With a decorated career and involvement in just about every corner of the entertainment industry, legendary singer Toni Braxton is more than just an R&B icon. Through years of success and dedication to her craft, Braxton has become a household name. From her solo music career to producing and starring in a hit reality show series, Braxton Family Values, the multi-talented Braxton has nearly done it all.
She first stepped into the scene with her four sisters as the musical group, The Braxtons, during the 1980s. Soon after, her first self-titled album debuted in 1993, which featured the hit song “Another Sad Love Song.” The album alone led to three Grammy Award wins, and Toni Braxton became one of the top female artists in R&B. Braxton’s next studio album Secrets was even more commercially successful and generated the chart-topping hits “You’re Makin’ Me High” and “Un-Break My Heart.” Currently, she has released eight studio albums, achieved a total of seven Grammy Award wins, 11 Grammy Award nominations, sold 67 million records, mothered two boys, produced two reality series and tapped into a successful career of acting and producing. She’s also the recipient of five Billboard Music Awards, an Echo Award, a NAACP Image Award and several Soul Train Music Awards.
Only a few years ago, in 2010, did Braxton publicly share her diagnosis of autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus. As an autoimmune disease, lupus causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and can affect any part of the body. The disease can also cause unwanted butterfly rashes to appear on the skin. Pain and inflammation are often side effects of the disease, but Braxton refused to let these challenging symptoms stand in her way. Braxton took her diagnosis story to the world in hopes of bringing a sense of community and connection for those who have also been diagnosed with lupus. She encourages others to not let their diagnosis halt their ambitions and hopes to lead by example.
By committing to a healthy lifestyle and using all-natural health and beauty products, she continues to maintain her own plans for her performance career and future projects. Braxton is now taking on a new role as the brand ambassador for Uncle Bud’s Hemp, a company that specializes in “natural hemp-infused products for pain relief, skin care and personal care.”
Uncle Bud’s Hemp prides itself in incorporating natural hemp oil, which is rich in fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that help to promote healthy skin and slow cell damage. It’s a brand that Braxton can personally stand behind. CULTURE caught up with Braxton to receive insight into her career thus far and to learn how hemp products have aided in providing her a lifestyle that is healthy, safe and fulfilling.
You’ve been in the entertainment industry as both a solo recording artist and you’ve worked in various projects with your family. How have those endeavors impacted your life today?
Family is first and foremost, of course. Professionally music is my first love, and I have enjoyed the opportunities I have had to act both in movies and on Broadway.
Not only do you have a big family, but you all have collaborated together from singing with your sisters to filming reality TV. What are the benefits of working with your family members?
We love each other. If feelings are running high, you know at the end of the day, you are family, and you have to settle your differences.
You have been involved in reality TV show Braxton Family Values not just on-screen, but behind the scenes as executive producer. What is it like producing a reality show that centers on your own family?
I am enjoying being the executive producer on both Braxton Family Values and my recent movie roles. I like the control of making decisions that has a positive impact on my acting.
You were also a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in its seventh season. How was that experience?
It was really exhausting. At the time, I didn’t want the world to know that I was living with lupus. I committed to Dancing with the Stars to show that I was healthy and strong.
Tell us about your upcoming role in the Lifetime movie, Every Day is Christmas.
It was fun to be the bad guy as a female Scrooge. I enjoyed doing a woman’s take on that wonderful holiday parable.
You’ll also be on tour at the start of the New Year. What can fans expect from this upcoming tour?
I love my fans, and I will be doing all of my hits.
“Being open about my condition has been empowering, and it lets others who may be suffering know that they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to give up their dream. I don’t let the disease stop me.”
It’s no secret with your extensive resume that you enjoy working in so many aspects of the entertainment industry. From singing and acting to producing, is there a favorite form of entertaining you have among them?
I enjoy them all; music was my start, so that will always remain my favorite.
How do you feel about being referred to as a diva?
It is an honor to be a celebrated female singer. Many doors are open to me, because of that description.
You’re a mother of two teenage boys; what are some of the lessons you hope to instill in your sons?
I want them to be honest, kind, honorable and hard-working young men.
“ . . . There are some misconceptions surrounding hemp versus CBD products, and many mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. Hemp seed oil is an all-natural oil that contains no psychoactive properties and is legal in the United States.”
How has life changed for you since you were diagnosed with lupus?
Being open about my condition has been empowering, and it lets others who may be suffering know that they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to give up their dream. I don’t let the disease stop me. I help manage my symptoms by using safe, natural pain-relief products like Uncle Bud’s, along with other healthy lifestyle alterations.
What is something about overcoming the symptoms of lupus that you would like others to know?
Never stop living your life. Take control of your body, and carefully work yourself through life’s hurdles. It can be done.
When were hemp-based products first introduced to you as a treatment option for lupus?
I was first introduced to the power of hemp through Uncle Bud’s products. I am hooked.
For those who are considering using hemp-infused topical products, what’s something you’d like to share about how it helps you?
That there are some misconceptions surrounding hemp versus CBD products, and many mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. Hemp seed oil is an all-natural oil that contains no psychoactive properties and is legal in the United States. Uncle Bud’s Hemp Pain Relief & Skin Care products do not contain any CBD. The industry can help dispel the conceptions by continuing to educate the consumer, and Uncle Bud’s will continue to be a source of information with the launch of their efficacious products, packaging and website.
“Having had to make healthy alterations to my lifestyle, this hemp-healthy brand specializes in pain relief products, making them an essential part of an everyday routine for me, as I have long suffered from the painful and debilitating effects of lupus.”
What types of treatment options did you try before resorting to hemp topical products?
Rest, clean living, staying out of the sun.
Why did you choose to partner with Uncle Bud’s over another brand or treatment option?
I believe in the product, and it really works for me. I wanted to share that experience with others.
The company shares that it provides a natural remedy for various conditions; why is it important to you to work with a company that utilizes natural ingredients in its products?
Having had to make healthy alterations to my lifestyle, this hemp-healthy brand specializes in pain relief products, making them an essential part of an everyday routine for me, as I have long suffered from the painful and debilitating effects of lupus.
What is your favorite hemp product? Why?
It is hard to pick just one. But right now, I am loving the Uncle Bud’s Topical Pain Reliever as it works super-fast, penetrates deep and relieves aches and pains better than any other over-the-counter product I have tried. All you need is a small dab. A close second is the Massage and Body Oil. It adds a touch of pampering to pain relief.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
You are strong, and you can meet the challenges that life throws your way.
1967 – Oct. 7, Toni Michelle Braxton is born to Minister Michael Braxton and his wife Evelyn in Severn, Maryland.
1970s – Braxton grows up in a strict religious household, but she finds her true passion while singing with her younger sisters Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar at their father’s church.
1990 – Braxton and her younger sisters form The Braxtons. The group releases its first single “The Good Life,” and singer, songwriter and producer Babyface is impressed by what he hears. Babyface quickly signs Braxton to LaFace Records.
1992 – June 30, Braxton’s breakthrough moment arrives. Anita Baker is unable to sing for the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang, and Braxton is asked to fill in. The soundtrack attracts a lot of attention with several hit singles.
1993 – July 13, Braxton’s eponymous debut album is released and becomes an enormous hit, eventually selling over eight million albums and reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
1994 – March 1, “Another Sad Love Song” earns her Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance awards at the Grammy Awards.
1995 – March 1, Braxton earns a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 37th Grammy Awards for “Breathe Again.”
1996 – Feb. 28, Braxton is nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards.
June 18, Braxton’s second solo album Secrets is released and is also massively successful. “Un-Break My Heart” becomes her most successful single to date, followed by “You Make Me High.”
1997 – Feb. 27 Braxton collects another two Grammy Awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She is also nominated for two additional Grammy Awards.
2000 – April 25, The Heat, Braxton’s studio album, is released.
2001 – Feb. 21, Braxton wins a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance with “He Wasn’t Man Enough” and is nominated for another Grammy Award.
Oct. 23, Snowflakes, Braxton’s first holiday album is released.
2002 – Nov. 19, Braxton’s studio album More Than a Woman is released.
2005 – Sept. 27 Libra, named after Braxton’s Zodiac sign, is released as her latest studio album. Braxton takes a short hiatus from the studio.
2010 – May 4, Braxton releases her studio album Pulse, and shortly afterwards, she decides to focus on other parts of her career.
2011 – April 11, The reality television series Braxton Family Values debuts on WE tv, and it receives three times the ratings of typical WE tv series.
2014 – Feb. 4, Braxton releases her collaborative album Love, Marriage & Divorce with Babyface.
May 14, Braxton releases her memoir Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir published by HarperCollins.
2015 – Feb. 8, Love, Marriage & Divorce wins a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.
Oct. 30, The Braxtons release a holiday album Braxton Family Christmas, in which all five of her sisters participate.
2018 – March 23, Sex & Cigarettes, Braxton’s most recent studio album is released.
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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