Doug Benson has smoked his way to the title of America's most cannabis-friendly comedian — or, at least, the comedy world's best-known pothead.
This mantle has served him well. After the success of the 2008 documentary Super High Me — in which Benson gave cannabis the Morgan Spurlock treatment and subjected his body to 30 straight days of copious cannabis use, to no measurable ill physical or mental effects — stoner shtick has become indispensable to his act.
He has a weekly podcast/videocast called Getting Doug with High, in which he gets stoned with other comedians for an hour or so. He made a movie called Chronic-Con, which is about him high at Comic-Con. Are you with me? Let's review: Doug Benson smokes weed.
Which makes his current legal battle to prevent a Super High Me sequel — on the grounds that releasing extra footage shot during his high drama would do irreparable damage to his “image,” or so his lawyers have declared in court — all the more confounding.
The sequel, tentatively titled Super High Me Redux, is being pushed by Benson's former partners on the original film: producers Alex Campbell and D.J. Paul. (The director of Super High Me, Michael Blieden, is not involved.) The pair say they have about 800 hours of unused footage of Benson high and not high, shot during the initial filming in 2007. They also have more footage shot during the Prop. 19 legalization campaign in 2010 and the subsequent DEA raids of Oaksterdam University, Prop. 19's chief sponsor, in 2012. (Some of that footage may end up in yet another film Campbell is making about Prop. 19, called Oaksterdam Now.)
Making the first film was evidently a bit of a production. An initial vision of selling Super High Me as a six-part reality TV series to Netflix, the project's initial distributor, didn't pan out. Conflicts arose between the project's participants, who were unsure if they were making a film or a television series. Benson at one time or another threatened to drop out. Campbell seemed to want to make a film less about Benson and more about California's medical cannabis movement. Blieden, a former Daily Show correspondent, was in it because he had no other job.
Whatever. Benson got stoned and told some jokes, the film got made, and Super High Me became a “cult classic,” in Benson's attorneys' parlance.
Years pass. Life went on — until 2014, when Campbell and Paul informed Benson they wanted to use the extra footage to put together a sequel. (By this time, Benson's career has taken off; his first-ever hour-long comedy special came out in 2014.)
Sometime last year, Benson apparently viewed a trailer of Redux — and freaked out. Last spring, he filed for arbitration against the company he formed with Campbell and Paul to block the sequel. Before that could play out, he filed a lawsuit in federal court in August to keep the extra footage under wraps.
Say what you want about Doug Benson, but he does not want Super High Me Redux made — or the extra material collected during the filming of the original released — under any circumstances.
Herein lies the mystery: Exactly what in the footage is so sensitive, Benson won't say. (Through his manager, Bruce Smith, Benson declined all comment.) Nevertheless, he insists that releasing nine-year-old footage from a “cult classic” movie about him smoking a bale-ful of weed would somehow “injure his reputation, alienate and upset his fans, and potentially cause harm to his carefully cultivated career,” according to the lawsuit.
What could possibly whip up fans of stoner comedy into such a righteous frenzy that they'd stop watching online videos of comedians pulling tubes? Maybe it's the visual evidence that Benson initially opposed the very film that catapulted him to his current level of fame.
Judging by the trailer of the film, released on YouTube over the weekend, Benson was less than comfortable with being stoned all the time. He was also definitely not interested in making a movie about the medical marijuana movement — you know, the very thing that allowed him to get legally stoned for 30 days straight.
“I don't think he wants people to know that there was behind the scenes conflict that led to him temporarily quitting the project,” Campbell told SF Weekly. “And that he was not totally on board with some of the subject matter involving medical cannabis.”
You get the feeling Benson never really wanted to be the poster child of somewhat-responsibly stoned people in the first place, even if it pushed his career to the next level.
“He didn't want the cameras around him personally, and he didn't want the movie to have any part of the medical cannabis movement,” Paul says. “He just wanted the movie to be about his comedy, which was never the solitary goal of the project.”
If you're feeling righteous, that's what really stings. Activism is not for everybody — nobody would confuse Doug Benson with Sean Penn, with or without the trips to Haiti and audiences with El Chapo — but it's hard to imagine Benson doing Super High Me without the activists who made it legally possible to buy marijuana in a store.
It's also hard to imagine Doug Benson without Super High Me. Good for him for changing his mind on that one, at least — because it almost never happened.