Mike Paterson is one of Canada's hardest working and most beloved comedians. For more than 20 years, he's been a fixture on the national comedy circuit - more than a dozen performances at the prestigious Just For Laughs festival - and starred alongside the likes of Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale in Hollywood feature films. He's also a writer, theater actor, musician, wrestler and star of a children's television show. He's been maintaining this gruelling schedule, even though he's been suffering with debilitating sciatica back pain. It had become unbearable for him, and with just four months until his wedding, Paterson needed a quick fix to his back pain and weight problem that had been made worse by a life of too much beer and pizza. As part of his rehabilitation, he tried using medical marijuana to treat his back pain. You can see the results in a documentary called Grass Fed, produced by Muse Entertainment. Ezra Soiferman is the director and cinematographer. Soiferman, also an executive producer, was there to capture every moment of Paterson's profoundly insightful journey, which took him to California and Colorado in search of solutions. Grass Fed is available on iTunes Canada, and iTunes USA.
James Mullinger, an acclaimed comedian in his own right and Comedy Editor for the British GQ magazine, recently spoke with Paterson. The following is an edited and transcribed excerpt of this exclusive Civilized interview. You can also listen to this extended, very engaging and entertaining chat on the Civilized podcast below.
What were your thoughts on medicinal marijuana prior to the making of the film?
I was a real sceptic about it. My wife and I wanted to get in shape for our wedding because those photos will be around forever. I knew I needed to exercise, but I couldn't because I'm all hurt. I had to put myself back together again, and it's so funny that it was medical marijuana – or rather cannabis, actually, because it's a bit racist to call it marijuana. I didn't know about that before I did this documentary. I only found out when I went to California and they said it is disparaging to Latinos.
Was there a part of you that thought the talk of medical benefits of cannabis was just an excuse for people to get high?
Yes. But then I met a dude who had MS and a hip replacement, and a guy with cancer – a guy with tubes coming out of his nose – and I thought: 'Oh man, I'm such a jerk. I've got to take this seriously.' But the same time it is funny for someone to say, 'I have an irritable stomach, so I have to get high all the time.' Some people are in so much pain (though) and it really helps them. The thing that it really helped me with was being able to sleep through the night because I couldn't.
You lost a lot of weight thanks to cannabis, which is funny given the stereotype that it normally has the opposite effect on people.
Everyone says that it gives you the munchies, but if you're eating cannabis it actually is the opposite because you've eaten something already. You've eaten a brownie. And then you are interested in other things. I would read, I would do yoga, I would walk up Mount Royal. That was really awesome. I'm not a couch guy. I want to get high and do something or write something or read something. I find it moving. It makes me want to move and go places. So I found it very much the opposite of what everybody had been telling me.
I do know some professionals that use cannabis and they are high-functioning people who make a lot of decisions and do a lot of business. One of my biggest fears about doing this documentary was that I was going to turn into somebody that didn't produce and do stuff, but I learned that I was working at a breakneck pace. I do stand-up, I act, I write, I make music, I have a band – all these things going on all the time and I have to take a break sometimes, so it taught me a lot about my own limits.
Of course you mention in the film that willpower, probably more than marijuana, helped you lose the weight. But marijuana did help a bit.
I've probably put 15 pounds back on. That was such a ridiculous amount of weight to lose. It was really great to get there for the wedding. But immediately afterwards I'm going to totally eat nachos, bread, and drink beer. I didn't drink beer and then I got to my wedding and I'm like, 'I'm going to drink tequila tonight. Plus, I was in Mexico, and where was I going to find cannabis? I didn't want to talk to any narcos. I've seen that Netflix show. I don't want to talk to those guys. I want to talk to the nice people at Tweed. Those guys are nice. Narcos are terrible.
One of the things I loved most about the film is your wife, who must be the most caring, wonderful woman ever captured on film.
She's so great. She was like, 'We're going to fix you and we are going to get you back to work.' We spend all of our time together and there is nothing wrong with that. Other comics say: 'Don't you want a break from your wife?' I'm like: 'Why? She's the best.' You love this person incredibly and you're getting married, and then you love them more when you are married.
Can you sum up why you think cannabis should be legalised?
You don't want to deal with dealers. I don't want to deal with illegality. There are no chemicals in it, so your stomach doesn't hurt like it does after a load of pain pills.
With Trudeau now in power, do you think people can be comfortable saying, 'I'm the CEO of a bank and occasionally I enjoy a brownie.'
Yes. It's really cool. And it's cool that Trudeau is like, 'I've used it.' It's not: 'I never inhaled.'