Decently blazed on his couch on a sunny afternoon, Master Bong dives into his pizza.
Some people eat the crust, others give it to the dog, Master Bong produces a drilling tool and after a few minutes of tinkering, loads up one side of the pizza crust with a bud of Animal Crackers and smokes it. “You can eat it, you smoke out of it. Domino’s puts cheese in the middle of it, I hollowed it out and smoked it,” he says after exhaling a cloud of smoke at the camera.
Meet the “MacGyver of Marijuana,” a 30-year-old wild child and California resident, who has turned a love of making pipes out of unlikely items into an internet sensation. With millions of views on his YouTube channel and 91,000 “likes” on his Facebook page, he’s had the marketing know-how to channel this popularity into a business that pays the bills and allows him to have a slew of employees.
“For me it’s like sometimes you’re going to come into a situation where you’re out in the world and you don’t have (a smoking device) on you,” says Master Bong in a phone interview. “Or you just broke your bong. You lost your pipe. You broke your vaporizer. You need to have the skill set. If you don’t, how do you smoke?” He goes on to say, “It’s also just about being creative. If you get stuck doing the same thing over and over again, you’re not challenging yourself. You’re not switching things up. Life can get kind of boring.”
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Master Bong, whose first name is Jake and whose last name he declines to give, came to pipe and bong-making as a teenager, too young to buy one in a head shop. “I wasn’t quite of age yet. We were always figuring out creative fun ways to make devices to smoke out of. I was the person in my crew who was kind of heading that up,” he says.
A few years later, he was in college studying to be a social worker but his heart wasn’t in it. He’d had some success with an internet and social media marketing side business and decided to turn that talent toward his passion: Cannabis. In 2008, he shot a short video of himself carving a pipe out of an apple and posted it to YouTube, sporting an afro and sunglasses. Other instructional videos followed, from a gravity bong to a bell pepper bubbler. After all, this was stuff he and his buddies were doing for fun anyway. People at a party might all be toking up, but when everyone gets together to puff out of a hollowed-out watermelon, they might become friends.
“You can see how it just brings people together, especially people who wouldn’t normally kick it together, just like cannabis does,” he says. In 2010, he decided it was time to devote himself entirely to his Master Bong alter ego and dropped out of college.
An Internet celebrity
As his videos grew in popularity along with the rising tide of cannabis legalization, he noticed a change. Rather than having to buy his own gear, companies paid him to feature their products in his videos. People might not know or recognize Master Bong, but the dude with the afro was becoming a cannabis celebrity. “Sometimes now, I wish I didn’t have my brand set up like this because when I go to an event and it’s 100 degrees out, I’m not comfortable,” he says. “But it’s a brand. It’s very recognizable.”
With a regular output of a dozen videos a month, Master Bong has expanded his repertoire to celebrating everything about the cannabis lifestyle, from growing tips to recipes to general silliness. In fact, his most-viewed video, with 1.6 million views, is on how to roll a Swisher Sweets blunt.
But being the “MacGyver of Marijuana” is still his bread and butter, even if individual projects have been less than successful. For example, there was the golf club pipe. The thing was so slim you had to suck incredibly hard to get a hit. Although his products aren’t always great for smoking with, he always makes them work, even if it takes a couple rips from a sponsored-product bong to get there.“We’ll figure out a way and sit there until it works,” he says.
Never stop dreaming
Master Bong never stops thinking of new ways to smoke. He talks about his desire to turn a swimming pool into a massive bong, or to publish a book—complete with carving tools—on 101 ways to make household smoking instruments. Passionate about his pipes and bongs, Master Bong keeps the non-perishable smoking devices he makes, in hopes of creating somewhat of a Master Bong Museum when he finally buys a house.
The day Master Bong can afford a house can’t be far off, if it’s not already here. It all started with him and a “horrible flip camera.” Today he has an assistant to check his emails and someone to operate the camera. He once had to pay his own way to attend industry events. Now he wouldn’t dream of buying his own plane ticket or paying to attend an industry event. While he certainly enjoys making a living out of Master Bong, instead of social work, he also loves being able to inform and entertain people.“No matter what you do . . . Maybe you’re an artist, maybe you’re a musician, maybe you want to play sports, whatever it is, follow your heart and passion and it’s going to work out; and getting paid to do that is the American dream.”