In his debut documentary, Super High Me, Doug Benson surprises himself when he smokes pot everyday for 30 days without burning out. In one scene, a therapist says that it seems important to him that other people know he isn't changed by getting high, that he can function as well or better while under his influence of choice. On Benson's latest album, Smug Life, he indicates that it is.
First of all, Benson records a new album every year on April 20, the unofficial marijuana holiday, in addition to performing a full calendar of live shows, hosting the popular Doug Loves Movies podcast, and making a career out of parodying Morgan Spurlock. Named the #2 pot comic by High Times, Benson is the poster boy for functional stoners: his career allows for regular consumption and no one would accuse him of being lazy or a degenerate for it. Still, like the therapist in Super High Me points out, it seems as though he needs validation: not only is he able to be high on the job, it actually makes him better.
Which brings us to the experiment that is Smug Life. The double album includes two sets performed by Benson at the Parlor Live comedy club in Bellevue, Washington. The first set, Uncooked was performed while Benson was sober, much to the 4/20 audience's dismay. Although he admits to having smoked the night before (and as Patton Oswalt explains in Super High Me, it's likely that Benson has enough stored THC in his body that he's never really NOT high) he had not smoked since waking up that day. Benson jokes on both albums that, "the last time I didn't smoke for eight hours was because I was on a plane to Amsterdam."
The second album, Cooked, was performed after Benson smoked and consumed as much marijuana as he could between sets. How high was he? He jokes that he was a "7.4" (out of 7.4) but he sounded about the same, did most of the same material and only said about one joke out of order from his original set list. He used notes, but he also used notes for the first set. On Uncooked, after struggling to find a tweet that he wanted to read, Benson says, "this is teaching me a lot; I might as well be high... People are going to say, 'he was as good or better when he was high." After listening to both, I'd say he's about right.
Now, that's not to say that Cooked blew Uncooked out of the water. There were several different variables (other than his being high or sober) that contributed to the flow of both albums, giving each its ups and downs. For one, the sober set was the first set, so one would expect it to be a little more stiff. Then, on Cooked, Benson excuses some dull moments by saying that he normally doesn't do two sets in one night anymore, indicating that it affects his performance.
Perhaps it was the audience that affected each set the most, sometimes unintentionally and other times solicited by Benson. After all, he does quite a bit of crowd work, reads fan tweets, talks about local goings-on and interacts with interesting people in the front row, which doesn't translate well on an album. But on Uncooked, the first three or four tracks a heckler in the back repeatedly demands attention, yelling "Bullshit!" and other inane remarks before being quietly whisked away by security. So almost every track features some kind of audience interaction, the funniest probably being when someone yelled, "You were high when you wrote that" after Benson's groaner about tiger meat. Or maybe it was when someone yelled, "The camera man is high!" forgetting that Benson was recording an album, not a TV special.
OK, so some of the fans were funny.
As for the Benson's jokes, which remained more or less intact after his between-show blaze, the best bits were those that were actually, well, "bits." His tale of a hotel "Furry" convention is hilarious and his observations about the T.A.S.E.R. segment on 60 Minutes"had people laughing before the punchline. But the majority of the jokes were tailored for his Seattle-adjacent stoner audience, including the reading of far more tweets than were probably necessary, two-and-a-half minutes about his new vaporizer pen, and jokes that start and end with a funny word he thought of while high, like "dick-skipper." Fellow stoner comic Brian Posehn has a bit about these kind of jokes, the kind you write after finding a cocktail napkin with the words Chicken Monkey on it the morning after smoking pot all night.
Let's just say, there's quite a bit of Chicken Monkey on Smug Life, but I'm OK with that, the audience was OK with that, and Benson is definitely OK with that. He doesn't take himself too seriously and has more fun onstage than most comedians, often laughing at himself as he deconstructs his own jokes and connects the dots that a non-stoner comic might not connect. At the top of Uncooked, Benson explains that the point of the experiment is to let people decide for themselves whether or not he's funnier while high or sober. After listening to both sets, I think the answer is clear: who the hell is wondering that, and why don't they shut up?