Whether lighting up backstage or in the audience, weed and stand-up are a common combination, one that often produces hilarious results.
Pot is pretty funny, and that's the idea behind the "Cannabis Comedy Tour," an eight-city event that comes to Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Friday, July 29. The free show is sponsored and organized by Leafly, an online and location-based app resource for information and reviews on strains, dispensaries, and products and a hub of news about legalization. (Think of it as a kind of Yelp for weed, only less petty.)
Headliner Ron Funches performs alongside fellow Undateable cast member Rick Glassman, Brandon Wardell of Hot Takes with Brandon Wardell, and host Moses Storm during a three-hour, cannabis-centric set.
Those who aren't as familiar with Funches' slow, deliberate stand-up delivery (seen frequently on Conan and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and heard on last year's debut, "The Funches of Us") may recognize his soft-spoken nature and school girlish giggle from BoJack Horseman and Bob's Burgers. That teddy bear-esque personality is something the comedian has both embraced and fought during his career, though "adorable" is the only word that comes to mind while watching the 300-pound funnyman serenade viewers on Cupcake Wars. In an apron, no less.
He's also starred as Shelly in the since-canceled NBC series, Undateable, and taken to the silver screen with Will Farrell and Kevin Hart in Get Hard. And though he has a slew of new projects lined up (more on that later) Funches promises he'll continue to dominate the late night scene on Comedy Central's @midnight, where he regularly appears and holds the record for most wins, at 15.
As a headliner for the tour's Tempe performance, Funches is in famous company. The multi-comedian event, which has been criss-crossing the country, and Canada, since early this year, has brought plenty of recognizable names to the stage. Natasha Leggero took to the main stage in Los Angeles while Michael Ian Black was the feature act in Denver. Chris D'Elia headlined Funches' first appearance on the tour, in Chicago on — when else — 4/20.
New Times chatted with Funches by phone as he prepared to re-join the tour in Portland, Oregon, the following day. He talked shop — and pot — every so often collapsing into a fit of serious laughter, the kind that helped craft one of his more notable jokes, "What? Never seen a large black man laugh like an Asian princess?"
New Times: Because your act is so diverse, is it weird to be on a comedy tour that is designed around such a specific topic?
Funches: That's a good question. Well, I mean, a little bit, but I just like doing my comedy wherever I can, just doing my act and seeing if it works. I think for the most part [the audience] is going to be people who are of a similar mindset, and hopefully they don't expect me to talk about pot the whole time. I'm not gonna do that.
What is it that makes weed such a funny topic?
I think it's just a fun social drug. It's one you share with people and it makes you kinda giddy and happy — unless it makes you paranoid and scared, then it's probably not for you. But for a lot of people it makes them happy and giggly and more sociable, and it's a more enjoyable way to do comedy and to have people see your comedy — as long as they're not like, asleep. [laughs]
So uh, can I go out on a limb and assume you're a cannabis user, then?
Yes, that would be okay for you to assume. [laughs]
Do you have any particular favorite strains or preference as to how you indulge?
My favorite strain is Jack Herer. It's pretty fun and giggly but it doesn't put you to sleep. I just like a nice ice cold bong or a couple of joints if I'm walking around outside. That's probably my favorite.
When people think about "pot comedy" they usually think about Cheech & Chong, Fast Times, or Pineapple Express, that kind of thing. The "stoner guy" stereotype is pretty strong in that genre. How do you approach jokes about pot differently? Is it tough to take an audience that is maybe expecting those jokes through pot comedy in a different way?
I don't ever try to write pot jokes, I just write jokes about whatever's going on in my life and sometimes they include marijuana and sometimes they don't. It's fun to do it that way. If I do it about whatever's actually going on in my life then it can't really be hacky because it's specific and it actually happened to me, and I just turn it around and make jokes out of it. I don't just be like, "Ya know when you get so stoned and you wanna eat like munchies all day?" I don't do anything like that. It's just things that specifically happened to me.
So we're not going to hear about the first time you smoked pot?
No, probably not. I don't think that was a funny story. It was just a great time and I ate a bunch of Red Vines. I mean, that story is done right there. [laughs]
Your whole act is about challenging assumptions, tackling topics people expect to hear from you — like race — but in very different ways. I think it's hard to overstate how necessary that is in comedy. Why is it important for you to have an act like that?
I think at some point I just became aware of what people kind of expected from me when they saw me — especially when they first heard my voice, people would laugh. When I was starting in comedy, people would just laugh when I began to speak because they didn't expect my voice to be so soft-spoken, they expected a gruff, large black man. Once I learned that, it was easier to play with people's expectations.
I'm really just talking about how I live my life, and I can't help people's expectations in that regard. For me, it's just important to portray how I really am and the type of person and the jokes that I want to see in comedy. I've never been that other type of comedian where I'm super loud or in-your-face. It's fun to challenge people's stereotypes and remind people that we're all people and we all have the same fears and desires. That's what I think makes comedy so fun, is that we can talk about them and play with them and talk about things that you can't really talk about at a normal day job.
Do you think the way you approach comedy makes people listen more, pay attention more on a bigger scale?
Probably not. [laughs] But hopefully. You take clowns a little less serious than someone in a suit coming at you telling you how you should live your life. I try to do my jokes and put my little messages in there that I hope people get, but if they don't then that's fine too. If they just want to enjoy the stand-up and socialize, that's fine, but if you get something more from it then that means you're probably pretty cool and I like you — and that's what I want. [laughs]
You've done a little bit of everything when it comes to comedy: voice work, film, television, stand-up. Is one harder than the other? One you enjoy more?
They all kind of help each other out. They all have their pluses and minuses. I love doing stand-up; that's probably the one that's in general the most fun because you just go up and get an immediate reaction. But it doesn't pay the best, and you have to travel a lot which is difficult when I have a son. Acting is wonderful because I stay home and I love to act and I like being on set, but you always have to wait to tell people that you have a job. You have to audition all the time; they don't just let you do it like stand-up. Voice acting is just fun and weird and you get to just work for an hour and dress in your pajamas — maybe that one's the best.
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Now that Undateable has been canceled, what's next for you? Can we expect to see you keep kicking ass on @midnight?
Yes, for sure you will. I'm also doing a voice in a Netflix cartoon called Home [Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh] which is coming out on July 29, and then I got a job on a new series coming to NBC called Powerless with Vanessa Hudgens and Danny Pudi from Community, and that's going to be coming out sometime either at the end of this year or next year. [And] I'm just gonna work on my stand-up and get a good new hour together.
Before you go, we have to talk about the politics of pot. Cannabis is definitely a political topic, and the tour has made stops in places where it's legal, both for recreational and/or medicinal use. Now it's coming to Arizona, a big battleground state for legalization. Do you think we'll see nationwide marijuana legalization in the next five years? Ten?
I would hope so, but I always felt like that something I expected a long, long time ago. It's weird to me to be fighting on it. You know it's just a big battle between Big Pharma and these marijuana companies because it takes away a lot of their money, so I get it. I think it's gonna happen, but we'll see.
I'm excited to come out there and do some shows and do some comedy. I hope people come out; it's a free show and I'm good at comedy so it seems ridiculous if they won't go. [laughs]
Leafly brings the Cannabis Comedy Tour to Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue in Tempe, on Friday, July 29. The three-hour show starts at 8 p.m. Admission is free to this 21-and-over event, but an RSVP is required. Visit events.leafly.com/events/leafly-comedy-tour-phoenix for details and to reserve a spot. First-come, first-served.