A week doesn’t pass by without Doug Benson’s trademark wit. Whether he’s tweeting savvy observations into the late hours of night or hosting another round of the Leonard Maltin Game on his highly addictive podcast, Doug Loves Movies, the San Diego comic/marijuana enthusiast stays relevant. He also commits to myriad projects and tours at a frantic pace, seemingly challenging the stereotype that plague stoners worldwide. He’s a man for the people — a specific niche of people, sure– but his people nonetheless. And with Smug Life, his fifth album in under five years, he does little else but truck on in that style.
The latest entry in Benson’s discography is a double album, recorded onstage at Bellevue, WA’s Parlor Live Comedy Club on April 20th, 2012 — yes, 420. Look, as juvenile as that may seem, the man knows his brand and he knows what works. His stoner personality does wonders for him, and surprisingly, he’s always finding a way to put a new spin on that style. For Smug Life, Benson went the experimental route and performed two shows: one “uncooked” and the other “cooked”. It doesn’t take a Master’s degree in The Grateful Dead to figure out what the hell that means. (Spoiler alert: “Uncooked” means he didn’t blaze.)
The problem with the experiment is that one side is wholly stronger than the other. Benson has pigeonholed himself as everyone’s lovable stoner and although the “uncooked” performance is enjoyable, it’s (predictably) far less chaotic and spontaneous in nature. Benson’s too self-aware sober, and it’s just not as endearing. When he quickly segues into off-the-cuff pop-culture critiques (i.e. ”The Hunger Games is the least exciting movie ever made about children trying to kill each other”), it all comes across as too calculated and less stream of consciousness. It comes down to his delivery: In both performances, he shares a hilarious story about hitting a dog with his car, replacing the animal with something less emotionally devastating, like a fish. One can take an educated guess on which performance tells it best.
Delivery aside, Benson’s material is quite surreal regardless of his conditions. He digresses on his time at Seattle’s Bumbershoot, Easter’s annoying, ever-changing calendar dates, what the acronym T.A.S.E.R. really means, and his own vivid ideas for furry conventions. It’s funny stuff through and through, but the echoes get louder as one sticks around longer. Still, longtime fans of Benson — the ones that refresh their podcast subscriptions each morning in hopes for a new DLM — should find solace with these two options. For everyone else, to paraphrase Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, choose wisely.
Essential Tracks: “One Knuckle It”, “I Love Seattle”