Lunch with Doug Benson: An Online Exclusive

What station did they have you on this morning?


98 Rock. The BS Show with Buckethead, and Ethan, and Lauren. We played the shame game, and all of us had to come up with three things we were ashamed of doing. I could only come up with two, that I once dated a racist girl … and that I sat through all of the Sex and the City movie.


Did you like it?


No, not really. I mean, it wasn’t terrible – it was like the series, which I can tolerate if a girl wants to watch it. But I’ve never just watched Sex and the City like, me, home alone, watching it.


So you went with your girlfriend, or a date?


I went with a date to a matinee the day it opened and there was only one other dude in the theater. It was all groups of girls, all dressed up. It was cute.


We did it. We didn’t dress up, though.


It’s a big thing, and it’s funny too. The movie’s been out, for what, like two weeks now? And there’s still these women who haven’t seen it who also do not want to know what happens in it and you’ve seen it – was there ever any talk about plot points being spoiled? They made such a big deal about it – I mean Oprah didn’t show the last reel to the audience when she had Sarah Jessica Parker on. Like, really? Like something happens at the end of that movie that’s surprising?


Nothing really.


A typical half-hour episode had more plot twists than that whole two-and-a-half-hour movie. It’s strange how little happens in the movie. I think I fell asleep right after the Mexico sequence. Only for a few minutes though – I saw most of it.


So that was the only other shameful thing I could think of. I guess I’m pretty lucky that I don’t have anything to feel that bad about. Or at least anything that I would want to share.


So are you basically touring in support of Super High Me?


I’m touring in support of my life. My career.


And the DVD just happens to be a bonus.


It’s just a timing thing. The DVD comes out on Tuesday [June 17] and everywhere I go lately, I’ve been talking about it.


Are you happy with it?


Yeah, I’m real happy with it. You know, it’s a documentary that I was only one of four partners who got together and made it – a couple producers, the director, and me. So, I didn’t have absolute final say about everything. They trusted me as far as the stand-up sequences – like if I didn’t want a joke in, or wanted a certain show in, they’d do what I asked in that sense. But everything regarding the experiment of me being high for 30 days – and also things that were going on in California with medical marijuana at the time we were shooting – all that stuff was an ongoing debate about what was going in and what wasn’t going in.


Did you guys plan on including the more serious California medical marijuana law aspect of the documentary, or did that just naturally occur?


One of the producers, Alex Campbell, to get us access to shoot in some [medical marijuana] dispensaries, he became very immersed in that culture in California – in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. All three of those places have tons of dispensaries.


So he got very immersed in that whole scene and got to know those people and became friendly with them to get us coverage. And in Southern California, whenever a dispensary is being raided, the so-called advocates and other people who own other dispensaries in the area spread the word very quickly so they can all get down there and protest what’s going on. Protest these raids.


That’s what happened twice when we were in production. Two different dispensaries had that happen and we were able to get cameras there. I didn’t go because, you know, that’s the last thing I need, to show up where there’s all these feds, and we’ve got cameras and I’m high. [He laughs.] Although, some of the protesters were probably high. But they were more of a private citizen; they weren’t drawing so much attention to themselves, bringing their own camera crew.


It seemed like the “Prince of Pot” [Canadian cannabis activist Mark Emery] talked a lot.


[He groans.] I was there for hours. You could see it in the movie, where we’re sitting keeps moving around and he was just smoking [pot] the whole time … Of course, we went to Vancouver over the 30 days I wasn’t smoking pot. Part of it was not only did that guy go on and on, but he was smoking and blowing it in my direction the whole time. And then he tried to claim I wasn’t following the rules of my own movie – because in his mind it’s almost as good to be around pot smoke as it is to smoke it! Try telling something like that to an alcoholic, that it’s good enough just to be near booze.


But you know, it’s not that hard not to smoke, for me anyway. I didn’t go through any physical withdrawals. I did enjoy hanging out with people who were smoking because I still experienced the ritual and camaraderie you get with it. Those are definitely elements of the appeal. I’m not somebody sitting at home alone just smoking by myself all the time.


So is there anything you learned that you found surprising, as far as pot culture, laws …


The whole medical marijuana scene in California, that was a huge eye opener because I’ve just been a guy who has a guy who comes to my house, you get whatever he has at the time and if you have a good guy, he’s always got something, but you’re not discussing what kind of weed he’s giving you, you know, you just buy an eighth.


So, I’d been doing that … and you can talk it up all you want but until somebody really does it, they don’t completely grasp how great it is to just be able to casually walk into a store, pick from a bunch of different flavors, actually discuss with the girl behind the counter exactly what kind of high you want to have, and then you get what you want. They recommend that you keep it in your trunk and smoke it when you get home.


But it’s still just amazing that it’s happening … The doctor’s that give out the licenses, they’re just taking your money and giving you the license. Not because it’s a scam and they’re making money – they are making money – but they’re also doctors that, for one reason or another, think that people should have access to marijuana for medicine. For some, maybe it’s all for profit. But the doctors I met were very concerned about people and pro-pot. They know it has the potential to make people’s lives better.


Would you say, doing that movie made you a pot snob?


Maybe more of one. I’m still not completely snobby. When I’m on the road, a lot of times, someone will be like, “Hey man, I really want to smoke you out, but the weed around here is shit right now. But smoking with you would be an honor.” If I have the time and we’re not gonna get in trouble with the law, and you know someplace safe to go, I’ll totally do it. Smoking bad weed in its own way is not as good as smoking good weed, but, it’s kind of like what they say about pizza.


Even bad pizza is good pizza?


And sex. Between bad sex, bad pizza, and bad weed, I’ll take bad weed every day. Cause it doesn’t have any adverse affects, you just don’t get as high.


But have become a little more snobby. You know, I never knew the difference between a sativa and an indica. I never knew what strains I liked.


When you were doing the film, did you ever hit a wall, a “smoked myself sober” moment?


I tried not to ever feel sober. People asked me, “So what, did you, like, smoke three times a day?” [He laughs.] That would’ve been normal.


I couldn’t just breakfast-lunch-dinner it like Morgan Spurlock. I had to wake and bake (no rhyme for doing it before bedtime), but I imagine that while I was sleeping, I was probably, if not completely sober, close to it.


The estimate is that I smoked $2,000 worth of pot over 30 days.


And going into it, I thought it’d be harder to quit for 30 days, and harder to smoke for 30 days. And in both cases, I was surprised. I was surprised at how easy it was to quit. And I thought smoking straight for 30 days, at the end, I’d be sick of it, and if not quit, at least lay off it for a while. Nope – I was fine. I continued to smoke right after we were done.


So let’s talk about Last Comic Standing because I’m really curious about how much you had to change your content for network television.


Its funny – there was shockingly little content change. My act has adult content – pot, alcohol, sex – but its easy to take out all the swear words. That’s the amazing thing to me about being on VH1, Comedy Central, late night shows – they will happily beep you. As long as you’re straight up with them and tell them, they just bleep it.


But there’s a few shows, like LCS, where they prefer you not to but people still do. So if I felt strongly about a bit that would be ruined if I changed something to a clean word, which happens sometimes, then I’d just do it and they wouldn’t use it on the air.


I had one dirty joke almost every time I did a set that they’d just never use on air, so I could tell it every time because they kept editing it out.


And as long as you’re not absolutely pro-pot, even LCS is pretty cool about pot jokes. My problem was that for the first several shows, until its narrowed down to five people, you do all these silly challenges, and head-to-head competitions, and America doesn’t vote, the vote is based on the crowd that’s sitting in front of you at the competition. It’s not until you get to the top five that America starts eliminating people each week. So my strategy was to lay off the pot stuff until I get to the top five, then I’d be so deep in the competition that the producers couldn’t really throw me off. And then I could get like-minded people to vote for me.


So I didn’t really get to my pot stuff on LCS. [Benson made it to sixth place, just shy of fifth.] Which is fine because I don’t talk that much about marijuana on Best Week Ever – I don’t want people to come out because they want to see the pot comic. I want them to come out and see the comic they like who happens to talk about pot. Or, is certainly very influenced by it. I’m on it when I write most of my best material.


It’s so pervasive in our culture – so many people are doing it, it’s amazing.


Yeah, it’s very much out there. And especially in comedy clubs, people feel pretty safe because they’re already drinking and it’s a crowd of people all just having fun. Like when I say, “Who here smokes pot?” In some cities, the whole place erupts, and in other cities, just a handful of people will clap. But then I’ll tell a few more jokes and see more people laughing, and I think, You smoke pot, you just didn’t admit to it because, your knee jerk reaction is not to admit to it because what if there’s a cop right there? What if there is a cop right there? You could say you did anything, it’s not illegal, short of saying you want to assassinate the president.


Are there any people who come to your shows that were LCS fans who tell you that your show wasn’t what they expected?


No, actually most people come up to me and tell me “It was so much more fun watching you here than it was on TV.” You know, with comics and with music, for the most part, it’s usually better live – any kind of performance is better when you’re actually there. But people somehow don’t know that.


If someone comes out to a club and watches me, even if they’re not into pot, they’re a good chance they’re gonna enjoy it.


You’ve got the whole laughter is contagious thing going, you’re feeling good, you’re having a couple of drinks with your friends …


And it’s a live person who has the nerve to say, “I’m gonna talk for a while and you’re gonna like it.” When somebody does it on TV, it’s just not that interesting …


I mean, for a while, I thought Comedy Central and other networks that showed a lot of comedy were hurting sand-up comedy, live in the clubs, because you watch it on TV and you go, “Why would I want to go pay to see that when I can just watch it on TV and when I watch it on TV, it’s kind of boring. People don’t get inspired to go see those comics that they like on TV.


POT Q&A


In honor of Super High Me, I felt it was necessary to prepare a set of appropriate questions.


1. Regular papers or the new clear kind.


The Cellulose? I like those. More as a novelty, though. It’s not something I’d smoke regularly. ‘Cause whenever you smoke with somebody, they voice concerns that it’s unhealthy, more chemicals than you bargained for? But they look so neat and they burn really nice.


2. Bong or pipe?


I love bongs. I just like the massiveness of the hits. But then again, I haven’t met a smoking instrument that I didn’t like.


3. Pot food – like it, dislike it?


The high can be very intense but I enjoy it a great deal. My biggest problem is that it’s hard to find pot food that doesn’t taste like pot. But I met someone who makes it really good. So, I love it. I love it when it’s done right. And even when it’s done badly, even when it tastes bad, you just muscle through.


5. Do you think Canada makes it better?


No, the stuff we’re getting in California is pretty amazing.


6. Favorite pot movie?


Dazed and Confused, just because I just think it’s a good movie in which people happen to be smoking pot. And one of my favorite stoner roles – it was a tiny part in the movie – but I thought that Brad Pitt really nailed it in True Romance. And it turns out he was so good at it because he’s a pothead. But you know, at the time, I thought, he had some acting and comedy chops in terms of playing a stoner. And of course, Sean Penn is great in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.


7. Celeb you’d like to get high with?


Wow, that’s a really good one. I guess Harrison Ford would be good because I know he smokes a lot of pot. He and Brad Pitt are pals. So that’d be kind of cool. You know, getting high with Harrison Ford, telling him all the things I didn’t like about the new Indiana Jones movie. I’m sure he’d love it!


8. Celeb you’d never want to get high with?


None, because I think getting high with somebody I hated would be a great opportunity to come to terms with it. Maybe I’d like them more just because they’re getting high. If someone is standing around smoking a joint, chances are they’re probably gonna be pretty open and honest and friendly, so it’s hard for them to remain a jerk under those circumstances. But I’d spend the whole time going, I can’t believe Bill O’Reilly’s smoking a joint with me!


9. What’s your favorite high activity?


I love amusement parks, and concerts, and everything when I’m high. And of course, I took the SATs while I was high in the movie and that made that more fun. But my favorite thing to do is get super baked and go out and see a movie.


10. Favorite munchies?


I’m so into everything. I love junk food anyway, so when I’m high I’ll eat any ridiculous combination that’s exciting for a while and that I get sick of real quick? Like Oreos and vanilla frosting. Now just thinking about it makes me a little sick.


11. Smoking music?I like music in general, but the more upbeat the better.


12. TV shows you only watch while high? Or rather, that are impossible to watch straight?


Being high makes everything better., but it doesn’t make everything watchable. My tastes don’t change because I’m high – my level of tolerance rises.


13. Pot Smoking Idol? Someone you aspire to?


If there’s someone out there who’s fairly well-known and enjoys what they’re doing, and people enjoy watching or listening to them do it, and they’re getting high all the time, and not having any problems with the police, that’s who I look up to. Doing it, enjoying it and keeping it under the radar all at the same time, that impresses me the most.


As cool as I think Snoop Dog and Willie Nelson are, they’ve gotten busted for pot a lot … and now that I’m such a poster child for smoking pot, I just want to continue to be that but be left alone at the same time. Which is entirely possible.

You probably know comedian Doug Benson as a Last Comic Standing 5 finalist, where he was among the show's top six performers. Or maybe you’ve seen him on VH1’s Best Week Ever, where he provides amusing commentary on the week’s pop culture news and events.

But there’s more to Benson than his TV appearances. In collaboration with comics Arj Barker and Tony Camin, he wrote, produced, and starred in a successful off-Broadway comedy show in NYC, The Marijuana-Logues, and enjoyed a year run of shows as well as several national tours, an original live cast recording and even a supplementary book, The Marijuana-logues: Everything About Pot That We Could Remember.

Most recently, he co-produced and starred in Super High Me (due out on DVD June 17).

The idea was originally spawned from a joke in Benson’s stand-up routine, where he mused on Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, Super Size Me, and wondered what would happen if he applied the same 30-day health regimen to marijuana. Filmmaker/comic Michael Blieden seemed to think it was a viable idea and the resulting documentary opened in more than 850 cities nationwide on April 20.

In the film, Benson stops smoking pot for 30 days to clean out his system, then indulges near-constantly for the following 30 days to test the effects on his mind and body. The film follows his “journey” but it’s more than just a silly tale of a comedian's quest to get super high. The film also offers an earnest examination of California’s current medical marijuana law and the Federal government’s ongoing efforts to challenge the state’s law via the seemingly arbitrary busts of medical marijuana dispensaries. I sat down and had lunch with Doug on Thursday — he plays Tampa Improv through Sunday — and what follows are portions of our long and rambling conversation.

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