BEING THE PREEMINENT pot comic of the day has its perks. You get to do drugs at work and everyone wants to give you more. It's almost like a contest—each fan wants to prove they've got the best shit.
"A lot of people give [weed] to me, and that's awesome," says comedian and High Times magazine's 2006 Stoner of the Year Doug Benson. "Especially in places where it's legal or at least decriminalized. I love that."
Benson's pot-related projects are numerous. He starred in Super High Me, a parody of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me that entailed smoking all day, every day for 30 days. (Unlike Spurlock's revelation, Benson's results were no great surprise.)
In October of last year he embarked on the "Medical Marijuana Tour," a 13-day tour of the 13 states where weed is legally considered medicinal. The tour began in Rhode Island and stretched all the way to Hawaii.
"It was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be," says Benson. "We managed to make it to every date and, of course, Portland was one of the highlights. That was one of the most fun shows on a tour that was all fun shows." Benson's first visit to Portland, however, was a disaster.
After performing another pot parody in 2005, the off-Broadway The Marijuana-Logues, the group decided to take the show on the road. To their overwhelming excitement, Tommy Chong, the godfather of ganja, joined the ranks. "We went to Vancouver first, great show," remembers Benson. "The audience went crazy and threw a bunch of joints onstage. It was a wonderful time." The next night in Seattle, the same. The morning after, as they were to leave for Portland, Chong gathered everyone in the hotel lobby. He was quitting the show.
"He was on probation at the time from the jail time that he did," says Benson of Chong's bust for selling pot paraphernalia. "He said that being around people smoking pot and people throwing pot on the stage was a direct parole violation and he didn't want to have to go back to jail." Benson & Co. found themselves in Portland on a drab rainy Sunday night. The show—and the rest of the tour—was cancelled.
And while pot has presented Benson with a niche and a number of opportunities, being equated with stoner culture isn't always helpful, nor does it encompass his onstage talent.
"One of the downsides would be, maybe giving people the idea that I'm just a dumb stoner and don't try very hard and don't have anything to offer," says Benson. It's a legitimate concern. Benson is neither lazy nor stupid. He's been performing for over 20 years, and his act is multi-faceted. A year ago I saw Benson open for Craig Robinson in San Francisco, and Benson blew him out of the water.
"I like to think there's no established rhythm [in comedy] because what makes people laugh is surprise," Benson explains. "So I try not to have it all be uniform in length and style." This includes short and long-form jokes, callbacks, and of course, subjects more varied than just weed.
Benson points to his work on Last Comic Standing and Best Week Ever as proof that his appeal extends beyond stoner culture. "I have fans that don't smoke pot and they don't care one way or another whether I do," Benson says. "The jokes have to be good, no matter what they're about."