Comedian Doug Benson of Best Week Ever, Last Comic Standing Season 3, and Comedy Central Present's fame is in town to perform as part of the The Marijuana-Logues at Comix on January 18th, 19th, and 20th. In this interview, he discusses his love of movies, his film in progress Super High Me, and his new podcast, Doug Benson's I Love Movies.
When did you start smoking pot?
27. The story goes something like this: I was working as a standup comedian. I started doing standup when I was twenty-two and was fairly clean living. Some drinking, but no drugs to speak of. I started performing in the Bay Area at clubs around San Francisco, working with some of the comics up there who smoked almost after every show. I started doing it with them. For the first few years that I smoked pot, I was kind of a pot mooch. I just smoked basically when I was working with other comedians who smoked pot and then eventually I realized that I had to strike out, buy some on my own, and now I'm a card carrying medical marijuana patient.
What sort of change did this have on your life and your standup?
I just like it. It's not really anything more profound than that. Some people would say they use it to stabilize their attitudes and their demeanor, but, I just enjoy it. I do still enjoy drinking as well. It's just that with drinking there's so many different ways that it can get out of hand. There are hangovers, drunk driving, and drunken behavior as we've noticed from Mel Gibson and people like that. It brings out the worst in you, whereas smoking marijuana can make you more docile. When I'm high, people can just walk right up and pet me. It's a pretty nice feeling.
With regards to my comedy, it's just fun to get high and write jokes. I don't perform stoned all the time, but on the occasions that I do, that also is just kind of a fun experience, especially now that I'm out of the closet for my pot smoking. The audiences, I think, just assume that I'm high when I'm on stage and often accuse me of it on evenings when I'm not high. I don't feel like I have to smoke pot every day. In fact, for a documentary that was just filmed this past fall, I spent thirty days not smoking pot followed by thirty days of smoking it continuously all day, every day. I have to say that. , surprisingly, neither thirty day period was that difficult. I thought the smoking all the time would be too much and the not smoking at all would be too little, but in both cases I pretty much breezed through it. There are certainly pros and cons to both thirty-day periods, but I'd say I prefer being high almost daily to not.
What is the current status of the movie that you made, Super High Me?
It's currently in the editing phase and could take quite awhile to come together. I hear that the next month or so they're going to have what will probably be a two and a half hour cut of the movie that will then have to shape into a ninety minute or hour and forty-five minute version. I just recently saw a teaser trailer that will probably be leaked on the Internet soon and it's pretty interesting because I kind of wasn't there for half of the filming mentally. Watching the trailer, it's pretty weird to see yourself doing things you don't really remember doing.
How did this movie come to be and how did you meet up with Michael Blieden ?
Well, it started out as a joke in my act where I'd say that I saw the movie Supersize Me and I thought watching a guy eat McDonalds every day for thirty days was disgusting and that a much more pleasurable movie would be where I smoke pot every day for thirty days. It'd called Super High Me or Business As Usual, the tag being that McDonalds would probably be in my movie too. I'd been telling that joke for a while and I'd been friends with Blieden for a while, mostly through comedy acquaintances. I'd just run into Blieden on social occasions, and he also smokes pot so we would enjoy each other's company. One night we were at a dinner after a wedding of a mutual friend and I just said some sort of comment because I had seen Comedians of Comedy and said, "You know, we should really make a movie about me getting high every day for thirty days" and he just really sparked to the idea, really loved it, and basically he's the one who kind of kept on me about it until we got financing in place and were able to actually make it. It was mostly the same team that did Comedians of Comedy so now we're even better friends than we ever were because he followed me around with a camera for sixty days.
Should people then expect to see a lot of comedians in the movie as well?
Yes, quite a bit. All of my friends are in it and quite a few of them actually get captured smoking pot on film, which I was very proud of because I think that's part of what we want the movie to do. To not only make people who smoke pot laugh, but make people who don't smoke pot realize that it's all around us, that it's not hurting anyone, that it's something that should be more accepted, and certainly in the voting booth. People should be working toward passing medical marijuana laws because if someone is in pain and sitting at home minding their own business and smoking pot makes them feel better then they should be allowed to do that. But yeah, that's what it is. There's lots of comedians in the movie. Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn.
How many of your jokes would you say you write high?
Most of the jokes come about on stage and then get incorporated into the act. The ones that I just think of offstage, they just come to me quite randomly. I just always have a pen and paper handy and when I think of something I write it down. Of course some jokes you write when you're high, you look at them later and it's just ridiculous. It was just that in that moment it was amusing to you. I don't think I could put a percentage on it. If I had to, I'd say probably fifty percent, but it's not a tool that I use specifically for writing. It's more like things just happen to come to me when I'm high, but that's not how I get my writing done.
Do you think that people should maybe take it as a compliment when someone says, "Were you high when you wrote this joke?"
It depends on the tone of voice. It could be a compliment or an insult, just depends on how you look at it. I certainly like dumb jokes and there's a lot of them in The Marijuana-Logues and in Super High Me, but I also think there's underlying cleverness behind a lot of it so it's kind of insulting if someone who doesn't smoke pot accuses me of coming up with the stuff just because I was high.
Of the jokes that you post on your Myspace , how many of those do you perform live?
Those are rarely performed live because they tend to be extremely topical and tends to be the kind of stuff that I come up with for Best Week Ever. I write a lot of jokes for Best Week Ever and the ones they don't use, I don't want them to go completely to waste so I blog them on myspace and every once in awhile one of them will creep into the act if it's got enough long-lasting quality. Just because audience members come to a comedy club, doesn't mean that they're there to see me specifically. They may have just been like, "Let's go to The Funny Bone this weekend" so when that happens, I can't get up there and assume that it's a bunch of pop culture trivia nuts who know exactly what every reference is. That's the great thing about myspace, there's no immediate response. I don't need to provoke laughter that I can hear with each joke that I write. It's more like it probably hits people who are paying a little bit more attention to that kind of stuff and people that go to a comedy club, they don't necessarily want to hear about Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton.
How does Best Week Ever feel about your love of pot?
They don't get involved. For the first year that I was on Best Week Ever I taped it in New York because we were doing The Marijuana-Logues Off Broadway and then after a year of that, I moved back to my regular home in California and continued doing Best Week Ever from there because they tape it on both coasts. But while I was in New York, every time I would appear on camera the title underneath my face would say, "Doug Benson, The Marijuana-Logues". They were clearly open to that and when the book, The Marijuana-logues: Everything About Pot That We Could Remember, came out they let me plug it on the show, so they're obviously cool with it. On the other hand, I'm not seen on there every week making jokes about pot or even coming off as someone who is high on drugs on television. They're cool with it and I don't make too much of it. I'm not out to be like "the pot guy" on Best Week Ever, I just want to be funny.
Since you're a commentator of pop culture, I wanted to know what do you think of pot culture?
I think a lot of it is silly. I think the fact that there's a centerfold in High Times Magazine is hilarious. It's just funny to me that a picture of pot would be something that somebody could possibly pull out and drool over, but, on the other hand, I'm spending more and more time in medical marijuana dispensaries and it's getting amazing, the various strains and the differences in the reactions you have to it and all the different kinds of pot that are out there and the different ways you can consume it. It's kind of like the movie Sideways with how into wine some people are. There are people that are that way about pot and I'm becoming more and more that kind of person even though I've always just been like, "Yeah, whatever, as long as it gets me high." I haven't been a reader of High Times Magazine, let's say, but that's definitely becoming more a part of my life. I was named Stoner of the Year by High Times last fall and I have to say that it's a pretty big honor, but at the same time, kind of a funny one.
Did you also win a second award?
Yeah, Marijuana-Logues won the best play award so I share that with Arj Barker and Tony Camin.
Do you have any interest in writing screenplays?
The interesting thing is in my live performances I do a lot of improvisation and I do a monthly show at UCB in LA, and sometimes I do it in New York, called The Benson Interruption where it's me and comedian friends of mine just basically goofing around. While they do their act, I have a microphone and I talk to them. I've appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm and obviously the documentary is basically just me improvising my life so I'm starting to get more and more into non-scripted material, just kind of like letting things happen and trying to be funny that way. I have a podcast that I do on handheldcomedy.com and it's called I Love Movies. It's basically a weekly half hour of me just sitting down with another comedian and just talking about movies. A lot of humor comes out of it, but also a lot of genuine opinions and thoughts about film and that's really fun for me to do too. Writing a screenplay is always something I think about doing, but for some reason I just don't get around to it.
Do you tend to see movies high as well?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It was funny during the thirty days of not smoking pot, going to the movies, that was one thing that become considerably less fun. If a movie was boring, I just couldn't tolerate it and would have to leave whereas if I'm high, I can kind of sit there and daydream and push my way through it. Maybe not remember it as well after it's over, but certainly have more fun during the watching of it.
What are some movies that you've seen that are so bad that even seeing them high didn't make them better?
Well, that is the thing about being high compared to maybe being drunk or on other drugs, is that it doesn't change your general overall opinion of things. I can still sit there and go, "Wow, this is terrible" while I'm high, yet maybe get the giggles or appreciate how funny the terribleness is. But I still basically have the same opinions and attitudes about things even if I'm high.
What do you think then of movies that are so bad that they're good?
Some of those are my favorites of all time. The movie Showgirls, I could sit down and watch that beginning to end over and over again because it's so perfectly awful. Everyone is so committed to it, the actors and the production design. I mean the whole movie looks like a real movie that deserves some respect and yet it is so awful in every way and depicts such awful people behaving so awfully that I just love it. There's certainly many examples of that, but some movies are just awful. When people get excited about, for instance, "Let's buy the new Kevin Federline CD and laugh at it!" To me, listening to the new Kevin Federline CD would just aggravate me. Sometimes it's not fun to enjoy something that's lame because just the fact that anyone allowed it to be made in the first place kind of makes me angry.
Could you recommend a few movies that are so bad that they're good?
Well, there is Showgirls of course and then while I was talking about Showgirls I was trying to think about others and nothing else was jumping to my mind. There's this old movie, since then there's been another movie made with the same title, but there's an old movie called Fever Pitch that is amazingly bad. It's really good. And there's a movie called The Room. There's a theatre in LA that plays it at midnight once a month of something. I think the guy who made it just pays the theatre to show it, I don't think they pay him. It's got kind of a cult following because it's just amazingly bad.
Have you seen Troll 2?
No, I haven't.
They had a screening of it at the UCB theatre in New York and the thing with it is it's made by this Italian director that makes unauthorized sequels of other movies. He made a Terminator 2 before there was even a Terminator 2.
Yeah, it fails as a movie in every way so it's quite magical.
Well, that's a fun thing that the UCB theatres do and I get involved in some of those kinds of things sometimes. They'll play something terrible and then do a pretend director's commentary. That, to me, is fun. If you're going to watch something bad, there should be somebody around making fun of it that's funny and entertaining in their own way so you don't have to rely entirely on enjoying the cheesiness of the film itself.
That movie, Snakes on a Plane, they tried to do that on purpose and failed terribly.
Oh yeah, Snakes on a Plane is a fantastic example. I had so many arguments with people who were going, "It's just a dumb movie, just enjoy how dumb it is!" No, it's a dumb movie that totally missed the mark. It didn't succeed in being dumb, it didn't succeed in being anything. It could have been a movie that was fun to watch and in a weird way exciting, but there's never a moment where you're scared about the snakes. There's never a jokes that they do in the film other than Sam Jackson's one famous line. There's never a joke in the film that's actually funny. It's just a total misfire and yet some people were so anxious to embrace it as, "It's just dumb and we'll enjoy it on that level." I was just aggravated at the time and, believe me, I was super high.
If you had the opportunity to make a movie called Snakes on a Plane, what sort of approach would you take with it then?
You could either make it a flat out comedy parody of action movies like in the vein of the airplane films or you could set out to make, even though there's that ridiculous premise of a bunch of snakes on a plane, you could make a movie like the original Die Hard that has its moments of humor, but is essentially an exciting movie that's fun to watch.
Do you tend to see every movie that comes out in the theatre?
I used to, earlier in my life I would see everything and anything and now I've come to a point where I have to draw the line because I just don't have the time and it's also too frustrating to sit through some of the shit, but I do see quite a bit. I saw Children of Men yesterday, which is incredible.
How do you decide if a movie is too bad for you to see?
I just have to make my own judgments based on what I know about the movie and what I've seen. For instance, The Cleaners starring Cedric the Entertainer is not going to get my movie going dollars. In fact, pretty much anything that opens in January is probably not going to be worth seeing. It's definitely the dumping ground of cinema because any movie that has a chance to win any award of any kind, even like a Raspberry, is not going to be released in January because it will be forgotten by the end of the year.
But you have a tradition of seeing the worst movie you can on Christmas?
That was something that happened for awhile with people like Patton Oswald and Paul F. Tompkins. One year we saw Patch Adams on Christmas Day and other people in the theatre threw stuff at us at one point because they were so annoyed by our inappropriate laughter. We've all got more family obligations and stuff since then so now I still see a movie on Christmas, but now I'm more likely to just go see something I think I'll enjoy.
Can you list a few of the movies that you enjoy most?
Gosh, that's always such a hard question, but as far as comedy goes, I think This Is Spinal Tap is probably one of the best movies ever made. For a humorous documentary, American Movie is pretty awesome. I enjoy some of the same classic as everyone else- Dr. Strangelove, Some Like It Hot, Citizen Kane. Such obvious answers. And then of course this last year my favorite movie was Borat because it's just such a fresh approach, it's just something that hasn't been done before and I think it's changing the way comedy films are made, I think. Quite revolutionary. And then even though I'm just playing myself, I'm happy about the success of Borat, because with Super High Me we basically just went around and talked to people and tried to capture the comedy of life rather than having anything scripted so that's cool that people embraced that movie. But I would never imagine having that kind of hit on my hands, I don't think anyone involved in Borat imagined it being that successful.
What do you like to do after a performance?
Just hang out and have some laughs, maybe some cocktails, definitely some weed.
Visit Doug's I Love Movies to read some high quality jokes and sign up for his podcast at Handheldcomedy.com . You can see Doug as part of The Marijuana-Logues at Comix on January 18th, 19th, and 20th. Tickets are available online.