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Monday, Sept. 16, 2013

Doug Benson w/ Graham Elwood @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Sept. 15, 2013

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The 2007 documentary Super High Me, which placed funnyman Doug Benson in an experiment similar to Morgan Spurlock’s in Super Size Me only with marijuana substituted for the addictive, dangerous substances peddled by Ronald McDonald, gave a major boost to the comedian’s career, but it also forever labeled him as a stoner comic, which is, partially, unfair. Benson’s unabashed advocacy for cannabis is a big part of his material and voice, but painting him as that-weed-guy makes him seem like a one-note hack, going after low-hanging fruit with an audience prone to giggling at anything, and that obscures what he actually is: a smart standup who’s long been honing his craft, building a following with skewed observations, casual delivery and, more recently, his film-centric Doug Loves Movies podcast. Marijuana may make things funny, but that’s not why he gets laughs.

Of course, it didn’t take Benson long to admit to being baked after the thunderous applause that greeted his introduction had died down—you’ve got to play to your base after all—but while it came up often, the subject matter didn’t dominate the night. After a brief introductory set, during which he read and responded to some of the strangest Milwaukee tweets he’d received that day, he brought on his own opening act, Wisconsin native Graham Elwood, comedian, director and co-host of another movie-based podcast Comedy Film Nerds. He’s got a loud style, with lots of zany voices, which can be trying, but plenty of solid jokes backing it all up, covering such topics as awkward homeschooled kids, the silly things hippies do and the lethal yellow-belt karate techniques that inspired his new album, Palm Strike Dance Party.

Returning to the stage, Benson dug into his main set, expounding on the flaws of the Taken films, a run-in with a bee and its vengeful relative, and his experience touring with Tommy Chong, who eventually had to cancel because audiences kept throwing weed onstage, inadvertently violating his parole. The material, from abstract one-liners to extended stories, is better written and rehearsed than his nonchalant demeanor lets on, though he’s also prone to enthusiastically chasing down every tangent, using a cheat sheet to keep him on track and counteract that pesky short-term memory loss. He should’ve been on longer, but did make time for an entertaining live version of the Leonard Maltin Game, a movie trivia challenge he devised for his podcast. It was an entertaining evening, with an unpredictable yet easygoing vibe, even for those not under the influence.