A local comedy night reinforces why no good joke starts with: “A stoner walks into a bar…” Why would they when a stoner can walk into a vape lounge, smoke weed, and enjoy an array of the city’s comedic talent instead?
Hanging out at the West Hastings Cannabis Culture lounge, host and comic Andrew Packer explained to the Georgia Straight why his show, Jokes N Tokes, is selling out in Vancouver and Toronto. The weekly standup series brings a handful of guest comics to 420-friendly spots—where audiences prefer their funny served with a side of stoned. He says that although weed isn't the crux of the material, the city’s lounges offer cannabis-friendly crowds a comfortable place to consume but also challenge comedians with a unique environment to test new material.
Packer, who has a natural aptitude for rousing a very relaxed crowd back to their senses between sets, discovered a love of standup while studying finance at the University of Ottawa. After performing at various spots throughout Europe and Canada, he was approached by the owner of the Underground Comedy & Social Club in Toronto with the idea of a regular gig. He created Jokes N Tokes last year and now runs the show weekly in Vancouver and takes it back to Toronto once a month.
Unlike local joints like Yuk Yuks and the Comedy Club that only permit alcohol, consumption lounges mean cannabis consumers don't have to come to a show pre-lit or sneak out between acts. Instead of high-top tables and theatre seats, hosting a comedy night at places like Cannabis Culture also means Packer’s audience can melt into comfy couches while they take in the jokes.
“There’s definitely a totally different vibe,” Packer says. “Every audience has a character to it, but when people are more stoned it’s generally more chill…Drunk crowds tend to lend themselves to more interaction.”
Despite the played-out trope that cannabis consumers are more easily amused—or dissolve into giggle fits at the most inexplicable of times—it turns out they’re a pretty tough crowd.
Late on January 20, a lineup of eight comedians spent two hours on a makeshift coffee-table stage testing their material against a sea of bloodshot eyes—not all of whom were ready to give up the belly laughs on which comedians tend to thrive. The latest Jokes N Tokes night brought out Packer and his cohost, DJ Corey, and guest sets from a mix of local rising stars and touring professionals, including Chris Gaskin and Rory Dunn.
Some fully admitted to the challenge when met with the chilled-out silence, something Packer says a high crowd is much more comfortable with than a booze-fuelled one. Others shot from the hip with relatable stoner archetypes, the host himself garnering a few cheers of support after sharing a story about the first time he dabbed cannabis concentrates and threw up in his car.
“Oh, this is going to be tough,” Toben Spencer-Lang said as he started a set comprised entirely of classic shock humour. At first it seemed the fully baked crowd wouldn't be responsive to his comedy style, in which he repeatedly launched crude (albeit funny) sex jokes like grenades into the crowd and waited awkwardly while each went off, eliciting a half-groan, half-laugh gurgle. Not backing down, he lobbed more into the haze, progressively winning back the audience with his commitment to the shtick.
Some comedians, like Carl Turnbull, owned the fact that they, too, had indulged before their set, garnering "we’ve all been there" applause when they forgot where a joke was going or paused for a little too long between context and punch line.
Comedian Ola Dada jumped on-stage with a lit joint and, in a feat of classic weed-community generosity, was met with several lighters thrust in the air when it went out.
Despite the added difficulty of engaging a naturally more laid-back crowd, Packer said he finds a lot of inspiration for new material while performing weed lounges. "We [comedians] love it because we can do a set in a different, relaxed, interesting environment. For creativity, trying your jokes in different rooms makes them stronger. It's really important,” he said.
Although the city's consumption spots are illegal under the latest muncipal bylaws, it seems the City of Vancouver has no interest in shutting them down for now. Cannabis Culture recently announced the closure of several locations, but CEO Jeremiah Vandermeer says he intends to keep the West Hastings location operational as a community consumption spot.
Packer says the show is heading to Toronto for a monthly event in February, but he plans on keeping it in Vancouver for as long as the community is up for a little comedy with their weed.