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Comedy CD Review: Doug Benson – Smug Life

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4/20/12 comes around and it’s time for what is now an annual comedy recording from the potentate of pot, Doug Benson. Last year it was Potty Mouth; this year it’s Smug Life. This year the all pot, all the time comic has a gimmick, or as he calls it an experiment.

Experiment? Well, what he decided to do is record two shows. He will do the first show pot free; no pot from the time he wakes up in the morning until he gets up on stage. Then he will proceed to get himself as high as he can between shows and do the second show, in theory the same show, shall we say “under the influence.” Each show will be recorded for a separate disc. The first show disc is “Uncooked,” the second “Cooked.” Listeners will then have the ability to decide which is better, Benson straight or potted. Or to put it another way, to answer the burning question: does pot make you funny?

Now, while this does sound like an intriguing idea, it does have a drawback or two for the listener more concerned with getting a laugh than critiquing the performances. Since the shows are the same, what you are getting are pretty much the same jokes and stories with fairly minor changes based on Benson’s feel for the audience—interesting stuff for the student of comic performance, less exciting for the more casual fan. After all, how funny is a joke when you’ve already heard it? Jokes and stories that worked in the first show work well for the new audience in the club. For the CD listener it’s another story. After hearing the first disc, there are a lot fewer laughs on the second.

Material that seems ad-libbed in the first show turns up again in the second show, so that what was funny because it seemed smartly spontaneous isn’t quite as smart when it is planned as part of the act. Benson, for example, chides himself for some physical comedy that the recording won’t capture. Indeed it becomes a running gag whenever he does some sight gag. This is kind of funny when you think it’s accidental, not so when it’s rehearsed. Of course it’s not a problem for the different audiences in the club, but the repetition in the second show does reveal a little too much about the mechanics of the man’s act. It makes you question the persona he has developed—never a good idea.

That said, there is some funny stuff on the new album even for a non-pot smoking septuagenarian who watches the stopwatch ticking away during the breaks on 60 Minutes. The bit about the older woman who offers him a joke is hilarious, as is a story which he explains is likely to bum out the audience. The comments on the “N-word” and the “C-word” and the use of symbols to disguise profanity work well. The bit about the airport massage gives him a nice leitmotif, especially, it seemed, in the second show. “Richard Skipper,” as it’s called on the disc, is one sweet pun.

I must say I was less than thrilled with the tweeting, which I think is getting a little stale. However, it should be noted, both audiences in the club loved it, if you can judge from their reaction. It seemed to be something they looked forward to, and they would have been disappointed had he left it out, as if a rock star didn’t sing his greatest hit. My own reaction is probably more a sign of that ticking stopwatch. Benson knows his audience, and it isn’t me. Although I have to say the story of the woman and the joke had me laughing out loud.

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About Jack Goodstein