When buying a comedy album, you have to ask yourself a low of questions, like "Will this be funny?" Since the answer in this case is "yes," the Doug Benson album Smug Life bypasses this particular question and instead asks "Is the comedian funnier sober or stoned?" As a high-concept album, it succeeds. It's also the first time I've ever heard a comedy album criticize its cover artwork during the performance, plus Doug Benson is one of few successful comics I've heard who have basically integrated social media fully into their act.
For those unfamiliar with Doug Benson, in the off chance you stumbled on this review to see if it's worth giving to your aunt, be sure she is either OK with the fact that comedians swear a lot and use substances which may or may not be legal in all states. Because these things are funny.
On the first disc, you get a clear performance of a sober comedian who tells his jokes in the right order so the callbacks work. Disc #2 has much of the same material, but the tone changes after he eats and smokes his way into a light haze which does cook the funny quite nicely. There's a hysterical bit about touring with Tommy "Cheech and" Chong and being searched at the border on the first disc which I don't remember hearing on the second. Much of the material, including reading Tweets from the audience, are largely completely different between albums. Rather than cover up any mistakes in his cooked performance, he rolls with the punches and even gets more material out of flubbing the order on his set which screws up a callback later in the show. It's amazing to get a sort of behind-the-scenes look at how a comedian does his thing, particularly since his hobbies don't seem to hinder the performance in any way that makes it less fun.
Some of the material seems to rely very heavily on the fact that you like Doug Benson and are familiar with what he likes, specifically pot, going "ghost protocol," knocking The Hunger Games, and Twitter. The good thing is that these are part of the pop culture and news landscape so this is, as always, a very timely album full of very funny stuff. He even manages to tackle some topics in genuinely surprising ways, including some of the most shocking material on Furries I've heard. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't dump on them.)
If you're a comedy nerd or a big fan of Doug Loves Movies, this is well worth your time and hard-earned money, as you get just shy of 2 hours of material and even though it's billed as basically the same set, there are enough changes to keep it fresh. As a comic who has three (and likely counting) regular podcasts and a healthy touring schedule, it's amazing to see just how much material he can crank out in a year but take heed: if you aren't already a fan of his work, this may not be his most accessible album. I would suggest Doug Loves Movies (his podcast) and the very funny Unbalanced Load first. The comics of tomorrow would probably do well to pay close attention and take notes as they listen to a pro deal with hecklers, intoxication, and the perils of traveling to Canada with half of America's most famous stoner comedy team.
July 2, 2012
Album release date July 3, 2012
Review copy courtesy Doug Benson's PR people