Doug Benson has always been a stand-up first and a stoner second, although the Los Angeles-based comic — who plays various Denver venues on May 11 and 13 — has found ways to cleverly merge the two over the past decade.
Benson’s 2004 Off-Broadway comedy “The Marijuana-Logues” skewered “The Vagina Monologues” and set the stage for his 2007 weed documentary “Super High Me,” in which Benson performed a number of tasks sober and stoned then compared the results. That led to 2012′s “The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled,” in which Benson again took cues from Morgan Spurlock and traveled the country funding his latest comedy-weed venture.
In between Benson has recorded a half dozen live albums, appeared on Comedy Central, VH1 and more, and graced the pages of High Times Magazine as Stoner of the Year. He’s also lately been hosting a goofy, surprisingly entertaining video podcast called “Getting Doug With High,” all the while gently but insistently pushing for national cannabis legalization.
We caught up with Benson, who recently visited Littleton’s Alamo Drafthouse for his “Doug Love Movies” live show, to talk about Colorado’s recreational legalization, his favorite Denver haunts, smoking out of gas cans and why he never again needs to hit up a head shop.
You seem to visit Colorado at least three to four times per year these days. In terms of states you perform in, where does it rank? (I’m guessing California is first, New York might be second, etc.)
Yeah, California and New York are one and two because I live in one and sometimes do TV stuff in the other. But Colorado is a close third, possibly tying with Oregon and Washington. Because let’s face it, the friendlier a state is regarding marijuana, the happier I am. New York is considering legalizing weed, and I am psyched about it.
What’s the main thing you’re looking forward to about weed legalization in Colorado?
Honestly it won’t change my Colorado experience much. I mean, I’m glad it’s legal, but it’s felt to me like it was legal in Colorado for a long time now.
You’ve obviously smoked a lot of Colorado bud in the past. Do you have a favorite strain?
I’m not really a strain chaser. I just want to get high. I prefer Sativas over Indicas but I’ll smoke anything that’s passed to me. Unless it has tobacco in it. Blech.
Good bud deserves good munchies. What’s your favorite place to get grub when you’re in Denver, whether you’re playing Comedy Works or elsewhere?
There’s a place downtown called Earl’s that I like a lot. Not sure if it’s part of a chain, but I eat there every time I come to Denver. I also have a taste for chain restaurants. I guess because I know what I’m gonna get. I hit up a plate of Mongolian Beef at P.F. Chang’s every time I’m mile high in the city.
How did the recent “Benson Movie Interruption” show go at our new Alamo Drafthouse? The local comics making fun of “Lethal Weapon” with you were a couple of my favorites (Chris Charpentier and Harrison Rains). Would you come back and do it again?
The plan is for Harrison Rains to take over the “Benson Movie Interruption” in Littleton, but it will just be called “The Movie Interruption.” We’re franchising the concept at all of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters throughout the country. The “Lethal Weapon” screening was well attended and a lot of fun. I’ll be back for sure. But go see one even when I’m not there, because a movie with comics who have mics is a great experience.
What’s your impression of Denver’s stand-up scene? It’s been compared to Portland (Oregon) and Austin over the last couple years due to its fast-growing number of open mics, showcases and festivals — including last year’s inaugural High Plains Comedy Festival, which was sponsored by the Denver Relief dispensary, among others.
Denver has had a pretty big comedy scene for as long as I can remember. Comedy Works is one of the best clubs in the country, and for as long as I’ve been doing shows there I’ve noticed and even become friends with a lot of local talent. We need lots of good comics to do the Movie Interruption shows, so I’m glad the scene is still popping.
This may be obvious to some people but in your opinion, what makes stand-up and marijuana such super BFFs?
Stand-up is fun, smoking pot is fun. Fun plus fun equals bigger fun. Who doesn’t want large fun?
There are a growing number of pot-friendly comedy shows going on in town, and one of the owners of Denver Relief is trying to open a combination comedy/pizza/weed shop. Do you think pot smoking should be allowed in comedy clubs? Is it better or worse than cigarette smoke to you?
I came up in comedy during a time when cigarette smoking was allowed in clubs, and it was disgusting. A whole room of people blowing smoke in your direction while you tell jokes. My clothes used to smell terrible after a two-show night. But weed smoking is an entirely different thing. Every show I’ve done — in places like Amsterdam and Toronto, where pot smoking is allowed — has been a blast. One time in Canada I did a show at a place called the Comedy Underground, and the pot smoking was so intense I “greened out” after my set. Had to sit down and put a cold cloth on my forehead. Which was provided by the venue of course!
It seems unlikely that Comedy Works will ever allow open pot smoking at its shows. Are you more inclined or less inclined to play certain places based on their attitudes towards weed, or does it matter to you?
That club has been so nice to me, I don’t mind stepping outside into the alley to burn one. Or dozens. The crowds in Denver are very generous during our post-show sessions.
I love your video podcast “Getting Doug With High.” The format is simple, but it works, mainly works because you choose great guests. Who would you like to have on the show that you haven’t yet?
I don’t really have a wish list. I just think it’s fun to see who is willing to smoke so openly. The producers of the show run names by me, and I suggest people, and so far we’ve been able to get a new guest or two every week. We might have to repeat guests at some point. Everyone who have been on so far wants to do it again. Which I can’t say about my sex life.
Have a lot of people turned you down because they’re concerned about appearing on camera while stoned?
Yeah, but the main reason for saying no is because they don’t want their family to see it, or their employers. Some of my best comedian friends can’t do it because they have gigs on kid shows and stuff. I thought it was pretty cool that Aubrey Plaza did it, because she’s on a big network TV show.
Who have been you favorite guests so far?
Greg Proops and Joey Diaz were the only two who didn’t have a personality shift when they got really high. Total pros. But no matter how my guests react, I appreciate them showing up. Even Jeff Ross, who got so high all he could do was roast the set and my attire.
Will you be coming to our 2014 Cannabis Cup this year? I know they love you at High Times Magazine (the event’s sponsor).
I’m sure I will come to it at some point. I don’t go to a lot of weed events because my life is a weed event. I get to meet a lot of pot smokers at my shows, so it’s a two-fer. I get to do my job and then have my own personal Cannabis Cup in the parking lot.
I heard your beloved Volcano vaporizer bit the dust some time ago. What’s your favorite smoking device of the moment?
Just got a new vaporizer that we’re gonna try on the next episode of the show. Plus I think they are sending me a new Volcano. But I’ll smoke out of anything. As long as it doesn’t have tobacco in it!
Do you have a favorite head shop in Colorado?
I don’t. Weed comes to me. And of course I bring edibles with me when I travel.
Which state do you think will be the next to legalize weed recreationally, beyond California?
I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet in Oregon. And I hope Florida legalizes it, because I like being high at Disney World.
What’s an under-appreciated stoner activity that people here should be doing more often?
Taking tests. In “Super High Me” is took the SATs high and not high. And not only was it more fun to do high, I got a better score when I was stoned.
What’s your favorite bud outside of Colorado?
My stock answer to that is Chocolope. It’s a strain I first encountered at the cup in Amsterdam, and it’s a fun name to say.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever smoked out of with a fan after a show?
A dude in Kentucky got me to smoke out of an empty plastic gasoline can. I probably should’ve said no to that one.
Dave Chappelle recently took his audience at Comedy Works to a strip club here after a show, which I know you did in “The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled.” Do you think he got the idea from you? Or do stoner comics just love strip clubs?
I think strippers and stand-up comics understand each other. We both know the terrible feeling of exposing yourself to an audience that might not care. Now that you mention it, I’m gonna have a strip club field trip the next time I’m in Denver. Probably on Mother’s Day. I did a 4/20 show on Mother’s Day in Denver last year and I want to make it an annual tradition.
What do you think the next step is for Colorado after legalizing weed? Pot tourism? The weed equivalent of the farm-to-table restaurant? Micro-grow houses?
You’re guess is as good as mine. But whatever happens, I love it.
And finally, do you have any weed-related resolutions for 2014?
I resolve to stay the course, of course!