I have a dark secret to admit.
4/20 intimidates me.
As someone more interested in the social politics and policies concerning marijuana, and less interested in taking dabs or consuming high dosage edibles — not that there’s anything wrong with that — the industry’s highest holiday can feel a bit aggressive and over the top for me.
Can’t we calmly share a couple of joints and engage in light-hearted conversation about the absurdity of it all?
While it might not seem like the natural 4/20 event to attend, I spent 4:20 p.m. at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre in Los Angeles with roughly seventy other people to participate in the 4/20 Show with Matt Besser.
Who is Matt Besser, and why did you feel the need to spend 4/20 with him?
Matt Besser is the comedy legend you’ve probably never heard of before, though you’ve surely seen him as a guest star on “New Girl,” “Modern Family,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and other mainstream sitcoms. Besser has been performing stand-up and improv comedy since the early 90s, and is one of the founding members of the UCB Theatre, a comedy club and school with four locations between New York and Los Angeles that has been producing comedy talent for over a decade.
As far as cannabis and comedy is concerned, Besser is less recognizable than weed icons Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman, but has incorporated weed-related material into his act and is celebrated for being a cannabis smoker and advocate. Besser releases an annual 4/20 edition of his comedy podcast, Improv4humans.
What happened at the 4/20 Show with Matt Besser?
Instead of attending the standard 4/20 party with dab rigs, bongs, blunts, joints, and infused edibles at every turn, I found myself in a 92-seat theatre on Franklin Avenue at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. Besser started the show with a song called “Wake ‘n Bake,” in which Besser strolled out to an old timey piano tune and gleefully sang “Wake and bake, make no mistake, it’s time to wake and bake,” until the song turned from gleeful to frantic as Besser beseeched the audience to “Use a pipe or bong, and pass it along/roll up a big fat joint, have I made my f—- point!”
In regard to the nearly full audience, Besser said he was “surprised we can get a crowd at 4:20 pm in the afternoon, but I guess people truly treat it like a holiday. It’s a tradition that’s really grown at our theater” in a follow-up email.
Before much of his routine started in earnest, Besser felt the need to conduct a “Narc Test” to ensure no undercover police officers were in the building by asking the audience members hard-hitting questions. He asked one audience member “Sir, hash brown or hash brownies?” When the audience member took too long to answer, Besser claimed “that took too long, you’re a stoner.” He asked similar questions of others, asking “what’s your favorite Phish?,” “what are sunglasses for?,” “why wear a collared shirt?” before determining the room was narc-free.
Besser’s set was playful and self-aware, with no misconceptions about the marijuana industry, cannabis culture, or his own love of getting high. He teased and dispelled social stigmas, while also giving a rundown of all things cannabis culture related; from the myths of how 4/20 started, the passing of Prop 64, the absurdity of getting a medical marijuana recommendation in California, lessons in Indica vs. Sativa (“In-dah-couch” and “Sa-tiv-UP”), his refusal to call bongs “water pipes,” the dangers of concentrate extraction (“they’re kind of like the blood diamonds of weed”), how edibles give you a “next level” high (“you’re in that ‘Stranger Things’ world”), and how to determine if someone is stoned (“Instead of saying the alphabet all the way through, they should have to tell a story all the way through without asking ‘what was I talking about?’ at the end”).
Anyone familiar with Besser’s comedy knows that he loves to interact with the audience, and his 4/20 show was no different. He spent a sizable amount of time asking the audience questions, quizzing them on their weed knowledge, and getting their opinion on various cannabis topics. At one point, he took a poll: “Who thinks they are the most stoned person here?” Toward the end of the show, he asked, “Who here is not even high?” When two women in the audience raised their hands and confessed they were looking for a “single person” to sell them weed, Besser said, “There are people all around you!”
Besser ended the show by leading the entire audience in a sing-along of Ben Harper’s “Burn One Down,” effectively celebrating the cannabis culture he had just spent the last hour roasting. Besser brilliantly skewered all of the absurdities of 4/20 on 4/20, making everything that is intimidating and inaccessible about the day seem unambiguous, relevant, and, most importantly, funny.
The UCB Theatre has comedy shows seven days a week. Find their show schedule here.
Photo Courtesy of Matt Walsh