Doug Benson has made a career out of lampooning celebrities, talking about movies and making people laugh in the process. Oh, and he's also done just fine for himself by getting super-duper stoned, then telling jokes, or even making a movie about it.
But sometimes Benson isn't necessarily funny, like when he chats on the phone from his home in L.A. in the days before one of his many cross-continental weekend comedy tours. Rather, he's damn smart, pumping out one piece of cultural, political or social commentary after another. There are laughs during a 20-minute discussion with Benson, but these moments of hilarity are outweighed by the "holy-shit-he's-got-a-point" sort of instances the comic creates when he, for example, unleashes a deft critique of reality television in which he argues, quite convincingly, that American Idol is TV's most worthwhile reality program. And don't get him started on Celebrity Apprentice.
"That show doesn't make any sense to me because none of them need to win anything, except maybe their dignity. It's just a mish-mashing of celebrities who are like, 'Hey, let's run a lemonade stand,'" says Benson.
His spot-on observations shouldn't be necessarily shocking. After all, most comics are smart - they have to be. But the surprise comes because Benson is a guy who may be best known for making a film called Super High Me - a documentary in which he smoked pot for 30 straight days and then spent another 30 days off the weed, and compared the results. He also wrote and starred in The Marijuanalogues, the pothead takeoff on the feminist spoken word project. Benson delivers a stand-up act that's hardly a sticky batch of pot jokes. But, on the other hand, the tour that brings him to Bend is billed as the "Puff Puff Pass Comedy Tour."
It's also immediately clear that Benson understands comedy even if he doesn't find it necessary to dish out laughs in a telephone interview. He not only knows how to make people laugh, but who these people are and why they laugh. His Twitter feed, like those of most comics, is an open stream of one-liners and includes entries like this: "Nobody yells racial epithets at John Boehner, because nobody knows what he is."
"Twitter is such a raging stream of nonsense that people can't really keep track of everything they saw there," says Benson, "But it's a nice testing ground."
Benson, who was arguably the funniest recurring commentator on VH1's Best Week Ever during his four seasons on the program, is also into movies. Like, really into movies. This is why he hosts an almost-weekly podcast called "I Love Movies" in which he invites his friends - many of whom happen to be equally renowned comics - to chat with him about movies. The podcast is free and popular to the point that if Benson misses a week, fans notice and/or become furious.
"People get really worked up [when there's a lapse between podcasts]. I have to send out a lot of apologies to people and explain that I am, after all, doing it for free," says Benson.
Again, Benson's humor and commentary are timely and often dig below the surface-level Jay Leno monologue sort of quips. But people still want to talk to him (and in turn, for him to talk) about pot. Benson doesn't hide the fact that he enjoys a toke, but is hardly idealistic in his quest to make marijuana funny and acceptable.
"I try to be honest about it. I don't think that pot is some sort of panacea that would make everyone's lives perfect if it were legal," says Benson.
He then lists a few states looking at implementing medical marijuana or decriminalization, then makes a few observations about the social differences between drunk people and high people.
"If you're watching TV, Regis and Kelley or Ellen DeGeneres will make jokes about being drunk, but they wouldn't make jokes about being high. That's the craziest distinction because people get drunk and kill people," says Benson.
OK, so that wasn't exactly funny, but it is worth pondering. In the end, Benson is not a marijuana warrior, he's just a guy who wants to poke fun at the things that deserve being poked at.
"When they come to the show, I don't give a speech about legalizing marijuana, but I hope to at least tell people that it's something that people can live with."
Doug Benson, Graham Elwood
8pm Saturday, April 10. Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St. $23/advance, $28/day of show. Tickets at towertheatre.org or Tower box office. All ages.