For this review I’m going to start with the final judgement first, and then get into the review by way of an explanation. Here are the brass tacks on “Smug Life:” If you are an established Doug Benson fan, or a huge stoner, or a working comedian (I’ll explain in a second) you need to go out and buy this album. If however you are none of those things, skip it. This album is just not for people outside of Benson’s established fanbase, and if you’re looking to “get into” Doug Benson, I suggest you chose some of his earlier work first.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Doug Benson took it upon himself a few years ago to become the poster child for pot smokers. Think of him like a modern day Cheech and Chong, but with (currently) less movies. His film “Super High Me” is basically a love story to kush. Benson makes mention of his next film “The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled” on this album, so you get the general idea. There is nothing wrong with this, but it has changed Benson’s audience, and what they expect of the performer, and that has largely changed the nature of his act. This album being a great example.
“Smug Life” is an experimental CD, in which Benson performs the same comedy special twice, once sober, and then again extremely high. It is released in a two disc set with both the “cooked” and “uncooked” versions. The idea is of course to see if there is any difference in the performance. This is essentially the premise of “Super High Me” but in comedy album form. It’s a charming concept, even if it’s questionable how sober Benson can really be (he claims to have not smoked pot for something approaching -gasp- 12 hours). If anything, this premise suffers most from being too self-referential. Benson spends too much time setting up the premise in each version, and then constantly comments on the differences himself from stage, it makes a close comparison difficult. Basically, if you are trying to evaluate the difference, Benson’s running commentary does it for you… which is good because if you’ve listened that far, you’re probably baked, too.
It is the unique two-disk package that makes this a must buy for other comedians. Regardless of the quality of the jokes, you will seldom get a chance to hear a master comedian like Benson do the same entire set twice. The choices he makes, and how he deals with the audience and the success or failure of various jokes are here for study. I wish more comedians would release double albums with the same material twice (or find sets by the masters like Pryor and Carlin), it would help a lot of young comedians learn how to deal with the twists and turns of jokes that fall differently some of the time.
Doug does show his strengths here, both in working an audience (something he shows even better on his various Podcasts) and his clever embracing of the technology of Twitter. Doug’s Twitter material (or rather his reference to audience Tweets, as well as his own) may even be ahead of its time. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.
It is however the jokes that fall flatter than they should on this album. Benson has decided to do a full album each year on 4/20 (Get it? tee hee) and while that is a very charming idea, it means his jokes are slightly (if not majorly) less than cooked, to use a phrase from the album. Benson seems to be trying to present this album with charm and insightful premises, both of which he has in spades, but the completed jokes just aren’t there. Benson’s personality and style is center stage, and if you love Doug, you’ll love this, but it won’t make you laugh nearly as much as it should. Equally, if you enjoy ganja, and references to it, this should be a good time for you, but it isn’t funny so much as it’s empowering, and while that’s ok, it misses the point. As a comedy consumer I would have prefered this album’s jokes been left in the oven (to be “baked?”) for a few more months before bringing them to the recording, but perhaps in the case of this album it’s the message, the method, and the novelty that’s on center stage.
Still, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to people who aren’t already down with Doug, or weed, or both. I don’t think Doug should worry too much about that statement as his fan base, and pot smokers everywhere amount to more than enough to make this album a success. In the end, I also applaud Doug for his continued innovation, with Twitter, podcasting, and even the format of this album. It’s still in the nascent stages, and it will get better, if not epicly amazing. Still if you are waiting to ride the Doug train, I might wait one more album. You can find "Smug Life" on Amazon HERE.
Now, where did I put that bag of Doritos, dude? Anyway here is a sample: