I remember seeing Pineapple Express in theaters right when it was released. I was 17 at the time, and my friend Dan and I took some edibles an hour before the screening. Midway through, they hit, and I could not stop laughing. Every joke had me cracking up. Seth Rogen simply giving James Franco that high and bewildered look was enough to make me pee my pants.
Over a decade later, I decided to rewatch the stoner classic, and let me tell you something: It does not hold up. In fact, some parts were particularly painful to watch. Don’t get me wrong. I love Seth Rogen. I just saw his latest film, Long Shot, with Charlize Theron, and it was really well done. I hate to use this word because I feel as if it’s constantly overused, but the movie was woke. Seth Rogen’s humor has evolved, and it better reflects society in 2019.
The thing is, few comedies stand the test of time, since, as a society, many of us (read: millennials) have become more socially and politically conscious. Cheap gay and race jokes — or variations of the “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus” gag — no longer fly. It’s a combination of these bits being insensitive (and clearly not being written by the minority members they’re making fun of), and also not creative. We’ve heard them time and time again for the past thirty years.
In Hollywood now, we’re finally starting to see stories written by the minority members they represent. Every show isn’t written by straight white men. Needless to say, this is progress. We should be the ones telling our own stories. It also lends to better comedy, since those writing them are clearly “in” on the joke.
With more diverse writers and show-runners, I believe we’re beginning to see an emergence of a new type of stoner comedy — which I’m going to go ahead and simply call queer stoner humor. I’d argue that queer stoner humor greatly differs from the classic Rogen-esque “let’s get high and fuck around playing video games.”
I spoke with Dewayne Perkins, an established stand-up comedian and TV writer who currently writes on Brooklyn Nine-Nine to see if he, too, believes we’re on the precipice of developing a new genre of comedy.
Perkins’ humor directly correlates with his identity. “Most of my stand up is about my life, about how I walk through the world, about how the world sees me, and being a queer black man is at the basis of all of that,” the 28-year-old tells Civilized. “I grew up on the south side of Chicago where I saw almost no white people, and then I left that to be a part of an industry that’s almost exclusively white, and I never felt completely comfortable in either space. In one, I was too gay, and in the other, I was too black.”
People constantly telling Perkins to change aspects of his identity “kind of broke me,” he says, but it helped him find his comedic voice, “which is joyfully apathetic gay boy just trying to live his best life.”
Growing up, Perkins wasn’t a fan of comedy, since, as he puts it, “the black people I saw were mostly homophobic and the very few gay men who were allowed to do comedy were white.” That’s why his current approach is to just exist in any comedy space like it was made for him, in the hopes that another queer comic of color sees him, and it makes them feel like comedy was made for them, too.
I’m aware that at this point I’ve so far discussed Dewayne without mentioning cannabis at all, but there’s a reason: Dewayne says he believes that queer cannabis culture deeply intersects with his marginalized identity, and that is how the emerging genre differs from typical stoner comedy.
“I think queer stoner humor, to me, feels more modern and sophisticated. I think it's flipping the stereotypes of stoners around,” he explains. “I think the perception of stoners is greatly affected by race and sexuality. I’m a black man in America, and queer on top of that, so my relationship with cannabis is very different than your average Pineapple Express stereotypical stoner.”
He makes clear that he can’t afford to let cannabis turn him into a couch potato because he doesn’t have a trust fund or any form of generational wealth. “So cannabis is not an escape for me; it's a tool that makes dealing with normal life less terrifying, which then allows me the mental and emotional space to actually dedicate to my hopes and dreams.”
Perkins’ comments hit on a few things. One of note has to do with the myriad of reasons why queer people use cannabis. It’s not to get high and play video games. It’s to help deal with anxiety and depression that come from experiencing discrimination.
I’ve spoken with drag queen and cannabis advocate Laganja Estranja a few times for various articles, and there’s one thing she always makes clear: Queer people use cannabis as medicine.
“I think PTSD draws LGBTQ+ folks to cannabis," She previously told Civilized. "Our community is typically ostracized at a young age or at the first signs of being different, and sometimes the only way to ease that childhood trauma is to medicate.”
It’s our experiences with discrimination and trauma that often drives many queer and POC folks to use cannabis. That changes the type of humor associated with it. It can be a little bit more serious and raw (but of course, still funny). Cannabis, drives us, too, giving us the opportunity to do more, since we’re not consumed with our trauma, anxiety, PTSD, and so on.
That’s why Perkins says, “I feel like queer stoner humor is like ‘look at how high I am, and how much I’ve achieved at the same time.’ It’s a real ambitious high.”