Not since Cheech & Chong has somebody made a career out of being high all the time like Doug Benson. The comedian first made his mark as a supporting character on Mr. Show in the late ’90s, then contributed to shows like Best Week Ever while releasing a number of comedy albums. He moved on to his own popular podcasts like Doug Loves Movies and Getting Doug With High. His previous Comedy Central series, The Benson Interruption, was based on a stand-up show he’s hosted in Los Angeles for many years. But his 2007 movie Super High Me nailed his stature as the perennially stoned guy.
At the Television Critics Association conference in January, only one performer on a panel got asked by a journalist if he was “high right now,” and that was Doug Benson. He showed up in judicial robes and gavel to promote his new Comedy Central show, The High Court, in which he and a revolving series of bailiffs decide real cases after getting high in the deliberation room. The High Court premieres on Monday, February 27 at midnight, and the first season will feature 20 15-minute segments. Guest bailiffs will include Michael Ian Black, Lucas Bros, Joey “Coco” Diaz, Todd Glass, Tiffany Haddish, and Reggie Watts. To kick off his show, we tried to get Benson to talk before his TCA panel about some things he finds funny, but as you’ll see, things derailed rather quickly.
The A.V. Club: Usually for this type of article, we ask comedians what five things that you think are funny.
Doug Benson: Oh my god. Yikes. Oh my god.
AVC: I guess they didn’t prep you on that.
DB: Nuh-uh. Were they supposed to?
DB: [Laughs.] That’s typical.
AVC: What comes to mind? Even from when you were a kid?
DB: Yeah, I could probably come up with some stuff. I enjoy Modern Family very much. Good TV program. I don’t know why. I just find that so many of the jokes land. So many of the actors are so great. Phil Dunphy is one of my favorite characters ever.
AVC: That seems pretty straitlaced for you.
DB: That guy is awesome. It is. I’ve always enjoyed things that are popular, you know? I mean, obviously, there are plenty of things that are popular that I hate. But when something like that is done right, I just think they nail it. I just think it’s a really clever show. So, that’s one. The motion picture Deadpool was my favorite funny movie of last year. Something that I could just watch over and over again, because it’s just so… he says so many things.
AVC: I want to see it, but I’m kind of squeamish.
DB: Oh, it’s definitely squirm-inducing. It’s a pretty hard R, violence-wise. But cartoony, also. Maybe fast-forward through to torture scenes. Although, he says really funny things when he’s being tortured.
AVC: He’s just funny in general, Ryan Reynolds. He’s funny on Top Gear, you know? Every time he shows up.
DB: Yes. He’s my favorite—I think he’s the most hilarious actor who just has not been able to catch a break in terms of being known as the most hilarious actor. You know, he’s had stabs at it like Just Friends. He’s really fun in that.
AVC: I love Just Friends. We watch it every Christmas.
DB: Yeah, it’s very Christmasy. It’s all snowy the whole time. Yeah, and he got to be Deadpool the first time around, and then they glued up his mouth so he couldn’t talk. That was the dumbest decision. So, he made Deadpool himself. You know, he pulled himself up and made it himself, got it to happen, and it’s the perfect role for him. And now I think it retroactively makes everything he’s ever done better for me. I was watching Definitely, Maybe. It was on HBO the other day, and I was like, I am just charmed by him no matter what he’s in now. I’m completely on board.
AVC: Pizza place sitcom?
DB: Completely on board. I’d watch that. Nathan Fillion got his start there. I don’t know what happened to the girl in that show or the other guy. I do know what happened to the pizza. The pizza went bad. Okay, so that’s two things.
AVC: Maybe there’s a judge you find humorous…
DB: Well, I almost did the knee-jerk thing of saying Judge Judy is funny to me, but I just don’t have the patience for the format of that show. Just watching people try to lie to her or try to convince her… she’s sort of dismissive to everybody. That’s what I do also on my show, but I try to make it a punchline. I’d rather the contestants—“contestants” [Laughs.]—litigants… I’d rather the litigants be a punchline than a punching bag, you know?
AVC: Well, you also have a chemical influence that makes you kind of—
DB: Try to be nicer and friendlier, yeah. Exactly. It’s a friendly courtroom. But she’s definitely a smart lady, and she gets off a good wisecrack every now and then, but I’m just not interested in people’s… That’s the interesting part of being a judge to me—I don’t even care about these people’s fights that they’re having with each other, but I have to invest in it enough to figure out. I have to make a decision.
AVC: What led you to this format, then? Those people really go at it.
DB: They do.
AVC: There’s a lot of screaming.
DB: Yeah. You probably got a couple of [screeners] with real feisty people, because sometimes they’re a little more mellow, but generally, they’re people that really have these beefs with each other, and they’re not afraid to obnoxiously argue about it, yelling at each other, on television. There’s a lust to get on TV. I don’t think this happened in one of the ones we sent you, but there’s one time that the litigants were arguing so much that I just got up and left the room. Went somewhere else to think, you know, make my decision.
AVC: But they’ve agreed that they’ll abide by whatever you say. They’ve waived their right to a court.
DB: In theory, that’s how it works is that they have to abide by my decision.
AVC: Is there some legal wrangling that you had to go through to get that? Or are these just lawsuits that aren’t going to happen because they’re happening now on your show?
DB: Everybody signs off on “we won’t do this as a court of law, we’ll just do it on your show, and we’ll all abide by it.” The cases have a budget where—even the person who loses in the case, it’s great for them because they probably won’t have to pay anything, because the show will pick up the tab. Which is another way you can look at all of those courtroom shows now, is knowing that those people don’t really have that much on the line, because the person who has to pay is not paying it themselves. The production pays for it. Being on TV and getting everything paid for are the two reasons to do it with us instead of the court of law.
AVC: That’s a good selling point.
DB: Right? I keep telling everybody that, if that’s how that works, even though I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be able to tell people that.
AVC: But that makes a lot of sense.
DB: As far as your earlier question, though, about the genre and why would I get involved in this, is it was somebody else’s idea, and as soon as I heard it, I thought, “Of all the professions where you wouldn’t want the person doing that profession to be high, but is not physically dangerous…” I’m not physically harming any of these people by being high, and it’s just interesting to see that I feel like my values and morals don’t change at all when I’m high, but that’s a constant. The thing that changes when I’m high is I am happier, and I’m not good with numbers.
Fortunately, it is small claims court cases, so I can’t go off all crazy like that and reward someone a ton of money. So, that’s another reason we can afford to pick up the tab. The other reason why the people are willing—it’s funny, people just want to be right.
AVC: And on TV.
DB: A lot of them come on, they want to be right, and be right on TV. So, then it hurts even more when they’re wrong on TV. When I find against somebody and I think that they’re going to be pissed about it, I just bang my gavel and run out of there. I don’t really want to stick around for what happens after that, because they really do want to win.
AVC: Are you switching bailiffs every episode?
DB: The idea is that a bailiff will come in and shoot two or three episodes, because we gang-shoot the show, like four or five episodes a day. So, we can change up the bailiff midway through the day so somebody doesn’t have to deliberate five times. I do, but I’m used to it. It’s funny when you watch the episodes, you can kind of figure out, “Oh, that must have been later in the day because his eyes are more closed and he’s speaking more slowly.”
It’s fun playing the judge, because I grew up on all the courtroom stuff in movies and TV. So, you know all the tropes, and you know all the expressions. It’s just fun to sit there and play at it, but also, the decisions are real. So, that really appealed to me. Because people come to me with ideas for shows, and I certainly am thinking of stuff all the time. And it’s always like, you know, “Get high and drive a car!” Or “Get high and do this or that.” It’s always things like, “Well, that’s a terrible idea to get high and do that.” So, when they came to me with this, I was like, “Well, you’re just sitting there and discussing cases.” That seems like something I can do high and still not be bad at it, you know? Oh, and also, the not liking courtroom shows makes me maybe want to do one, because I think they could be a lot funnier.
But what was the question about being a kid?
AVC: The things you found funny.
DB: I was immediately into all the great movie comedians—Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder. Everything those guys had anything to do with, from I don’t know how young. Super young. Never really intended to be a comedian, just sort of fell into that, but always wanted to be in show business, or something to do with making comedy.
AVC: So, if you have to pick one movie out of those guys, that genre…
DB: Ugh, so tough. So tough, but one that I really memorized as a teenager that my parents took me to that I think is just one of those near-perfect comedies is Young Frankenstein. Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, they’re at the height of their game. The two of them working together was amazing. Yeah, just a terrific story. You get emotionally involved. Jokes all the time, jokes that come from story. Like, they don’t have to go wildly out of their way to make the jokes. It’s a parody of Frankenstein movies, but also it stands as one of the great ones, one of the great Frankenstein movies. Certainly better than… what was that most recent one with Daniel Radcliffe as Igor? James McAvoy was Dr. Frankenstein?
AVC: Victor Frankenstein.
DB: Victor Frankenstein. Did I say five things yet?
AVC: I think we’re at three.
DB: I enjoy a lot of stuff. That’s why I pursued a career in show business, because I enjoy watching everything as much or more than making it. I’m just a big TV and movie junkie from when I was a kid. Fortunately, it worked out.
AVC: Did you grow up around L.A.?
DB: Southern California, yeah. I grew up in San Diego, so it wasn’t hard to move to L.A. to get into show business, but I did the standard thing of just moving without much money and just seeing if I could make it work. Many, many years later, I’m doing okay.
AVC: What about other stuff you’re doing? You had such a great arc on You’re The Worst.
DB: Oh my god, that was so fun. That dude Stephen Falk that created You’re The Worst, he used to work on the show Weeds, and we sort of came across each other then because he’s a fan of podcasts, and he would listen to Doug Loves Movies. And then I auditioned for a part on Weeds and didn’t get it, but it was an episode that he had written, so it was his idea to bring me in. And then we just sort of kept in touch. And then eventually, he and other cast members of You’re The Worst were guests on Doug Loves Movies. We did a whole You’re The Worst episode.
And then several months later, I get a message from him saying, “Hey, if I wrote a part for you in You’re The Worst, would you do it?” I was like, “Yes!” And then, of course, later I found out it’s going to be me playing myself sort of Larry Sanders-style where I’m the total opposite of what people would expect me to be. I was just like, “Okay, what the hell.” But it’s really funny to portray me as somebody who is pretending to be a stoner just to succeed.
AVC: The fancy office… nailed it.
DB: “DB International,” the Mad Men-style receptionist, eating sushi off of a naked woman… they really gave me a sweet setup. And my character, Doug Benson, didn’t die or anything, so I’m kind of hoping that he’ll figure out a reason for me to come back.
AVC: What do you think about a comedy like that, which is so funny, but then Gretchen takes that dark turn into depression in season two? It’s still funny, but it’s like a learning experience. It becomes so much more.
DB: Edgar’s PTSD, the episode that was just all about him, was amazing. It was funny—when I was watching La La Land, I kept thinking of You’re The Worst, because this last season, they did a lot of really long scenes in one take with a Steadicam. I think they call them “onies”? You know, the actors already have a bitch of a time with the dialogue on that show, and then he also will shoot a three or four minute scene without a cut in it.
So, I got to be involved in a little bit of that. Like, the scene where Edgar comes in and he’s arguing with my receptionist, I just sit in my office. The cameras would come in, and I’d talk to him for a little bit, then the cameras would go out, and I’d wait for it to come back. I felt like I was in Birdman—what it would be like to be in that movie. The camera would just go from room to room, and you know those actors just have to stand there and wait for the camera to walk in, and then not act like the camera just walked in. It’s amazing. But yeah, that was one of those things that is just so sweet that that could fall in your lap—that you’re a fan of the show, and then the creator calls you up and says, “Come play yourself on the show.”
I got to appear as myself on Trailer Park Boys for a three-episode arc with Snoop Dogg. [Laughs.]
AVC: There’s a theme here somewhere.
DB: I know, I’ve got to play a guy who is me who is high, and then I’ll get work.
AVC: All right, one last question: Since we’ve been at TCA, almost every panel has begun: “In this climate, in this political situation, we’re showing you this,” or whatever. So, we want to know, “Is every show going to do that? What about High Court?” What can the High Court tell us?
DB: You know, I wouldn’t put it past the executives from Comedy Central to figure out a way to say something like that, but… I mean, other than if anybody gets mad at someone high pretending to be an important judge handing down the law, if that bothers anybody, I’d just be like, “Well, I think there’s a bigger problem in this country right now than me pretending to be a judge.” It’s a crazy time that we’re living in, and that’s, you know, that’s my contribution to it, is to be the maybe first show on television where everyone sits around and smokes pot that aren’t fictional characters.
AVC: We’re going to need a lot of weed to get through this.
DB: Yeah, I hope a lot of judges don’t get mad at me for outing them, but I think they’re all stoners.