Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Doug Benson's "Smug Life"

The concept behind Doug Benson's double-disc project Smug Life is one of the most interesting ideas behind an album since... well... ever. The plan was simple: Do two shows in one night, one of them while completely sober (Disc One, "Uncooked"), smoke a bunch of weed and chow on some edibles, and then try to do the exact same set for the second show (Disc Two, "Cooked"). Benson does it all as part of a comedic experiment to see which one is better. The results, I'm sure, are ripe for debate.

This will be less of a review per se and more of a commentary on Benson's experiment. For those of you who came looking for a review, all I can say is Benson is funny. He always has been and it's pretty much a given. His delivery is pretty laid back and comfortable (I know, surprise surprise, a laid back marijuana enthusiast) and his interactions with his fans - both in the crowd and in cyberspace - are always enjoyable. He is just as funny when he's working off the cuff as he is when he's working off of his prepared material and the fact that it's sometimes hard to differentiate between the two only goes to show how natural he is on stage.

What I found interesting (and a little bit surprising) is how similar the two discs are. Cooked or Uncooked, his style and approach is pretty much the same, his delivery is consistent and immune to the effects of the bud.

I have to admit that, in that regard, I was a little disappointed. Not that I was expecting - or hoping - Benson would fail but when I initially heard about this project part of me thought, "Oh man, this is gonna be nuts!" I don't know what I thought would happen on Disc 2 but in the spirit of full disclosure I confess that I was anticipating and had built up in my head more of a Benson Recovering From A Train Wreck experience. The truth is, Benson handles himself quite well and except for a few slurs and an occasional brain fart, you'd be hard pressed to know which disc was playing if you didn't know.

Both shows have their own unique moments and different highlights and that has less to do with the amount of marijuana in Benson's system and more to do with the fact he is just innately and naturally funny. When he explains to the first audience he is performing "uncooked," there's an initial reaction of disappointment, as if they won't get their money's worth from a sober Benson. Of course, they have nothing to worry about and are treated to an evening of solid laughs as he elaborates on strangers with suggestions for jokes (or riddles) and a term for a masseuse who doesn't go "top to toe" as advertised. It's a phrase that begs to be stolen and re-used on your pals.

One of the aspects of the Cooked CD I found especially intriguing was the number of times he got laughs simply because he was high. There are a few moments where he pauses or puts a unique emphasis on a word or just mumbles a phrase that the crowd assumes is an effect of his altered state when in actuality it's just part of his act. Those instances garner laughs from both shows but they are two very different laughs. It's an interesting phenomenon to witness. 

Having the two discs is a cool peek into Benson's act, not only to compare what's different from show to show, but also to marvel at his consistency. It's impressive to see how he makes each performance individual while at the same time giving audiences the same great show. It also helps to shed light on how tough it can be doing two shows in one night, trying to keep them straight and remembering which bits have already been done for each set.

Both discs are bookended by Benson's specialty: Checking tweets. From the stage he monitors his Twitter feed to see who is commenting on the show (or on other audience members). He also shares some of his own favorite posts that never fail to bring big laughs.

So, let's get back to the big question: Which disc is better? Cooked or Uncooked? During the recording of Uncooked, Benson claims it is the superior show but I'm not sure. In my opinion, both discs are equally funny, sometimes for very different reasons... but always very funny. It's an impressive display of how well Benson functions above and under the influence (but then again, this isn't his first time at the dance). Having both discs to compare and contrast is a great feature and they complement each other nicely. Appropriately recorded on 4/20, Benson shows that no matter what his state of mind when you go to see him live, you'll have a great time. I guess there's something to be said for being so funny and living the Smug Life.

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