What do you get when you combine weed and LEGO Batman?
There are many potential answers to that question, but for the purposes of this column, the correct answer is Doug Benson. A cannabis advocate, film junky and standup comedian, Benson's snarky humor and quick wit make you laugh the way you would with your best friend. You might think you don't know him, but if you've ever watched Trailer Park Boys, The Sarah Silverman Program, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Curb Your Enthusiasm or, obviously, The LEGO Batman Movie, then you've seen his work.
Over Christmas weekend, I watched an episode of Bob's Burgers in which Bob fires his three kids who work in his restaurant because he fears he might ruin their lives by keeping them from truly experiencing their childhood. They end up meeting an old hippie couple who have not only a blueberry farm, but also a marijuana grow operation. The kids end up working for the couple and unwittingly delivering weed disguised in blueberry packages to people all over the city.
Turns out Benson is actually the voice of the DEA agent who comes in at the end of the episode with his team of enforcement officers to bust the hippies. The irony of the character is found in Benson's being a stoner. The show also made me realize he's somewhat of a comedy ninja: He sneakily appears in your favorite shows or movies and makes you cackle without even knowing it's him.
When I heard Benson was performing at the Irvine Improv on Dec. 28, there was no way I was missing it. I mean, what else is there to do in OC midweek? Benson was easily the best option for entertainment across the county.
The crowd inside the venue was impressively large for a weekday evening at the Irvine Spectrum. Waitresses bustled through the tightly sectioned tables as if tight-rope performers, dropping off bites and drinks. A blonde with mischievous blue eyes sat at one of the tables directly in front of the stage. She locked eyes with her friend who sat adjacent to her. The friend rifled through her bag, checking over her shoulders every few seconds. She then covertly passed a small silver flask to the blonde, who unscrewed the top and added a couple of hefty splashes to her dark, carbonated drink.
Onstage, Benson looked as if he could be the love-child of Tom Robbins and Charles Bukowski. "I love it when current politicians talk about the Founding Fathers," he told the crowd. "But those guys were racist pieces of shit, right?"
One person sitting next to me cheered in agreement. But it seemed as if the rest of Irvine had no comment on such a statement. Performing standup comedy in OC must be painfully difficult, given today's political climate and how blindly conservative the majority of those behind the Orange Curtain are. "All right, you guys don't want to talk about this," Benson replied to the audience's lack of response. "I get it. I understand."
He then reached into a bag and started handing out random gifts to people, mostly one-hitter pipes. He reminisced about the time he got caught smoking weed in Columbus, Ohio, on top of a parking structure with a group of fans after his show. He not only received a $100 fine and had to make a court appearance, but he was also banned from the mall for three months. But getting kicked out wasn't an option, considering he had to perform there a few more nights. He showed up the next night to perform, got onstage and wondered the entire time if he would be tackled and arrested. (He wasn't.)
Performing with Benson was Ngaio Bealum, a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair. A cannabis advocate and activist who travels for expos and events such as the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, Seattle Hemp Fest, Hemp Con, Kush Con and many others, Bealum's herb-forward humor hits with elegance—unlike the Cheech-and-Chong-style approach to comedy that's focused on getting fucked-up and being a sluggish stoner. Rather, he made references to his dreads being an international sign to people who are either trying to buy from or sell weed to him.
Bealum incorporates info on the new regulations in his act, including the fact that if you're at least 21 years old, you're legally able to give away up to 1 ounce of flower to another person who's 21 or older. (After the show, he gave me a delightful, fruit-smelling nug that I'd guess is an indica hybrid.) He also shed light on the fact that one of the biggest challenges in America is being healthy because "we are the pioneers—we stay on the cutting edge of designing new and ever-delicious ways to eat like shit. . . . You like Doritos and you like tacos? Here: Have a Dorito taco!"
After the show Benson, Bealum and a group of 15 adoring fans met on the outskirts of the Spectrum. There were three pipes going around at once, with everyone donating herb to the bowls. One fan named Steve drove all the way from Murrieta to San Diego to see Benson and Bealum perform the previous night, drove to Irvine to see them perform that night, and was going again the next night. Now that is dedication.
"Orange County has changed a lot," Bealum told the group. "Ten years ago, they'd arrest you for even thinking about smoking weed."
Benson explained that he never knows how shows in places such as Irvine are going to go because it's impossible to guess who'll be in the crowd. Like clockwork, a young OC-bro type and his girlfriend approached Benson and Bealum to shake their hands. "I've never done drugs before or smoked anything," he said. "We just decided to wing it and go to comedy tonight not really knowing what to expect, and we were blown away by the weed jokes." Next to him, his girlfriend giggled; she looked as if she actually could have been stoned.
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The comedians looked at each other with a smirk. "I hope you get laid tonight!" one of them yelled as the couple exited.
As the night came to an end, Benson asked me if I'd heard about what was going on at LA Weekly. I explained to him that OC Register losers and a shady weed lawyer had taken over the paper, laying off the majority of their editorial staff. "To push their conservative agenda? Everyone has an agenda," he said.
"Yes, that's essentially what's going on."
Benson and Bealum were equally pissed off about the situation. May the boycott continue.