Marijuana culture has gone so mainstream it now has its own talk show.
And some very famous people are turning up not only to say they smoke pot, but that they’re happy to do it live in front of anyone with an Internet connection.
“People shouldn't feel shame for enjoying marijuana,” comedian and “Getting Doug With High” host Doug Benson told Yahoo News. “I like having guests on my show who are happy to smoke on camera and show the world that you can get high and have fun and nothing terrible is going to happen.”
It’s 4:20 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles — pot icon Tommy Chong and Benson sit across from each other in a dimly lit room, passing the pipe and telling stories while surrounded by a giant wall decal emblazoned with images of outer space.
Even in pot-friendly Southern California, where industrial-strength weed is legally available to anyone with an easily obtainable medical card, you’d likely only stumble across a scene like this if you were part of Benson’s inner circle of celebrity smoker pals. But today, the two men are having their spirited conversation in front of a camera crew that is broadcasting live as part of Benson’s new pot-themed comedy talk show.
Benson, 49, has established himself as the pre-eminent pot comedian through his comedy tours, podcasts and the 2007 documentary “Super High Me.” Contrary to the stereotype of a lazy pot smoker, Benson has to be one of the hardest-working, most prolific professionals in the industry, hosting a number of podcasts and constantly touring with his stand-up comedy act.
“People sometimes use words like ‘stoner’ or ‘pothead’ in an insulting way, but that's changing more and more every day,” Benson says. “I'm no educator. But as a comedian, I've been showing people for years that a pot smoker can be a contributing member of society.”
When asked how the show got its start, "Getting Doug With High" producer and director Brent Butler told Yahoo News Benson had wanted to do a show like it for some time, and when the Video Podcast Network agreed, it was a natural fit.
“Doug had this idea for a show he really wanted to make where everyone smokes and then they have a nice conversation,” Butler said. “We’re trying to stay true to that essence. Not that we’re opposed to ‘Drunk History.’ But this is consenting adults doing a legal thing while having a nice, normal, entertaining time.”
Benson’s show has several recurring segments, including “Pot Topics,” in which Benson and his guests discuss marijuana stories in the news, “High History,” in which guests share their history as pot smokers, and a bit where Benson asks guests to name the most famous person they’ve ever smoked pot with.
For his part, Chong cited Arnold Schwarzenegger, architect Frank Gehry and “all of the Beatles except for Paul.”
Since its launch, the show’s audience has been steadily growing, with several hundred thousand viewers streaming each episode.
And while Benson may push back at the notion of being a public educator, his show has made news. For example, during Chong’s appearance, the 75-year-old actor and comedian revealed that he inspired Jordan Belfort to write his “Wolf of Wall Street” memoir while the two were prison mates in 2004.
Benson has also brought his show to live audiences at the Largo theater, allowing some of his dedicated fans to join in the festivities — although there are limitations on just how far audience participation can go.
For example, at a live taping in February, a Largo employee addressed the audience with explicit instructions before the show began: No smoking in the theater, even with alternative inhalation devices like vaporizers.
“I think it helps to get other people comfortable,” said Los Angeles resident Tamara Smith before the Largo show. Smith said she thinks the show can also be entertaining even for those who don’t smoke pot. “They’ll have to be open-minded though,” she said with a laugh.
“I think there is still something special to it,” added another attendee, Shea Trevor. “It’s a novelty being able to be around other marijuana users in the public,” he added. “Normally, I’d be more of a stay at home, watch a movie type.”
At the same time, Benson acknowledges that it can still be a challenge to convince a high-profile entertainer to appear on his show and smoke pot steadily for the better part of an hour, all while remaining funny, coherent and paranoia-free.
“Even some of my friends have said ‘no’ because they don't want their family to see them smoke, or because they don't want to lose lucrative gigs on children's TV shows or something like that,” Benson said. “Which sucks, but as more states and countries legalize weed, then I'll get better and better guests.”
It’s further evidence that in America today marijuana culture is evolving into simply culture.
Still, even with all the strides marijuana advocates have made in recent years, Benson says he thinks it will be some time before pot is legal across the entire country.
“It could be another 20 years,” Benson said. “And I don't think Obama will decriminalize it. I'm sure he knows that legalization is going to happen everywhere. All he has to do is stay out of the way."
Benson’s ability to hedge his own enthusiasm against political realities further demonstrates that underneath the visage of a carefree comedian is an intelligent advocate who knows how to get his message across. Chong himself repeatedly referred to Benson as an “intellectual” during their conversation.
That said, it just wouldn’t be fair to walk away from a story of this nature without at least one stoner-friendly anecdote:
As I made my way inside the Largo to watch Benson’s live show, a man dressed in an Iron Man replica suit, who calls himself the “Comedy Patriot,” beckoned me over.
“They won’t let me inside the club,” he bemoaned in an electronically filtered voice. Wanting to help, I offered him the plus one on my invite. “Oh, I have a ticket,” he said with a buzzing sigh. “But they say I’m a fire hazard.”