A “TMZ doesn’t bother
me” level of fame helps the pot comic operate under the radar.




Doug Benson doesn’t recall meeting me in Austin last March. I don’t blame him. That’s
not a self-effacing comment; his eyes were like two cherry tomatoes left out in
the sun-he was hiiiiiiigh. That isn’t
an insult so much as an observation. Nor is it juicy TMZ fruit.


“That’s not such an unusual thing for me to forget,” he says
when I offer a detail to spark his memory. “But I totally believe it happened.”


Benson is a pot comic. Whether or not you’re a toker, you
know exactly what that means, although you probably picture Cheech & Chong
first. Maybe George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg. Benson, however, is at the vanguard
of the new wave of pot comics, ranking #2 on the High Times list of comedians who mine marijuana for laughs. He
received the distinction for “ripping off” The Vagina Monologues (with The Marijuana-Logues) and Morgan Spurlock (with the film Super High Me). Both productions, in
addition to appearances on VH-1’s Best
Week Ever
as well as his popular I
Love Movies
podcast, have made Benson a popular guy-and the current
posterboy for pot comedy.


“I guess I’ve taken [pot comedy] to another level by writing
plays and making movies where pot is such a big theme,” says Benson. “My
humor’s either about pot, or at least fueled by pot… I write some of my best
jokes when I’m high. And I tell some of my best jokes when I’m high. [laughs]
So I guess that makes me a pot comic!”


As for the “new wave of pot comedy,” I made that up. Pot
comedy isn’t so new, or even a trend. Benson’s just the latest guy to make it
something of a platform. Hemp jokes and the legalization theme are woven
throughout other material covering sex, social networking, movies, and
non-stoner aspects of his life. He often performs high, and never apologizes
for it-he doesn’t have to. Like a stoner getting up to answer the doorbell, pot
has slowly crept to the forefront of pop culture and, like a true weed, it’s
not going away. Pot references are on network television, stenciled on the
sides of buildings, and legalized (for medicinal use) in 13 states.


Even the High Times list of pot comics shows the ubiquity of marijuana. The top ten includes names
like Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Sacha Baron Cohen and Tenacious
D, all of whom publicly support marijuana and perhaps admit they use it, us but
don’t make it the lynchpin of their work. Even Jay Leno made the list, just for goofing about it in his monologues.
Cheech, Chong, Carlin and Hedberg weren’t even among the 25 honorable mentions.
What does that tell you (besides someone at High
is really high)?


Well, for one thing, if those are the names that come to
mind at High Times, then maybe pot is
increasingly a non-issue. Cheech
& Chong have taken their Light Up America tour around the country (and keep
extending it, including runs through Canada
and Australia)
only five years since Chong left prison for drug paraphernalia charges. So far,
the only legal speedbump was in Australia,
and that resulted in simple possession charges for six people, none of them
Cheech or Chong. While Benson’s profile is much lower, it’s still notable that
he can travel the country during wartime (drug war) talking about and using
marijuana and be relatively unmolested.    


“I’ve been totally unmolested,” laughs Benson. “Some days I have flashbacks to molestations that
I’ve blocked out of my mind.” Seriously, though, he thinks he rates low on the
law enforcement priority list; Chong was caught because he’s a counterculture
icon. What’s more, even in states where pot hasn’t been legalized, it may have
been decriminalized. For example, in Austin
where I caught Benson red-eyed, a personal use amount “would run you about 100
bucks and maybe a court appearance.”
So Benson figures his lower-level celebrity and personal use stash-“they can’t
really arrest you for having cookies”-make him a less attractive target.

“I’m really happy with my ‘TMZ doesn’t bother me’ level of
fame,” he says. “Nobody is going out of their way to take my picture and that
suits me just fine.”


One wonders, though, how Benson fares in more conservative
locales like the Bible Belt or, say, Salt
Lake City? Does he dare indulge in those places? Of
course he does. “You just gotta be cool about it. You gotta know the lay of the
land.” But for his next tour, he’s hitting only the magic 13 states where
medical marijuana is legal. Not for personal convenience, but in order to draw
attention to the cause.


“Most people don’t know that many states have legalized it
and their state isn’t one of them,” he says. “I want people to get involved,
wherever they live, in trying to make marijuana legal. Not to get too political
about it; I’m a silly comedian just trying to entertain people with my jokes. But
I also have a little bit of a cause that I’m supporting.”


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