Stoned stand-up often no laughing matter for comedy crowds

Some stoners freely admit they won’t toke up before a show, such as Sarah Silverman, even if they use it recreationally in their day-to-day lives.

Doug Benson (Doug Benson)
Doug Benson (Doug Benson)

However, many stand-ups are right at home on stage after a joint or edible. Joey Diaz, who studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder, regularly jokes about eating the popular infused candy Cheeba Chews. Doug Benson, whose “Getting Doug With High” web series invites celebrity friends to smoke on camera, is rarely sober on stage.

“When your show starts at 4:20, the audience pretty much knows what to expect,” Benson says of being high on stage. “But even at my evening shows, the crowd is as baked as me or more.” Creating this pot niche has allowed him to relax, get high and hope to transfer the good time he’s having to the audience.

Finally, a Denver comic on “Getting Doug with High”: “Last Comic Standing” champs Josh Blue and Felipe Esparza chat with Benson about traveling with weed and much more

Benson also finds cannabis a unique conduit to connect with fans. He’s often seen smoking before or after spots instead of manning a merchandise table like many other stand-ups. “I only meet fans at the merch table when I’m playing a gig in a mall or a city or state that frowns upon pot smoking,” he admits. “Because I’d much prefer getting high with fans outside by a Dumpster. But when that’s not a possibility, I like hanging at the merch table — I never sell anything, feels weird to ask folks for more money after they already paid to see the show — because I can apologize to anyone who had hoped to blaze with me.”

How do the touring comedians typically get high on the road? At many venues, the green room has taken on a different meaning as comics spark up to kill time before their set. When a 420-friendly performer is “gigging,” it can also double as a sanctuary, lessening concern about local law enforcement. Not all venues are permitting, but some leave clues. “Sometimes I ask if there’s a spot in or near the building where I can smoke, and sometimes the club encourages me by leaving some weed in the green room,” Benson says. “One place had incense burning in my dressing room, which is basically like asking me to smoke in there, right?”

Comedian Pete Holmes
Comedian Pete Holmes (Michael Buckner, Getty Images for FOX)

As cannabis use among comedians becomes more public and the stigma associated with it lessens, those of Benson’s ilk find their reputation precedes them now. Where many were shocked to find Holmes too stoned to perform his headlining set, some would be as surprised to see Benson sober.

“Most places are pretty cool with me smoking, because why would you hire me and not be cool with smoking?” Benson says. “That would be like hiring Dane Cook and getting mad if he takes his shirt off.”

Even stand-up insiders note that the experience isn’t always a negative one.

“In some cases, being blasted off your ass can be uniquely entertaining, as Ari Shaffir or Doug Stanhope or Joe Rogan have noted about performing on ’shrooms,” notes Wenzel, who has also written about comedy for Rolling Stone, The Spit Take and Splitsider. He ultimately concludes that “getting too high is either a poor excuse for a bad set or a great argument for how naive and irresponsible you are.”

With no end to marijuana legalization in sight, it seems Colorado audiences are the ones whose tolerance is truly being tested by performers who can’t handle their herb.