It would be really hard to not like Doug Benson. The affable stoner comic has—by design or by luck—developed a brand of friendly, weed-loving, movie-referencing comedy that spans podcasts, documentaries, television, social media, and his now-annual 4/20 album tapings. Having earned an enviable level of success as a touring headliner and podcast heavyweight, he seems to be operating under a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. It’s that perfectly understandable but uninspiring thinking that led to the subpar Gateway Doug.
The beginning of his new album feels a lot like the opening, guest-free moments of his mega-popular Doug Loves Movies podcast—a Twitter-heavy, audience-interactive bit that is loosely planned and passably amusing. Occasionally these segments produce gold, but most is filler. So why include so much of it on what is still, ostensibly, a comedy special?
It’s one of the many “whys” of Gateway Doug, though the most troubling is the most basic—why even bother releasing this, or any, album? Benson has been on a CD-producing tear, releasing a new hour(ish) record every year since 2008. The implied George Carlin/Louis C.K. inspiration would feel more applicable if he used these albums to explore new ideas or noticeably grow as an artist. Instead, each feels looser, less substantial and, at worst, lazier than the last.
The obvious reason for the release, then, would seem to be money. Not that Benson is greedy; on the contrary, he puts out more consistently good—and occasionally great—free comedy on the Internet than almost anyone else. But it’s impossible to ignore the feeling that this album exists solely to be pushed as merch to the legions of fans and groupies who hang out after his shows to smoke weed with their stoner hero. With his mind-melting tour schedule, he’s fond of returning to agreeable rooms each year. He needs product to move.
If only there was more to it. A good 15 minutes of the album is devoted to reading tweets, both his and others’. Almost every track contains allusions to movies, and one is devoted mostly to recapping the forgotten 1978 film Ice Castles. One of the few proper jokes—about the respective dangers of meth and weed—is lifted, he acknowledges, from his own 2011 album Potty Mouth. Towards the end, in a Jim Gaffigan-esque “voice of the audience” ad-lib, he muses how useful of a tool that was “to fill time.”
Asides like this, and the overall underprepared nature of the set, are almost enough to question why Benson still emphasizes his stand up at all. He really needn’t bother; more than almost anyone, he’s embraced his fans’ love for his non-stand up. He devotes part of each live show to an audience edition of his beloved “Leonard Maltin Game,” and he now tours all three of his regular podcasts and his Mystery Science Theater 3000-inspired Movie Interruptions—shows that seems to sell just as well or better than his “straight” comedy.
But then again, if The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled is any indication, Benson leads a fun, low-stress life and harbors few ambitions beyond weed, movies and crowd-pleasing. If this album is profitable and popular, why not keep doing exactly what he’s doing?