed in the first place?  
I didn't really get into it until I became a road comic, and then at around 28-years-old, I started smoking with other comedians on the road. And then it just slowly crept into my material, because you talk about yourself and your life and I realized that people enjoyed hearing about smoking weed, and jokes about weed, and then the more that I told them, the more it just sort of became — you know, I don't like to say I have ever really been a strictly a pot comic, because I talk about other stuff — but once I got comfortable talking about it so much, I also got comfortable being high on stage. I think I'm more of a high comic than a pot comic because I'm high, but I'm talking about a bunch of different things.  

Totally. I mean, I imagine most comics have a couple of drinks before they get on stage, but they're not necessarily a booze comic.  
Exactly. And they talk about it too and don't get labeled that. I mean, there was that guy a long time ago, Foster Brooks, who his whole routine, his whole shtick was that he's drunk all the time — certainly no one can get away with that today — but I'm sort of the pot version of that.  

I think the idea of being stoned on stage is one of my worst nightmares. How do you kind of cope with that? Are there specific strains that you stick with or you are just so used to it at this point it's just no big deal?
Many times when I'm on stage, I just got high in an alley with fans or friends or whoever, and I'll just smoke whatever somebody passes to me. I don't really have a specific strain or anything I'm looking for before going on stage, but I've just been high on stage so often that it doesn't really affect anything. I can just do my act [which] is a lot of improvisation anyway; for the prepared stuff I have little notes I glance at from time to time, so I can be pretty high and get through it.

Certainly in the beginning when I got high and in front of an audience, you kind of have that, Oh shit everybody is looking at me, moment. That sort of paranoia sets in and you think, Oh no, everyone is going to figure out I'm high. Then I very soon after that realized, well, if I go out on stage and tell everybody that I'm high then the cat’s out of the bag and I don't have to worry about it.

Did you see the news earlier this year when Drake had to cancel a show because he got too high?  
That's hilarious. I don't remember every hearing that, but good for him. I've actually joked about this on stage that I've tried my best to get too high to perform and I just can't get there. You know, I still manage to get out there and tell my jokes, but you know, good for Drake that he smoked something that really messed him up, because he's Drake. He should be able to handle it.  

Seriously. You've talked about how you get stoned with fans before shows and after, but did those experiences ever get kind of dicey?
You know, it's true that when you're just friendly with someone it doesn't even have to involve weed. It's just as soon as you are inviting to anyone off-stage or even on social media or wherever, some people can dig in and become a little aggressive, and a little too into it. But for the most part, I find people that smoke weed are generally pretty mellow and friendly, and understand the boundaries. We'll stand around and smoke after a show for a while, but when I say, “OK, I'm going to go now,” everybody sort of disperses. It's usually not too scary.

I mean, there's been certainly examples of people that you know, have tried too hard to get into my life or forced some sort of friendship. I mean, that's always weird when anybody like tries too hard in that area. But for the most part, I've been pretty lucky.  

This is kind of awkward, because I was planning after this phone call to tell everybody that we're best friends. Is that too far?
No, we’re BFFs.  

You grew up in California, where there's obviously a relaxed attitude towards weed in general, but I’m curious if sweeping legalization has affected your experience touring other places.
It's funny, people write to me all the time saying like, “Oh, you're not coming to our town just because weed isn't legal here.” Or they say, “Hey, come to our town even though it's illegal. I'll hook you up. I've got the best weed,” and that kind of stuff. That's never really been my business model as far as performing and touring. A lot times it's more fun to go to a place where weed isn't legal, because people are still more excited about it and more excited to share, get involved. But in places like Los Angeles, Denver, and Portland, you know those places have felt legal to me for many, many years. Way before it actually happened and was on the books, because I'm just a single white dude running around smoking weed — so as long as I'm careful about it, I haven't gotten in any trouble.

I've only gotten one ticket for smoking weed and that was in Columbus, Ohio. I had to go into the courtroom and pay a fine and then I was done with it. So it's not like I'm in danger of getting three strikes and ending up in prison like so many people unfortunately are in this country.  

I've read before that you said that TSA just doesn't care about marijuana, but how do you travel with it? Mostly, because I'm planning a trip to Mexico right now and I need some tips.  
See, that's where it gets tricky. TSA domestically does not care about it, as I've found in my travels — but I would not recommend leaving the country with it or especially coming back into the country with it.  

I think your best bet there is to just, you know, try to send out some feelers to wherever you're going to Mexico if you can, and find some when you get there. But lately I've been flying with sometimes as much as an eighth in a typical canister — it doesn't haven't a big pot leaf on it, but it's a typical canister that you'd have weed in. I have lots of pipes, and lots of them are not necessarily clean pipes. They have some resin in them. I'll bring some pre rolls. Everything I bring in my carry on. I’ve watched this [happen] time and time again: I just go straight through at TSA, because it's just not what they're looking for, you know? They're looking for liquids, weapons, and bomb material. So, fortunately, again, being a white male and just going about my business at TSA — they never say anything about it.  

Yeah, and I guess whenever in doubt, you can always bring along edibles instead.  
Absolutely. That was my go-to for a long time. Edibles and vape pens were always very easy. That's the funny thing about vape pens — they'll get mad at you if you put them in your checked bags, because in cargo they tend to explode. So they have signs everywhere saying, ‘Don't put your vape pens anywhere in your checked bag. Just bring it on your carry on.’ And moving forward things could obviously change, but currently I feel pretty safe traveling with small amounts. Plus, I get people asking me if I want some weed pretty shortly after arriving anywhere.

Does it ever feel like too much? Does it ever kind of feel like you have a responsibility to get high with people when you don't feel like it?  
Sometimes it's just you know, people just want to do it. People come up to me at the airport, like, “Hey, you want to smoke?” And I’ll say, “Yeah, we're in an airport. Sorry. It's not really going to work out today, but if we run into each other again…”

I'm never not in the mood to take a hit, especially with a fan if it’s important to them. That's a special thing for them, so I'm not going to turn them down if at all possible. I don't mind being high all day every day anyway. I mean, everyone assumes I'm high all the time, so I might as well be.  

Yeah. That's so crazy to me that it never gets too much. Have you ever had a bad edibles experience?  
Well, yeah. Edibles is another deal altogether, which is why I am pretty careful about how much I take and when. To me, the best time to take edibles is when you're about to spend anywhere from an hour to five or six hours not being able to smoke. As long as I can smoke, I'd just rather do that. For long flights and stuff, it's real nice to take an edible that's a strength you know is good for you, and then you can just enjoy that until the next time you can actually smoke.  

Totally. And so you're a keynote speaker at ICBC conference that's coming up. How are you gearing up for that?  
Wait a second. What does that mean? Keynote speaker? I think instead of speaking, I'm going to be just interviewed on stage. It will involve speaking, but I don’t have to prepare any kind of speech. And then there's another thing I'm doing there; some sort of introduction at one of the parties. But mostly I'm gearing up for it by being excited that I get to go to Hawaii and just hang out with a bunch of marijuana enthusiasts.

That sounds pretty dreamy, honestly.  
You're not going to be there?  

No, I wish. They should fly me out from Atlanta though, seriously.  
Yeah, they should. You should ask them. Tell them your new best friend, Doug Benson, thinks it's a great idea.

For more on the International Cannabis Business Conference in Kauai, as well as where you can buy tickets to the event, visit ICBC's website here

Follow Beca Grimm on Twitter


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Beca Grimm

Beca Grimm is an Atlanta-based culture writer. Her dream date is a stoned bubble bath with nachos in reaching distance. Follow her on Twitter.



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