Ever since the death of Mark Twain in 1910, the country has been in constant need of homegrown, brutally honest authors to gaze upon our world with X-ray perception and tell us the real truth of how we are doing things right or wrong, regardless of who we are or the extent of the backlash. Henry Rollins is a musician, performer and writer that has been doing just that with his regular journalistic contributions to magazines such as Details, LA Weekly, Vanity Fair and The Huffington Post.
Along with his stand up comedy, spoken word performances and YouTube series, “WordswithMeaning!” Rollins’ critical observations have been the perfect vehicle for a sustained, uncompromising assault on hypocrites, idiots and pundits on both the left and the right at a time when everyone else seems to be lining up to kiss a large amount of corporate and/or government ass to make a buck.
Although the term has been used so many times it is nearly a cliché, “Renaissance Man” is the best way to describe the modern American philosopher known to the world as Henry Rollins. He’s been the lead singer of the legendary hardcore punk band Black Flag, and was the frontman for the critically acclaimed, commercially successful Rollins Band. He’s also performed alongside Robert DeNiro in Heat, played a cop hunting down Charlie Sheen in The Chase, appeared on David Lynch’s cult classic Lost Highway, and held his own as a central antagonist on the cable TV epic outlaw biker series Sons of Anarchy.
While Rollins was doing all of that he also won a Grammy for Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, and authored the spoken-word classics Black Coffee Blues and Think Tank. After getting his start in radio in 2004, Rollins had been heard many times over the airwaves, where he combines knife-sharp analysis with cutting-edge music for the massively perceptive. What’s next for a man with a career as intricate, illustrious and revolutionary as Henry Rollins?
I am sure you have a lot going on right now. What projects are keeping you busy?
The super boring job of proofreading and editing a lot of material. One of the books I have coming out is easy to wrap up, but the others will take a lot of surgery. Editing books takes a lot of time in between working, meetings and auditions. That’s what I do when I’m not touring. I’m also looking for employment.
It’s hard to imagine a person as prolific as yourself looking for a job.
It’s a non-tour year. Last year I did nearly 190 shows. It gets to the point where shows are still coming in, but the tour is booked so your calendar gets pretty marked up. Now it’s a non-tour year, I’m in this interesting position of having some solid jobs, I have a lot of contract stuff to do, but I still have to look for employment. That necessitates pitch meetings and auditions. Yesterday I was in a line 30 people long auditioning just for a microscopic role on a television show. We’ve mostly been pitching ideas for shows that I might be plugged into.
It is an interesting position, one year you are the guy, you are on the billboard, the marquee and the next year you are in line hoping some casting person who doesn’t know you will throw you a bone. It’s good, though. That it keeps you humble.
What kind of show would you want to do? I could easily imagine you as the History Channel equivalent of Anthony Bourdain.
I’d like to do a show that tells you where and how the history books got it wrong—just an entire series where we point out the facts and reveal how history is written by the winners, so of course the winners give themselves a white hat.
For example, if you tell a person in rural American that we lost the Vietnam War, you’ll be eating your dinner through a straw in your neck because he’ll break your jaw. But if you go over to Vietnam today, the Vietnamese have moved on. They are very sure they won that war, because they survived it. That’s how they think. “We are still alive, so you didn’t beat us.” What I mean is . . . there are a lot of ways to look at any historical event.
A cable television show that tells the real truth about the history of America? That’s way too controversial for prime time.
Doing that kind of show would be interesting to me, but since so many channels have corporate investors, you have to go with Current TV or some other equivalent, but they couldn’t afford to do it because they are always broke.
Watch the Fox News financial channel. They keep saying that we’re in a big recession so you have to invest in Home Depot. To people like that, someone else’s disaster is a shot in the arm for the economy.
When it comes to Hollywood it’s all about the money, and a big part of that is maintaining a corporate-approved, advertising-friendly environment.
When you go into the entertainment industry as a worker bee, and see how the sausage is made, you really see how it’s all just based on a scorched-earth policy. You end up having really mercenary conversations with people, when it comes to what you will do.
Nobody would wants to see a show that tells people the truth. They might know too much. They won’t fight our wars for us, fill our prisons for us. They’ll question authority. When you sell bombs and bullets for a living, you push a political agenda that’s going to make you the most money.
You don’t touch cannabis, but you support its legalization. What is your honest opinion about this controversial topic?
Smoking marijuana, in my opinion, is a monumental waste of time, but I’m not going to slap it out of your hand. But I not only want it legalized, I want it decriminalized. At least then you won’t go to jail for smoking it.
I see marijuana as just another stimulant. I fear alcohol. It fuels a guy up so he punches his wife and drives his car into a tree. I’m afraid of a person buying two AR-15s and shooting up a shopping mall . . . that guy should get marijuana. I fear stupidity in America more than I fear someone buying weed.
My question is: Will the states have the intestinal fortitude to retroactively free the black prisoners who are unfairly incarcerated for using marijuana if it’s legalized?
Probably not. The prison-industrial complex would lose a lot of money if it happened. I don’t think President Obama could ever let it happen.
I remember how, at one point I thought of the term “prison-industrial complex.” I looked it up, and it turns out someone else thought of it a long time ago. Once they legalize it. Maybe the incarcerated won’t get their money back, but at least they will be free.
Obama may be against it, but the states have the Tenth Amendment, and can tell him to piss up a rope. But if it’s legalized then everyone who went to jail the month before over a back pocket full of weed should be let out.
The real problem is, if you decriminalize marijuana, you have a lot less opportunity to put Johnny in jail. It’s the prison-industrial complex. You see how much money is spent. The prison guard union is one of the strongest unions in America. They sell light bulbs for prisons, cement, paper, the food—and they need Johnny to break more laws. They say they are fighting crime—they are building prisons. Who’s making the money?
Why is it that cannabis is still illegal in America?
Because brown-skinned people grow, sell and use it. A lot of those Fox News assholes smoked it in college, but now they use coffee and martinis, so it’s only for faggot hippies. “I’m a responsible chemical dependent. I use booze. It’s just five martinis.”
Pot, by comparison, is messy. You are buying a plant from someone that is not in a vacuum sealed, federally-approved package at the local 7-11.
Besides, everyone out there is buying weed right now, anyway. Why not just legalize it?
What is the cannabis legalization movement doing wrong?
[T]he reason why the legalization movement is such a clusterf#@k is because there is no clear political plan. The first time I saw medical marijuana, I was at a friend’s house. His mother would smoke these government-approved medical marijuana cigarettes. My friend would steal them. Medical marijuana is never in a black or white area. It’s always in the grey.
That’s obviously the case in a lot of places. Since we are already there, why not just legalize it? It’s stupid how someone with cancer pain has to worry about being arrested. If marijuana can help, why wouldn’t you want them to feel better? Why would you be okay with them being in pain? If you can help someone, right now, why won’t you? We are supposed to promote the general welfare; it says so in the Preamble to the Constitution.
What is your best advice for proponents of cannabis legalization?
As a non-smoking, marijuana decriminalization proponent, I would go at in as sensibly and legally as I could. Take into account the people who oppose you. They count on you to be unkempt, sloppy, illegal and high. Don’t go into an intellection battle high. Go in with your facts and figures and stats tattooed on your brain pan. When you do that, an opponent will still have to respect you for it.
Fortunately, the world is changing. The President actually mentioned the word “gay.” That set a precedent. In 100 years they will talk about Barack Obama and how he said, “Gay brothers and sisters.” That took a lot of brass.
In a political world, if you say that you smoke cannabis you might as well be say you like to make it with little kids and sheep. All the other side has to say is, “My opponent wants your son to get high at school.” Why can’t someone say, “My opponent likes wine so he wants your son to get drunk at school.”?
But they are elected officials. They are in a very precarious position. I get a second chance, if I screw up. They don’t. If someone loses an election, he doesn’t get to come back. You can say you back gay marriage, but that is as red hot as you get. Saying yes to marijuana has to no longer be seen as “He said what!?”
Your country is changing very rapidly, though. If I was writing for a cannabis-based magazine, I would be showing that marijuana smokers are not the funny characters the media always depicts, but that they are doctors and lawyers . . . professional, responsible people, just like the people who drink four beers and watch the game after working at the office all day.
In this transition to a weed economy, there is going to be a drunken sailor syndrome. When you take a sailor off the boat he’s going to drink his paycheck. There’s going to be a transition. As Joseph Stalin said, “When you cut wood, chips fly.” Someone will abuse weed. It’s going to happen. They are going to drive recklessly, have THC in their blood, and a bunch of people will overreact because of it. But let’s face it, cannabis is already out there. Legalizing it will not change it too much.
Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue
Henry Rollins activism knows no bounds. Whether it’s championing for gay rights—he once hosted a “WedRock” benefit concert in support of same-sex marriage—to helping out with veterans causes, Rollins is passionate straight down the line. The writer/performer took up the cause of the “Memphis Three”—a case involving the unjust imprisonment of three young men accused of murder. The “Three” were finally released in 2011, after 18 years in prison, with Rollins saying, “My joy at hearing the news is however tinged with frustration that it took so long and that there is a person or persons who still need to be brought to justice.”
Handling the Helm
Photos by John Gilhooey
Deep down, actor, comedian, director and film producer Jason Mewes was shaped by his humble background growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Highlands, New Jersey, before being thrust into the glamour of Hollywood in the mid-’90s. His best friend Kevin Smith cast him as Jay, an extension of Mewes’ true personality, for Smith’s debut film Clerks—a film that would become the definition of a cult classic.
Clearly, Clerks was only the beginning. The View Askewniverse, encompassing characters such as Jay and Silent Bob began to take form. A series of smash hit comedies followed, including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II. By then, Mewes was sought after by other film executives—landing roles in films such as Scream III and Bottoms Up. In 2002, Mewes joined High Times to star in High Times’ Potluck. He also starred in numerous recurring roles on television.
It is difficult to overstate the overall influence that Mewes has played on modern comedy. After all, many of us were originally introduced to young actors such as Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Ethan Suplee via the View Askewniverse. Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Alanis Morrisette and Rosario Dawson co-starred with him as well. Mewes’ directorial debut, Madness in the Method, was released last August and most recent film Jay & Silent Bob Reboot was released last October. Mewes took the time to discuss directing, his recent films and past experiences with cannabis before embarking on a sober lifestyle six years ago.
Jay & Silent Bob Reboot is about how the duo wants to stop Hollywood from filming a reboot of their movie. Do you think there are too many reboots today?
Not really. It’s fun for me to see what people do and where they go with it. It’s really just Jay and Bob making fun of remakes, but not making fun of [specific movies] at the same time. For me, it’s interesting to see that they want to try to reboot something and bring it back. I definitely think they shouldn’t touch certain movies, but at the same time, it’s always important to say, “Oh, I wonder if it’s going to turn out good? Is it going to be bad? Is it going to be decent?” So no, I don’t personally think so.
But over 10 actors/voice actors have played Batman!
I see, but I feel like if they would stick with the same man, and I could be wrong, it wouldn’t [be as great]. I think that they redid Batman because they wanted to tell a new story, or the person just didn’t want to be Batman anymore. I feel like if someone in Spider-Man starred in a movie, if he loves being Spider-Man, and they’re going to do 10 [films], then maybe he’ll do 10. I know as far as the studio is concerned, it might be the studio’s decision. But I feel like a lot of times the actor just decides, “Oh, I don’t wanna do that anymore.” And they want to make a new move. So, to me, the old Batmans are awesome and then the new Batmans were cool to see. Everyone has their own favorite. I didn’t think anyone could do a better Joker than Jack Nicholson, and then you had Heath Ledger, who was awesome. I wouldn’t say he was better than Jack Nicholson, but he definitely did his own Joker. And now we get to say, “This Joker is amazing, or this Joker is amazing,” but they were different. If they decided not to do a new Batman, we would’ve never got to see the Batman with Ledger, and we would’ve missed that brilliant performance.
Did Jay & Silent Bob begin as a skit?
No. Kevin said, “Hey, I’m writing a movie.” He tells the story best, but he saw the movie Slacker and said, “This counts as a movie?! I want to try to make a movie. I know that I could do something like this.” So, you know, that’s when he came up with Clerks. He came up with Jay, because he always thought I was funny, and he wanted to find out if other people also found my sense of humor funny. Not just him, but people in our neighborhood in New Jersey. “Will people in Portland find us funny? Will people in Los Angeles find us funny?” So, you know, that’s how he came up with the character Jay. That was based on exactly how I was at the time, at the age of 13 up to 17, when we filmed the movie.
“People have gotten in trouble just for carrying a doobie on them. That, I definitely think is crazy.”
So, is Clerks 3 a for sure thing?
It seems that way. I know Kevin is definitely writing the script. I think it’s a really good idea for a script. I know he spoke to Jeff [Anderson] and Jeff’s in. And why it didn’t happen last time—there was a script there, and you know, we had a place to shoot it, and the money was there. But with Jeff, I don’t know what happened at the time, but he was busy. Something happened, and we had to move on. So, then we were going to do a Mallrats [sequel], and Mallrats didn’t happen, because Universal owned the rights to Mallrats and didn’t want to make the movie.
Tell us about your three new strains.
Kevin met with Mike [Brunson], who’s a big part of that, and he loved his stuff. He was telling me that he’s been wanting to do a Jay and Bob line. And Mike was like, “I can totally make that happen.” So, he sat down and made three brand-new strains of the sativa, hybrid and indica, and we got to put our names on them, with Snoochie Boochies, Snoogans and Berzerker. It just came about with Kevin having a conversation and wanting to do it for a long time. But also trying these other strains and falling in love with them.
What do you think about America’s cannabis laws? Are they too harsh?
I’ve always thought it’s been crazy. People have gotten in trouble just for carrying a doobie on them. That, I definitely think is crazy. I get it when someone’s doing backroom deals with pounds and pounds and the danger of doing something sketchy, but yes, I definitely think it’s too harsh. I remember when we got arrested once when I was in Highlands, New Jersey. I believe I was about 17 or 18 years old. We were coming back from the beach and my buddy had smoked, and when he threw the roach out the window, it blew back in the window, and it was on the floor when we got pulled over. They brought us all down to the police station for just a roach—and I mean, there wasn’t like any weed left in it, in the paper. It was pretty much just an empty soggy piece of paper with the resin on it. My buddy looked at the cop and said, “Hey, it’s my car.” We had no idea it was on the floor and we’d get in trouble. He ended up getting on probation and community service or something crazy like that. That, to me, is ridiculous. So, you know, it’s pretty awesome that you can go to certain states and just walk in a store with your ID.
You recently directed Madness in the Method. What is the film all about?
[Directing] is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, because I got to mess around with Kevin a few times, and he let me direct some excerpts. As time went on, as I do movie after movie, I started thinking like a director, like, “Hey, why would I come through this door? Wouldn’t I rather come this other way?” That’s what happened. It was because I wanted to challenge myself and do something different. That’s what [Madness in the Method] is all about—an alternative version of Jay Mewes, and how people always ask him to play those “Snoochie Boochies guys.”
“[Kevin Smith] saw the movie Slacker and said, ‘This counts as a movie?! I want to try to make a movie. I know that I could do something like this.’ So, you know, that’s when he came up with Clerks.”
Do you plan on directing more movies?
I would love to. It’s just a matter of if someone wants to give me another opportunity. I wish I could write and do what Kevin did with Clerks. I sort of did that with this movie, but I had my friend write. I think that once things have calmed down with Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, and we’re done touring, I can really sit down and try to figure out a plan. Or I’m hoping that someone sees the movie and already has money and a script, and just wants me to direct their movie.
You’ve been doing the “Jay & Silent Bob Get Old” podcast for nearly 10 years now. Why do you think it’s lasted so long?
I think because we just kept touring with it. It started off at the Black Box Theater. Kevin had opened up called SModcastle. That’s where the idea sort of stemmed from. Kevin was doing a couple of live shows. It looked like so much fun, and I said I really wanted to do a podcast. And he said, “What are we going to talk about?” I said “I don’t know.” Then he said, “You were four years sober, and relapsed, you were doing so good, so why do you think you relapsed?” I explained that I wasn’t accountable to anybody. I stopped going to meetings. I didn’t have any support system. So he said, “Let’s do the podcast. We’ll talk about your stuff. You’ll never forget about it, because we’ll be talking about it so much. And you want to go back there and doing that again—you know, living in an apartment with no heater. And you’ll be accountable to the listeners.” So it started off with 40 people, and others started to download it. We downloaded it on SModcastle. It sold out like in a week. We had no idea that that many people would want to watch. Then we moved up to the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club, which held 160 people. And that was selling out every week. We decided if we’re doing it in New York, we might as well go to Florida. We just started setting up the tour, and I think a combination of keeping the stories fresh each time and being able to tour to different cities. Then we went to Australia and London and Scotland. That’s all part of why [it lasted].
What upcoming projects do you have to announce?
Reboot Roadshow will be on in a city near you. Besides that, there are no movies I’m locked into now. I’ve been streaming on Twitch. I build Legos. I do IRL, like backpacking and doing different things. And I also play video games. JayMewes is my Twitch channel. Kevin and I are actually doing something this week together, so I’m trying to do collabs with people, and there are a couple of them set up. Keep an eye out for them. Besides the Reboot, the movie, and doing press, I’ve been mainly streaming in my free time.
Be sure to check out our exclusive conversation with former CULTURE cover celebrity Kevin Smith about the new line of cannabis strains and the vaping crisis.
Photos by: Lauren Dukoff
For over three decades, Melissa Etheridge has been one of modern rock and pop music’s most powerful voices, as well as one of its most engaged activists. Though she had achieved moderate success in the late ’80s, 1993 marked the year Etheridge both broke into the mainstream with her pivotal Grammy Award-winning album Yes I Am and fearlessly came out publicly as a lesbian. In the years that followed, Etheridge toured all over the world, enjoyed continued mainstream success with her music, and used her platform to speak out for LGBTQ rights and raise money for a variety of charities.
In 2004, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and took a break from public life to undergo treatment. Ever since she successfully beat the disease with radiation therapy, Etheridge has become an avid supporter of cannabis legalization, telling CULTURE back in 2010 that “. . . cannabis during chemotherapy was just a lifesaver. It was a pain reliever; it gave me my appetite back . . . the benefits go on and on and on and on.” Her convictions would lead her to become one of the first famous women to enter the cannabis industry commercially.
Recently, CULTURE got the chance to catch up again with Etheridge and hear all about writing new music and performing with 30-plus years of experience under her belt, as well as her cannabis business venture, Etheridge Farms, which anticipates a rollout of its new products in early- to mid-2020.
You released a new record called The Medicine Show earlier this year, and 2019 is also the 30th anniversary of your second album, Brave and Crazy. What’s changed for you in your approach to record making between now and when you got started?
Thirty years ago, it was the record that got you in front of people, it was the record company that promoted it, and you put a record out and you could tour behind it. The record always led everything. Over the last 30 years I’d gotten into a cycle of putting out a record pretty much every two years. I’d make the record, put it out, tour for a year, and continue touring while I was making the next one. A few years ago, it started changing. With the shrinking of the record and radio market, anything that wasn’t geared toward 13- to 17-year-olds didn’t have a space. My career then very much evolved, and I became much more of a live artist who every now and then gets to put out a record.
“My cannabis business is requiring a lot of my attention right now, and so I thought, ‘It’s OK if I’m not running right back into writing a new album. It’s fine.’ I think The Medicine Show is still just finding people, and the more I tour for it, then the more people will know it. I think I can take my time.”
Is it liberating to not feel the pressure to put out a record every two years?
The funny thing is, I still make them every two years [laughs]. Just because it’s kind of a habit; it’s the rhythm. It’s funny though, because just the other day I was thinking, “Wow! I don’t have to go into writing if I don’t want to right now.” My cannabis business is requiring a lot of my attention right now, and so I thought, “It’s OK if I’m not running right back into writing a new album. It’s fine.” I think The Medicine Show is still just finding people, and the more I tour for it, then the more people will know it. I think I can take my time.
Is it still scary or intimidating to put new music out there after all these years, or does it just feel natural?
I really enjoy social media now. When I used to put a record out, the only feedback I’d get were from people I knew personally, the record company, the radio maybe and reviewers. Once I went on tour, if people applauded, I’d think, “Oh, they liked that!” But I never got to get an immediate response from the fans, the ones I really make my music for, until about 10 years ago when I got on social media. To be able to hear instantly from people who left work, bought my album, listened to it, and let me know what they think of it, that makes it not as scary anymore. I remember that Rolling Stone didn’t even review Yes I Am, they just didn’t even touch it, and at the time I was saying, “Oh my God!” But a year later it was massive. So, I don’t get my feelings hurt like that anymore.
“Because of the regulations, the black market is still very strong, and it makes being in the regulated market and making a commitment to follow all the rules really expensive; it’s hard to be compliant.”
When you go into writing mode, do you still draw on the same things for inspiration that you did earlier in your career?
I draw inspiration from my life, so that’s what’s changed. Thank God I’m not going to write another “Am I Only One” because that’s a heartbreaking song; that came from a whole lot of pain. I’m glad I’m not writing that anymore. When I went through cancer 15 years ago, that was a really spiritual awakening and marked a big change in my life, so I wrote a lot from that. Now, I find myself in my late 50s, and I’m looking at the world, love, life and spirit. I’m drawing from the same things I’ve always drawn on, they’re just different now.
You mentioned earlier how your cannabis business is taking up more and more of your time, and that’s something we here at CULTURE are very fascinated by. Your company, Etheridge Farms, received its business license earlier this year. How exciting has that been for you?
It has been an intense, exciting journey. Ten years ago I thought, “Ah, this’ll be a piece of cake!” And I jumped into the cannabis industry, and it has been a real journey, and I’ve learned a lot. I hooked up with a couple of very honest, respectable and credible people who manufacture and know the cannabis industry. I partnered up with them; they’re the ones in [Santa Cruz , California] where we got our license from, and we’re the first and only manufacturing license for cannabis in Santa Cruz County. With Etheridge Farms, the main focus is medicinal. I feel like so much of the cannabis industry has lost sight and the opportunity to reach people about how great of a medicinal plant cannabis is.
“I feel like so much of the cannabis industry has lost sight and the opportunity to reach people about how great of a medicinal plant cannabis is.”
Can you tell us a bit about the mission of Etheridge Farms and what you hope to achieve with it?
The mission is to bring quality, organic medicine to people in order to alleviate pain and bring an understanding of wellness and where cannabis fits into that.
How hands-on are you with product development?
Oh, completely. My partners and my wife and I are ground up on this. That’s why I’ve gone through this, that’s why I didn’t white label, because I wanted to know about it from seed to shelf. I know exactly what’s happening here, because that’s the kind of medicine I want.
You’ve mentioned in interviews that you want to help create representation for middle aged women in the cannabis industry with Etheridge Farms. Why do you think they’ve been neglected?
Because it’s not very sexy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women come to me and say, “Explain all of this to me, because I can’t go into a dispensary.” They’re intimidated to go in because it’s not marketed to them—it’s marketed to people who already understand cannabis, are young and hip and are using it recreationally. If a woman wants help with menopause, she’s not going to go in and talk to a 23-year-old hipster. She’s not going to do that. These are women who have been taking Ambien and drinking wine every night and are done with it, because it’s taking a toll on them and their bodies.
You’ve been an advocate for cannabis legalization for a long time now. Is it validating to see states and even the beginnings of the federal government starting to come around to legalization after so many years?
It’s amazing! I love how far it’s come, but there’s still so much misinformation out there, and the regulations are almost impossible. Because of the regulations, the black market is still very strong, and it makes being in the regulated market and making a commitment to follow all the rules really expensive; it’s hard to be compliant.
To get back to the music, you’ve got a bunch of dates coming up to round out the end of the year. Earlier you talked about how your songwriting has changed over the years, how has your approach and appreciation for touring changed since you first started?
I’ve grown so much as a performer and as a human being. It’s funny, I had some friends over from out of town the other night, and I’d just gotten this new TV. We were checking all the features on this smart TV—we found YouTube and started watching all of these old videos of me that I hadn’t seen in forever on this big massive screen [laughs]. I was watching myself from 1990 and thinking, “Aw!” And having an appreciation of how well I could do back then and also remembering my state of mind and how I never took any of it in. I think the big difference is that now I can take it in. I’m not a tortured 27- or 33-year-old—I believe in myself. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’ve got to be good at it or I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’m able to relax and go, “Wow! I enjoy this!” About 10 years ago I started playing more lead guitar, I mean like really getting up and playing guitar deeply and practicing, and it has made my joy of performing just triple. I’m not just singing and accompanying myself, now I get to stand up there and play guitar solos and I really, really enjoy that. My experience of performing has deepened, and I’m just so grateful.
“Oh Lord, between my children, my music and my cannabis, that’s pretty much my life! […] I enjoy it, but it takes a lot of focus, and the music is there to relieve me of my tension.”
In addition to all of these wonderful things you’ve got going on, do you have any other additional ambitions for yourself, your music or your companies in this year and beyond?
Oh Lord, between my children, my music and my cannabis, that’s pretty much my life! Really though, with the cannabis business we are set to finally put out product by the end of summer 2020, so that’s taking a lot of my focus. I enjoy it, but it takes a lot of focus, and the music is there to relieve me of my tension. I’m just living life.
Photos by Joel Meaders
Early on, standout comedian Josh Blue constantly reassured himself that he could accomplish anything that any other person could. In his own words, he “puts the ‘cerebral’ in cerebral palsy,” living with the condition his entire life—but not allowing himself to be limited or defined by it. Blue’s mantra has ultimately steered him to stardom, winning Last Comic Standing on the reality show’s fourth season on NBC, being the first comedian to perform stand-up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and being named Best Winning Reality Show Guest on Live with Regis and Kelly.
As an accomplished comic, Blue has taken ownership of his success. He made appearances on Carlos Mencia’s Mind of Mencia on Comedy Central. He also performed on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson several years ago and delivered a searing pivotal performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last year. Blue also recently filmed his most recent one hour-long comedy special.
Beyond comedy, Blue founded the band Josh Blue & The Hooligan Stew Revue, a collaborative project with Zebra Junction, and he is also an international athlete and dabbles in acting. Blue competed in Athens, Greece during the 2004 Paralympic Games as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Soccer Team. That endeavor would become the butt of many jokes, providing some of his own stand-up material. Finally, Blue is teamed up with licensed edible company Mountain High Suckers, based in Colorado, to release Josh Blue’s Dream, his own line of lollipops infused with THC and CBD. Unlike rolling a joint, anybody—steady-handed or not—can medicate with complete ease and discretion using Blue’s lollipops. CULTURE snagged Blue to discuss his line of cannabis-infused lollipops, his battles with cerebral palsy and his elusive experiences with edibles.
At what point did you realize you were born to do stand-up? Was there a specific moment?
I studied stand-up in college, and I found the comedy scene pretty shortly after graduating, within a year of moving out of college. I think that I pretty much was hooked by that time.
You’ve won comedy contests several times, including first place at the 2004 Royal Flush Comedy Competition and winning season four of Last Comic Standing. What do you think separates the winners from the rest in the comedy world?
I mean, there are tons of factors that go into it. In my case—it’s my award-winning smile! No, it actually comes down to the comfortability on-stage and [who has] a natural feel for it. Last Comic Standing wasn’t just about doing stand-up, because they follow you around for your daily life for a while. So, they saw me being funny in other ways and saw that I’m a fun dude to hang out with and party with, and they got to see my personality. I feel like that is [what] it is—a shining personality will prevail.
Do you recall any times when you worried if you “went too far” with a joke and offended audience members?
Really? I’m a fucking professional, bro. [laughing] I know where the line is, and I’m pretty sure that I’m pretty good at walking along it. And you know, my idea is to bring you right up to that line and make you uncomfortable. But I’ll have a big payoff with the laughs at the end, and you know, have something bigger than that.
You have cerebral palsy and often use self-deprecating humor in your stand-up. Do you find that laughing about it from time to time is therapeutic?
Sure, man. I mean, I’ve definitely been laughing at myself my whole life. It’s easier to be sad about it, but it’s better to have a laugh and enjoy yourself. But it’s definitely therapeutic.
“I used to be hung up on how people perceived me and how people judge me due to my disability. And then I smoked some weed and thought, ‘Well, fuck it. Who cares what they think?’”
In your experience, can medical cannabis help improve the quality of life for people living with cerebral palsy? If so, how?
Well, I’ve always been a huge advocate for the benefits of cannabis for anyone, really. But for me, what it really did was that earlier in my life I used to be hung up on how people perceived me and how people judged me due to my disability. And then I smoked some weed and thought, “Well, fuck it. Who cares what they think? Have fun for yourself.” It kind of just changed my whole mindset on it.
As far as the physical aspects, I guess that when I first started smoking, I didn’t think about it making my body feel better, but something’s definitely happening in there. You know what I mean? In college, you’re like not really thinking hard about the medical benefits. You’re just getting high, because it’s fun to do. But as I got older, I realized that maybe this is a way of functioning better and that it’s a viable medication that people can take. With all these other over-the-counter bullshit drugs that make you sicker, why isn’t this legal with no side effects? And that’s part of the answer—because they want you to have side effects so you can buy more medication.
Do you find specific cannabinoids like CBD or THC to be more effective?
What’s interesting for me, and I’ve said this before, is that it’s not that weed necessarily made me feel better. It just made me forget anything that’s wrong. Does that make sense? “Oh, well I don’t need to worry about what they think about cerebral palsy.” Look! I’m going to do it and do it better than you ever could! It’s amazing what they do—pull the CBD and THC from weed. Obviously, both have benefit, but in different ways. I like sativas. I’m more of a get-high-and-clean-the-house kind of guy. I smoke weed before my shows, so I definitely don’t want an indica that will bring my mood down.
“I like sativas. I’m more of a get-high-and-clean-the-house kind of guy. I smoke weed before my shows, so I definitely don’t want an indica that will bring my mood down.”
Tell us about Mountain High Suckers.
Pretty cool, huh? It’s really been awesome working with these guys. It started when I met the owners John [Garrison] and Chad [Tribble]. Back in the day I was going to a dispensary by my house and their product was in there. I met them there and they knew who I was, and we quickly became friends. I’ve done some stuff with them over the years. Some ads and I’m an advocate of their product. Then it just evolved into the Josh Blue line. Obviously, that was a badass idea.
We heard that Blue Dream is your favorite strain. Is that true?
It’s perfect because Blue Dream and Josh Blue share the name. Like it was meant to be!
Where can consumers find your products?
As of now, my products are only available in Colorado. Over 40 different companies now carry it and online. It’s pretty amazing. Right now, we are in talks with getting into California and a few other states. If it gets into California—it will make a wish come true, you know? It will be pretty fucking awesome, right?
“With all these other over-the-counter bullshit drugs that make you sicker, why isn’t this legal with no side effects? And that’s part of the answer—because they want you to have side effects, so you can buy more medication.”
Do you have any edible experiences, good or bad, to share?
I do have a couple bad edible experiences. One is about my buddy from the mountains in the Colorado Rockies. You know how they have some backwoods people up in there. He gave me an edible that was maybe twice the size of a Tootsie Roll. A big fat Tootsie Roll. I guess I didn’t listen to the instructions, and I ate half of it. Thank God I only ate half! And then I proceeded to get higher than I’ve ever been. I called my girlfriend and was like, “Dude, you’ve got to come over right now. I can’t swallow water.” I poured water towards my mouth and it just fell all over my face. I had to run around the block 30 times. Apparently, that little Tootsie Roll was 300mg. I’ve eaten a lot of edibles before, but I’m used to taking around 20mg doses, you know? So I was high for hours, man. There was definitely no sitting down after that. Like I said, I’m a pretty energetic stoner. Let’s just say I had a lot of steps on my step counter that day.
Tell us about your involvement in the 2004 U.S. Paralympics soccer team.
I was on the national team for eight years. I traveled all over the world representing the U.S. In 2004 I was in Athens, Greece for the Paralympics. And it’s kind of a funny thing to bring up, just because as an Olympic athlete, we were under the same drug restrictions as the able-bodied Olympics. So, we would have random drug tests. People would just show up at your door at six in the morning. And I’d stumble out, all hungover. “Now we’re going to watch you pee in this cup,” they’d say. Oh shit. Thank God there were two separate tests: in-competition and out-of-competition.
For the out-of-competition test you could smoke and have cannabinoids in your system. I was smoking the whole time, obviously. I had a big tournament coming up, so I had to flush out my system for like a month-and-a-half just to make sure I didn’t get my teammates disqualified or anything. That’s a lot of weight to put on a pothead’s shoulders. The funniest story is I was smoking a fucking jay in my living room when they showed up! I mean they came in the room and they were gassed out for sure. I think after that, I got tested more than any teammate ever. They came to my house monthly once they found out how much weed I had in my system. I got tested for a performance-enhancing drug, but I should have gotten a medal for being able to play in that condition!
You were born in West Africa. Does that help you see the world differently than other Americans?
I can fucking guarantee that, man. I’ve been to 41 countries now. I also lived in Senegal when I was 15 for a year. I gotta say, that experience really influenced who I am in my life. Being disabled, I had a lot of questions and some sadness. “Why me” sort of bullshit. But then I went there to Africa when I was 15, and it gave me a reality check. A kick in the teeth. I may have cerebral palsy, but I do have shoes and food. So, I don’t really have anything to bitch about.
You were the first comedian to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Do you consider her to be a pioneer for the LGBTQ and comedy communities?
Definitely both of those things. I was a huge fan of Ellen and the fact that she picked me to be the first one? I mean, what an honor. I like to think of this as the way she stepped up for LGBTQ people and brought them to the limelight, I get to do it for disabled people like me and bring awareness. We’re just people, too. She was a huge influence to me. I all of a sudden went from a touring comic to a famous touring comic. I did Ellen and Live with Regis and Kelly back-to-back. I did Regis and Kelly the very next day. The fact that they picked me as the best guest they had is a pretty cool honor. It was affirmation from winning a reality show.
What are your next immediate plans?
I do over 200 shows per year, so I don’t really have a tour. I just never stop. All my shows are on my website. I also have my [fifth hour-long] special coming out this year. I filmed it in January, and we’re finally done editing it. I’m really happy about it. Five one-hour specials are nothing to balk at. I’m only 40 and have five albums.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m a huge advocate of cannabis. It definitely helped change my life for the better. I’m very happy and impressed that our country is moving forward with legalization across the board.
I was just in Arkansas last week doing shows. They have medical there now, apparently. Whhhaaaaatt? Everyone’s going to have it soon if Arkansas has it. They told me in Arkansas that due to a legal loophole, everywhere that you can smoke cigarettes, you can smoke weed. So, I heard that some people are smoking joints inside the bars. That’s one dope loophole.
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