Photo Credit: Joey Martinez
For over a decade, Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real have been hard at work honing a country rock ‘n’ roll sound that has roots planted deep in the past but keeps its eyes forward and feet moving into the future. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real’s bluesy, country rock style manages to sound both vintage and contemporary, and the band draws on many influences but never simply impersonates them.
The last five years have seen Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real do everything from recording with Neil Young, appear in, co-write and co-produce the music of last year’s hit film, A Star Is Born, release two albums of original material with a third out in the next few weeks, and tour extensively all over the world, in addition to also backing Neil Young or performing with Lukas’s father, Willie Nelson. Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real’s self-titled 2017 album rose to number two on the Billboard U.S. Country chart and was nominated for Duo/Group of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, while the soundtrack for A Star Is Born opened at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.
CULTURE had the opportunity to catch up with Nelson recently and hear all about his band’s new album Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) available on June 14, his experience working on A Star is Born, his activism and of course, his excitement about all things cannabis.
How did you all find the time to get this album completed?
The actual tracking only took us about 10 days at most. We went into the studio and basically recorded it live; we did three takes of each song and picked the best ones. There was also about an hour of pre-production beforehand where we decided how we were going to arrange the songs and everything. So we actually ended up with 20 tracks done in our first six-day session at Shangri-La Studios. Then we went and did another three-day session at The Village Recorder, where we did our last record, and ended up with another eight or nine tracks. So, we had about 30 total to choose from. Then we just had to narrow it down, pick the tracks and mix those—and that all happened in the span of the last year-and-a-half.
Were the songs on this album written in the last year-and-a-half, or are some of these older tunes you’ve been working on?
The song “Mystery” from the record is one that I put out on our first EP ever back in 2009. But that recording was actually the second version of the song, and the one that we’re putting out now is the way I originally wrote it back when I was 18. The only ones we revisited were that one and the song “Something Real” because I really wanted to get another recording of that one down too. The rest of them are new.
Photo Credit: Joey Martinez
One big thing that happened for you in that time frame was your work on A Star Is Born. Was sitting down and writing with a pop star like Lady Gaga a radically different experience for you?
Interestingly, when Gaga and I were writing together we seemed to see ear-to-ear, so to speak. She comes from her world, and I come from mine, but she knows jazz music, blues and the roots of music in general. When you know that language, you love a good song, and that’s what I pride myself most on—good songwriting. I don’t like to limit myself to a certain genre when it comes to that. I like a good melody and lyrics that speak to me, and if that’s the case then it doesn’t matter what instrumentation necessarily surrounds the song, how you produce it, or how you present it to the world. It’s all a matter of taste.
“As a public figure, I feel that I have a way to create the world that I want to see in the way that I can. I’m not advocating turning off the news completely and being ignorant. It’s putting down your phone, turning off your TV for a minute, going out and getting involved in your local community.”
You decided to work with John Alagia again for this album. It seems like every release prior to this one and the one before have had different producers. What made you decide to continue working with him?
Well, I love John. He’s a good friend of mine, and I like his approach. We’re pretty raw as a band and are more on the Neil Young or The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street end of things. I like his ability to put a polish on our sound when we work together; it really balances out into something great. I think that’s why we work so well together. We both have our approaches, but we both come from the same place and love the same types of music. We both love great songs, and John is an incredible songwriter. In fact, for our new single, “Bad Case,” John and his friend Jamie Hartman, who is also a great songwriter and works at The Village, gave some ideas that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of to make the song more accessible to people. I want to reach all types of worlds, though not the ones without soul, but I’d like to reach the soul of all genres.
Photo Credit: Joey Martinez
From a production standpoint, was there a particular type of sound you wanted to achieve?
You know, when I wrote “Bad Case,” I felt Tom Petty. I felt him in my spirit, I was missing him, and it really came out that way. We got Adria Petty to do the music video for it, and it’s going to be fantastic; it’s beautiful. I miss all of the songwriter rock ‘n’ roll of people like The Beatles and Tom and all of the other folks who inspired me. Even Clapton and Jimi Hendrix had these amazing songs with rock ‘n’ roll in them. They weren’t just great sounding guitars with lyrics masked by production that you couldn’t really hear which seems to be the style happening in this age. I’m not a fan of it. I want to hear what people are saying, and I want the lyrics to touch me the way a good poem does.
“I don’t think there’s a marijuana enthusiast in the world that isn’t at least a little bit happy now that things are going our way.”
On the topic of lyrics, with a title track like “Turn Off The News (Build A Garden),” was it your intention for this record to be more of a direct commentary on the world we’re in today than some of your previous albums?
Oh yeah! But in a way that’s hopeful. My idea while we’re touring on the release of this record is to reach out to all of the farmer’s markets in the towns we play as much as we can and go to the farmer’s market, play for free and encourage the people who attend our concerts to come out and support their local farmers. As a public figure, I feel that I have a way to create the world that I want to see in the way that I can. I’m not advocating turning off the news completely and being ignorant. It’s putting down your phone, turning off your TV for a minute, going out and getting involved in your local community. That way you can be consciously a part of what’s happening in your community, and you can make efforts to ensure that on a local level, things are going well. I think that will trickle into the macrocosm of our society and create a domino effect if we all work that way. Turn Off The News (Build A Garden) is really a call to action.
Is it at all challenging for you to find your creativity with so much unrest happening in the world around you?
I don’t know if it’s a challenge, no. Creativity is born of inspiration, right? And you can get inspired by something very small. Depending on your level of observation and connectivity to the world you could get inspired by just the way someone looks at you one day. I think creativity is about being present in the world and observing. If things are going well around you, then that’s something else to be writing about. Some of the greatest Motown songs are about being happy. Songs don’t have to be born of unrest. But I actually think unrest provides more material, because it provides the challenge of overcoming challenges.
Photo Credit: Joey Martinez
I’d imagine at the very least it must bring a little bit of solace to see something like cannabis legalization gaining such mainstream acceptance on a national level?
Yes. I don’t think there’s a marijuana enthusiast in the world that isn’t at least a little bit happy now that things are going our way. I imagine it’s kind of like the way prohibition was back in the day—when you couldn’t drink, people still drank, and when you couldn’t smoke, people still smoked. The irony is that probably a lot less people smoke now because a lot of times people want to do things that are illegal just to feel like they’re giving the finger to the man, especially young kids. I think we’re growing up in a time now where a lot of kids don’t smoke weed, because their parents were stoners, and they want to do the opposite of what their parents are doing.
I’m just glad that hopefully people won’t be getting arrested and thrown in jail for this little plant like they used to be, especially minorities. I think that’s the best part of the national decriminalization that’s happening as well as the exploring of the medicinal qualities too because it’s really good for you. But really, I think the worst part of it was that people from minority communities were being thrown in jail for something as small as having a joint. Unfortunately, they’re still being thrown in jail for silly things, but at least that’s one thing that can’t happen to them anymore.
“WILLIE’S RESERVE put out a ‘Promise of the Real’ sativa strain of weed, and it’s great!”
As a son, does it make you proud to see something that your dad has been harassed for and working so hard as an activist on for so long finally being taken seriously as a social issue?
Oh absolutely! It’s a complete vindication for him! WILLIE’S RESERVE™ is doing fantastic and to have that company now, I’m really proud of him!
Speaking of your dad’s company, I’ve heard you’ve got your own strain out through them. Can you tell me about it?
Well yeah, WILLIE’S RESERVE™ put out a “Promise of the Real” sativa strain of weed, and it’s great!
To get back to the music, you have an all-star lineup of collaborators on this record including Kesha, Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Lucius, Neil Young and your dad. How did you decide who you wanted to work on with?
You know, our friends just kind of came along. We worked with Kesha on a great song that might be coming out on her next record, became friends during that process, and she heard my song “Save A Little Heartache” and asked if she might sing on it. I said, “Yeah! Absolutely!” I’m just really grateful to have a relationship with her, because she’s a super sweet person. I love her very much, and she stands for what’s right. One of my favorite quotes is, “A rising tide lifts all ships.” When you’ve got a community of people of like minds and intrinsic values of how they want to see the world, the music, and the love, it almost doesn’t matter what genre it is; if you can lift each other up then you can make the world a better place with art.
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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