Pot and comedy
Local comic Will Bolt takes the dimly lit stage, finds his light and says, “I'm 33, and I just recently started smoking pot, but I'm still getting used to the effects. A lot of the time, I can't tell if I'm high, so I came up with a test. If it's 2pm on a Wednesday and I'm at a Jiffy Lube eating popcorn, I'm high. It's got very little chance for a false-positive.”
From the drunk clowns of vaudeville and the boozy riffing of the Rat Pack to the weed-induced comedy of Cheech & Chong and George Carlin, there has always been a connection between psychoactive substances and comedy. Bolt, like many comics before him, uses comedy as a means of filtering these drug experiences and offering them up to a crowd of empathetic spectators.
With the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Denver, this connection has turned into an economic benefit. In Colorado comedy is financially supported by pot in many ways. Sexpot Comedy, a production company run by Andy Juett and entrepreneur Kayvan Khalatbari, is one example of how legal pot is successfully supporting an arts community. “Kayvan is kind of the Willy Wonka of Denver comedy,” says Denver comic and Westwood writer Byron Graham. “He’s a real benefactor, Daddy Warbucks type. He’s a weed and pizza tycoon, and he loves comedy, so he pays people to do shows. It’s the lifeblood of the scene, really.” Sexpot Comedy has been producing shows in Denver since last December, supported through Khalatbari’s recreational dispensary Denver Relief and his pizza place Sexy Pizza. Juett and Khalatbari started with a once-a-month show bringing in big acts like Rory Scovel and Andy Kindler, and in less than a year, they have expanded their Sexpot Comedy brand into several shows produced each month around Denver and Boulder. Businesses like Sexpot are booming, and recreational marijuana is definitely a factor.
Of course, Colorado has a vastly different political scene than New Mexico, but as our population starts to push for legal weed, many are looking to Colorado to see how they do it. “Colorado is a strange place,” says Denver comic Brett Hiker, who now lives in New York. “Here you have a state that voted for George Bush twice, then Obama twice. Obama barely won last time around, but marijuana legalization easily passed, while gay marriage struggles to gain any traction. The state either has a fair amount of Republicans smoking weed or a bunch of homophobic Democrats. The former is more likely.”
From the drunk clowns of vaudeville and the boozy riffing of the Rat Pack to the weed-induced comedy of Cheech & Chong and George Carlin, there has always been a connection between psychoactive substances and comedy.
In spite of, or because of, these paradoxes, Colorado was able to legalize recreational weed and has since made some serious economic strides. The Colorado Department of Revenue reported marijuana tax earnings of $2 million in January 2014. In July of 2014, Colorado made $7.5 million from the weed industry alone, with about half of that coming out of Denver. Partly because of this economic benefit, more and more Colorado citizens are supporting recreational pot. “The most interesting part of legal marijuana in Colorado to me is that the amendment originally passed 55 percent to 45 percent,” says Hiker, “but in recent polls Coloradans now support legalization something like 65 percent to 35 percent. That means almost a quarter of the people that were afraid of it have changed their opinion after they experienced legalization firsthand and saw how 'not a problem' it is.”
“My parents are lifelong Democrats, but the kind of Democrats who run for office, not exactly hippies,” says Hiker. “They never smoked marijuana, but if you ever asked them, they’d admit they believe it’s safer than alcohol and probably should be legalized.” The older generation of Coloradans is seeing how recreational pot hasn’t changed Colorado much and how easily pot has become a part of the cultural landscape. “My fairly conservative great aunt was on her deathbed six months ago when she suddenly requested edible [marijuana] because her pain killers weren’t doing the trick,” says Hiker. “It was the kind of thing my parents were just able to go to the store and pick up instead of having to text their shadiest nephew and asking him if he can bake.”
It’s evident from the Denver comedy scene explosion, the tax revenue and the local shifts in the importance of weed, that legalizing pot in Colorado has worked. These shifts in voter’s views on recreational pot could do wonders for the New Mexico economy and for the arts scene, especially in Albuquerque. We see how quickly Colorado citizens changed their mind on pot as soon as it was clear how beneficial weed really could be. The comedy business in Albuquerque in particular could benefit from a regular flow of funding from dispensaries, much like how Denver Relief works with Sexpot. But beyond that, there is the potential for recreational weed and the arts to have a symbiotic relationship. “I'm kind of terrified of being high on stage because I get quiet and giggle a lot because I think silly things,” says Bolt. Maybe it’s time New Mexico thinks silly things.