Doug Benson: Smug Life
Doug Benson might be the world’s most productive stoner, and his output backs up that claim: He’s stuck to a self-imposed album-a-year schedule since 2008, on top of recording his popular weekly podcast Doug Loves Movies, plus the occasional film (Super High Me) or TV project (The Benson Interruption), all on top of a robust schedule of live dates. His latest stand-up album, Smug Life, doubles down on that reputation—sort of. It’s a double album, but each disc is a different take on the same set, recorded over two shows at Bellevue, Washington’s Parlor Live on Benson’s high holiday, April 20: the first an early, “uncooked” (read: sober) set, the second a late, “cooked” (read: stoned) set. While the side-by-side comparison offers an interesting look at Benson’s process—not to mention an empirical assessment of the effect, or lack thereof, being high has on his performance—the jokes themselves tend to be somewhat undercooked.
Fortunately, Benson’s affable, loose persona does a lot to carry his similarly affable, loose material: His giggly audience interaction and tossed-off asides are frequently as or more amusing than his bits, which often take a punchline-first-premise-later approach that can dilute the joke’s payoff. Benson often turns this into an asset, however, through self-commentary, getting a laugh by admitting he made up a fake girlfriend for the sake of the previous joke, or retelling a joke with a goldfish taking the place of a dog for a more absurd effect. Add to that the side-by-side comparison provided by the double set, which reveals how Benson rejiggers his setlist or even punchlines to adapt to the crowd, and Smug Life almost becomes a sort of stand-up textual analysis, which is an odd reaction to a set that trades on fart noises and the funny-sounding word “dickskipper” for laughs.
But ultimately, Smug Life is about as sharp as can be expected for stoner material performed by a stoner for a stoner audience, which is to say not very. Benson’s humor has never really been about cutting observations or incisive critical insight as much as good-natured, pop-culture-influenced goofiness, so it can get by with being a little less than razor-sharp. (That said, Benson’s insistence on repurposing his own tweets onstage has lost whatever small charm it once had.) With little in the way of quotable bits or hard-hitting punchlines, Smug Life is more munchies than a meal, a satisfying enough listen in the short-term—probably slightly more so for listeners who are similarly “cooked”—but not a particularly memorable or fulfilling one. Then again, considering Benson will likely serve up another album this time next year, fans won’t need to remember it for long.