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Toke Signals columnist and former stand-up comic Jack Rikess [Jack Rikess]
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Toke Signals columnist and former stand-up comic Jack Rikess
[Jack Rikess]

By Jack Rikess

I hereby present my list of comics that have advance the cause of marijuana to audiences everywhere and, in the process, made us laugh.

I’m sorry to my friends and colleagues I’ve omitted. There’s only so much stage time. Maybe next year…

Doug Benson

​I started doing stand-up around the same time that Doug did. I’m so old; I think I can remember when Doug Benson didn’t get high. One of the official ‘Pot Comics’ working today and the Bongmeister behind the landmark marijuana documentary, ‘Super High Me’ and the theatre piece, The Marijuana-Logues, Doug works all over the world now…

I really liked Super High Me. It wasn’t just his incredibly unflinching honesty into the world of pot that really got me, but his fear or his sincerity about having to give up the herb for 30 days is what got me hooked to this Potumentary. He spoke directly to potheads everywhere in a language we could understand.

Sidebar: Doug and I were working or hanging out at the Punchline in San Francisco one night in the early Nineties. Someone announced that Natalie Schafer, the actress who played Mrs. Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ had just passed away.

Someone asked, “What was the cause?”

Doug replied without missing a beat, “Radioactive beets.”

I still laugh about that. Catch Doug coming to a city near you.

 

Will Durst

​I’ve been trying to get Will Durst high for 30 years. Some people just like their beer.

Being a full-blooded Cheesehead, Milwaukee’s own Durst is more partial to suds. Go figure?

Besides for being an old friend, this political comic never steps back from a fight, even when it’s not his own…

Now first off, let me clarify: I don’t smoke pot. I don’t. Makes me paranoid. No, I’m serious. I am the author of the paranoid trilogy. “What is it? Who are they? Why me?” I get the munchies, go in a restaurant, the waitress says “hi” and I go, “Yes, I am. I’m sorry. Don’t tell my Aunt Mary.” But you know what, I don’t drink Wild Turkey any more and yet harbor no desire for that vile liquid to be made illegal either.

What is wrong with these people? Don’t they realize that marijuana grows in the ground? They don’t call it “weed” for nothing you know. Think of all the different complicated operations you need to perform in order to make liquor. Its not like you can walk into your backyard and pluck a pina coloda off the cocktail tree. Pot: you pick it, dry it and smoke it. Hope you’re not saying God screwed up here are you? Its pot. Its not heroin. Its not acid. Its not even Marlboro Lights. For crum’s sake, you can bake it into brownies. Brownies! What’s more American than that?

 

Bill Maher

​​”Whenever the people are for gay marriage or medical marijuana or assisted suicide, suddenly the ‘will of the people’ goes out the window.”

“A lot of good has come from drugs. I think ‘Penny Lane’ is worth 10 dead kids. Dark Side of the Moon is worth 100 dead kids. Because a lot of kids wouldn’t even be born if it weren’t for that album, so it evens out.”

Speaking of political comics, I wouldn’t call Bill Maher a “Pot Comic,” even though he’s probably been more vocal than any other performer this side of Tommy Chong when it comes to the marijuana question as national issue. He raised the pot topic almost weekly on his HBO show, Real Time.

Mr. Maher champions the cause while bringing a sense of humor and down-home honesty to a subject matter that mostly gets swept under the carpet like some bad swag unless there’s a munchies joke tied in with it. Kudos to Bill Maher for keeping it funny and real, and still is able to hold an intelligent conversation when it comes to the subject of marijuana, where others giggle and mock.

Bonus points for not freaking out when Zach Galifianakis lit up on the show.

“I have never made it a secret that I’ve tried marijuana. About 50,000 times.” ~ Bill Maher

 

Dave Chappelle

Mr. Chappelle may be the greatest comic working these days.

I seem to be the only person in the Bay Area who has missed one of his legendary late-night sets.

Grooving to his own beatbox, almost anything he says is worth writing down.

I found his bit about getting high with white people to be hysterical.

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Lenny Bruce

​”Marijuana will be legal some day, because the many law students who now smoke pot will someday become Congressmen and legalize it in order to protect themselves.”

Everyone knows about Lenny’s infatuation with hard drugs, his death remains inconclusive; he didn’t die from an overdose. It was said he died of abuse by the police.

A man of many foibles and contradictions who has influenced countless generations of comics, his legend will probably overtake fact. I had the opportunity to meet his mother, Sally Marr, towards the end of her life. She showed through photographs and press clippings, the real Lenny, scars and all. He’s one of the reasons we’re so free today, in language and in spirits.

While Lenny is most associated with icky hard drugs, he first started talking about marijuana long before the straights knew what hit’em. Starting in 1962 with the ‘Pot Smokers,’ bit and then spicing up his act with hip idioms that only the ‘heads got, he fought the good fight until the Man brought him down.

“Maybe he had some problems, maybe some things that he couldn’t work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth and he knew what he was talkin’ about.”
Bob Dylan, ‘Lenny Bruce’

“I don’t smoke pot, and I’m glad because then I can champion it without any special pleading. The reason I don’t smoke pot is because it facilitates ideas and heightens sensations. And I got enough shit flying through my head without smoking pot.” ~ Lenny Bruce

 

George Carlin

​What can you say about George Carlin? The first real significant pot comic that brought home the message to the masses that maybe, just maybe, drugs can be funny.

For many of us, something happened to us, after Mr. Carlin’s transitioned from button-down comic of the Eisenhower era to long-hair free-form artist that we grew to know and love in the late Sixties or early Seventies. If he wasn’t just talking about weed itself, most of his new characters were either high or you had to be high to get them.

While in high school on a Saturday night, we’d get together at a friend’s house after their parents were out and listen to George Carlin albums, over and over. I’m talking a party of people getting together to sit around, getting stoned and listen to an album over and over as we devised insightful games like ‘Tight Shower.’ The idea was… as many people as possible would cram into a shower with the same number of joints as there were people. The goal was always to be passing the joints like a hot potato. Never be caught holding the jay…

Laugh if you will, it all seemed perfectly normal at the time.

George Carlin’s jokes, albums were a salve for the craziness that was beginning for many of us at that time. He was a hippie straights could like. As the Sixties wore off and the weirdness of Nixon began… He was like a stoned Moses delivering the children into the Promised Land of strange new bits. George Carlin transitioned the old guard of comedy into something hip and cool that we could use.

Besides for hosting the first episode of Saturday Night Live, George Carlin was a friend that got us through many a bumpy night and gave a name to the weirdness we were experiencing. He talked about the stuff we did. He talked about ‘Stuff.’ He talked about things that we thought we’re the only ones who thought like that. And in the process, letting us know there were more of us out there than we thought.

Because Richard Pryor doesn’t really fit here, George Carlin is King of this column.

Listen to Class Clown (including classic, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”) and then check out his HBO specials. One of the most prolific comedy writers ever, it’s hard to believe for twenty years, he turned out A-type material at every showing.

As with many on this list…He will be missed greatly.

Small piece of trivia:

Dec. 4, 1962, at the Gate of Horn Club in Chicago, Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity. One of the vice detectives checking out the show described it this way: “We were there about a half hour when Bruce appeared on the stage and from the first few minutes of his routine the air turned blue. Every other word [was] a four-letter one, and he spared nobody, including the clergy and the police department in his abuse.”

At that point, the police stopped the show and arrested Bruce, charging him with “giving an obscene and lewd show.”

Also arrested were the club’s owner and bartender, as well as one George Carlin, 25, who refused to show ID. Carlin and Bruce shared a ride to the station in the back of a paddywagon, and when they were booked they both gave the same local address on East Delaware.

It was said after that, George Carlin got political.

 

Mitch Hedberg

​Why do the great ones die early?

I never met my fellow Minnesotan but was acutely aware of his act and influence.

Maybe the stoniest comic of all-time who did his set without nary marijuana reference in his act, yet the odor was rampant throughout. A master of nonsensical one-liners that made sense, his comedy worked for the heavy-lidded hipsters and equally for the wide-eye frat boys in his audience.

His sing-song laid back approach, with emphasis on pronunciation as much as for content, has influenced many new comics. But for my money, few do it as well as Mitch did.

See his stuff on YouTube to get him. Reading his stuff is funny. Hearing him, you then get it.

 

robin-williams
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Robin Williams

“Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.”

Robin Williams is simply the greatest San Franciscan comic that’s ever been. He and a very few other comics might argue over that statement, but for audiences all around the world, he’s one of the best stand-ups that has ever hit a stage. One of the greatest privileges of coming up doing stand-up in San Francisco is seeing Mr. Williams on the stage, and dare I say, hanging out with him.

An artist that’s been telling the truth punctuated with spitfire commentary since he started, Mr. Williams has been working both sides of the aisle, now for almost, almost forty years that I can remember. Going from absurd to meaningful, he walks a tightrope that few have traverse.

Whether it’s the Friars Club or the basement of dingy comedy club, Mr. Williams delivers some of the most insightful comedy to as many that wants to listen. And as he forever changes, he always seems to find a place for us, the audience to join him on his wild ride.

 

Bill Hicks

​There are so many heroes on this list, that it would be incredibly hard to pick the greatest influence.

I saw Bill Hicks perform a few times and after each performance I just wanted to quit comedy. I don’t know if there can be another Bill Hicks, ever. He was a mind-blower.

He took the elastic edges of your brain and stretched them as far as your imagination would allow. He could do a ten-minute bit that would leave your jaw hanging. Then again he had one-liners in his back pocket that he could use at his will. A master of the stage. His shows were one-of-a-kind and special. Especially if someone heckled him. Boy-Howdy, that’s when the real show would begin.

Mr. Hicks would get the soon-to-be-eaten-by-his-own-stupidity “to tell us a few things about yourself,” he’d say in a voice that I’d later find out was his impression of his mom. Then he would destroy the heckler. It was a joy to see.

Of all his bits, I know this is trite because he had so many genius routines; I like this one the best.

If you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, then go home and burn all your records, all your tapes, and all your CDs because every one of those artists who have made brilliant music and enhanced your lives? RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrEAL fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few songs.

They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you’re high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well. You just realize that it’s not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference.

Buy the documentary produced by his family, American: The Bill Hicks Story. You owe it to yourself. Then give it to a friend.

 

Lord Buckley

​There are many other pioneers I’m leaving off this list. There were many African-American comics of the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit where Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley and Flip Wilson and others worked , bringing what we know as marijuana jokes to a broader audience.

But if there was one guy, a crazy eccentric that really kept the flame burning on the show biz joint for almost fifty years, it was Richard Myrle Buckley, better known as Lord Buckley.

Born in Northern California, he was natural performer. Even as youngster, he entertained friends and family, soon hitting the streets with his sister performing for pennies and nickels.

Working in Vaudeville, he started doing comedy in the jazz clubs and speakeasies in Chicago. Buckley earned in the process the very scary title of being Al Capone’s favorite comic.

After World War II, he made his digs in New York City. There Lenny Bruce, Charlie Parker would groove and hang out banging the gong. It was in the City that his ‘royalty’ real started and he adopted the ‘Lord’ title full-time. He began to live in a world of what some would say was make believe and others would call the start of the ‘happenings’ that we would come to know in the Sixties.

After giving up booze, Lord Buckley became an open pot smoker. His type of humor wasn’t for the straights and he fell on hard times toward the end of his life. When I first saw Robin Williams in our old club, The Holy City Zoo, he’d sometimes end his set with the words of Lord Buckley.

“People–they’re kinda like flowers, and it’s been a privilege walking in your garden.” My love goes with you.

Here’s Lord Buckley reworking of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar famous monologue.

“Hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin’ daddies,
Knock me your lobes!
I came here to lay Caesar out,
Not to hip you to him.
The bad jazz that a cat blows
Wails long after he’s cut out,
The groovy is often stashed with their frames.
So don’t put Caesar down….”

It was said of Lord Buckley…

“In performance Lord Buckley was a most immaculately hip aristocrat, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, twirling his waxed Daliesque mustache and gracefully drawing on his omnipresent cigarette, his massive frame cloaked in a tuxedo, a fresh carnation attached smartly to the lapel.”

Lord Buckley’s influence was perhaps best summed up by author Ken Kesey. “Lord Buckley is a secret thing that people pass under the table. You ask writers who they think is the best writer, and they all mention someone above them. Gradually you get up at the top, and you get to Samuel Beckett and not many people have read him. But a lot of people have been influenced by Beckett. I think the same was true of Lord Buckley. There were a lot of people influenced by Lord Buckley who never heard his material.”

 

Steven Pearl

​Maybe you’ve heard of Steven Pearl, maybe you haven’t. In San Francisco, the comic’s comic is Steven Pearl. Maybe the greatest joke writer there for my generation and a serious performer to boot.

A throw-back to the Borscht Belt with a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack playing, Mr. Pearl will always be known as the acid-tongue jokesmith that keeps going like hard rockin’ tour bus that never stops. There are many more famous comics, who have more money, but for the comics of San Francisco, Steven Pearl was the act we aspired to be like.

You have to see him live to get it. His material is funny. The shit he makes up on the spot is genius.

I wouldn’t label him as a pot comic necessarily but he has more jokes than Carter has pills.

One night leaving the stage, he said to me referring to a passed out woman in the front row, “She was higher than Hitler’s gas bill.”

Whatever you think, there will be only one Pearl.

Some highlights:

Drunk drivers kill people. Stoned drivers don’t because they’re going too damn slow! You ever been stuck behind one? BEEP!!! BEEP!!! “Hey, move it! You’ve been at the corner for an hour and a half!” “I was just waiting for the stop sign to turn green, man!”

Drunks get violent. Stoners don’t. I never saw a guy smoke a reefer and beat up on his wife and kids. It’s more like “I’m gonna tickle you! Now where’s the nerf bat?”

I don’t get high before I go on stage. I tried it once and it didn’t work out too well. I did a show at a big crowded room and somebody gave me a joint of this superduper skunk grown on Jimi Hendrix’s grave bud. I smoked half of it before I went on and I was so stoned onstage I told the same story twice in a row. That was enough for me and I never smoked before I went onstage again! Because the last time I did it I got so high I told the same story onstage twice in a row.

Drunks and crack heads turn to violence a lot. What’s the worst crime that ever occured on pot? “Who stole my Chips Ahoy, man? I’m pissed off! I’m gonna tickle the hell outta you!”

 

Editor’s note: Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.

 

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