FOR MANY, MANY people, the experience of getting high is forever linked to the experience of laughing their fucking faces off. Such weed-fueled laughter, where what feels like an orgasm of the brain inspires rolling waves of howls and physical contortions, doesn’t happen with every ingestion of weed, but when it does, the experience can be so profound that users never forget it.
What is responsible for this connection between ingesting weed and laughing so hard you’re forced to squat and pee in the street? On one hand, who cares? Why do birds sing so gay? Why does the mental image of a planeful of Trumps smooshed into the ground à la Licensed to Ill make my heart smile? Shut up and enjoy the gay birds and smooshed Trumps and maniacal laughter, idiot.
Thank anandamide, the fatty acid neurotransmitter also known as AEA and sometimes described as “the body’s own THC,” which actually means “the naturally occurring chemical that THC mimics.” Like AEA, THC finds a home in the body’s cannabinoid receptors, triggering the mesolimbic pathway and inspiring the release of the pleasure-stimulating chemical dopamine and mood-enhancing endorphins, creating a high similar to the light euphoria one feels after exercise. Meanwhile, THC also stimulates blood flow to the cerebral cortex—specifically the frontal and temporal lobes, which MRI scans have identified as the brain’s processing centers for humor. Perhaps this interplay between chemical euphoria and stimulated comedy receptors sparks the weed-based comedy orgasms treasured by so many.
Whatever the case, the connection between weed and enhanced laughter is empirically real. I call it the “Sativa Upswing,” where little angel thumbs press down on the pleasure centers in my tingling brain, stretching the corners of my mouth up near my temples, and sending delight coursing through my body. And should something comedy-shaped get thrown in my path or even just cross my mind—Dina Martina’s “Bryman” commercial, Vanity 6’s “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up),” 30 Rock’s “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah”—there’s a fair chance I’ll lose myself in a haze of intellectual admiration and physical convulsions.
All of this got me thinking about the world of actual professional comedy and how it’s being impacted in those states with legal weed. In Colorado, the Lucas Brothers—the cannabis-friendly comedy duo who flew to Denver to headline a show on 4/20—got so high on edibles and dabs they couldn’t leave their dressing room. The packed show was canceled from the stage, and the Lucas Brothers apologized the next day on Twitter, explaining how they “ate edibles which caused us to get incredibly sick” and “became disoriented.”
Noting the effect legalization has had on comics’ material, Seattle comedian Elicia Sanchez told me, “Weed jokes don’t seem to be as funny to people. It’s good, though, because comics who made a lot of jokes about being high have had to make their material more interesting. They can’t just skate off the taboo of it anymore.” Seattle comic Brett Hamil said, “Stoned people aren’t normally the loudest, most uninhibited laughers. There’s a lot more ‘laughing on the inside.’”
And then there’s Nathan Brannon, the Portland comic I first encountered while judging the Seattle International Comedy Competition, where he blew my (lightly high) mind with a totally charismatic and hilarious performance. As I scrawled across my judge’s ballot at the time: “IN-BLOOM STAR POWA GO FORTH AND CONQUER THE WORLD WITH CONFIDENCE.”
This gushery can’t be blamed on just my highness. Enough people loved Brannon that he has been crowned Portland’s Funniest Person, won the Seattle International Comedy Competition, and started opening for Dave Chappelle and Maria Bamford. More recently, he launched The Hamster Village podcast (focusing on the lives of interracial couples) and recorded his second comedy album, Because, released last month on Kill Rock Stars.
The release of Because provided a perfect opportunity to gauge the particulars of weed-driven laughter. My plan: The album would be simultaneously experienced by an audience of two, one of them substantially high on weed (me), the other enjoying a couple glasses of wine (my friend Kathryn).
Because kicks off with a performance piece, recorded in a studio, involving Brannon being goaded into bad decisions by his own brain. (After a tiny perceived slight, Brannon’s brain demands, “Make a scene!”) It’s hilarious and innovative, and is followed by an hour of traditional stand-up that never quite attains the heights of the opener but is reliably, uniquely funny. More of a storyteller than a wisecracker, Brannon leads audiences through exceedingly casual tales that build to outlandish outcomes, with him remaining relentlessly logical within his fantastic frameworks. (Key example: His marriage pact, wherein he and his wife vow that if their child ever falls into an outhouse, they will simply make another child.)
As for the stoned-versus-drunk response comparison: Both respondents laughed at virtually the same jokes, at virtually the same volume. The friendship connection outweighs the intoxicant discrepancy, it seems.