Since his first album, Professional Humoredian, was released in 2008, comedian Doug Benson has released a new stand-up record every year. And while it's easy to admire his prolific consistency, each album has been a case of diminishing returns. A new Doug Benson album now comes out not because he's worked out a new hour of material that needs to be committed to record, but because another year has passed -- it's a kind of informal formality.
On Smug Life, Benson's fifth album in five years (and his first double album, although that's something of a technicality), the perpetually stoned comic covers a lot of the same territory he's covered in the past: he reads tweets, both from the audience and from himself (to listen to every Benson album in a row would be a case study in the progressing importance of Twitter in his stand-up act), makes silly observations about daily routines and, of course, espouses the joys of being high. At least Smug Life comes with a twist: the album is split into two discs, capturing two shows recorded on April 20th (Benson records all his albums on 4/20) at Bellevue, Washington's Parlor Live comedy club. On the first half, called "Uncooked," Benson performs his set without having gotten high at all that day. On the second, "Cooked," he's as high as he can possibly be. The goal, he says, is to settle the argument once and for all whether or not he's funnier when he's high. Unfortunately for Benson, Smug Life doesn't really settle that debate.
The whole "two versions" thing is mostly just a gimmick, but it gets to the heart of what's best about Benson's approach to comedy: his stand-up sets are as much about trying to do a set as they are about the material in the sets themselves. He tells jokes, then tells them again when he messes them up. So Smug Life is first a record of him trying to get through a set without being stoned, then a record of him trying to get through it high. There isn't really a marked difference between the two (which is either a testament to Benson's professionalism as a result of years building up a tolerance or else a commentary on the fact that even his sober persona seems like someone on drugs), which is too bad -- that means there's little reason to revisit both halves in the future. The redundancies in both sets makes the experiment just that -- redundant.
Still, as a fan and supporter of Doug Benson, it's impossible not to have fun listening to one of his albums. He's so good natured and so willing to be silly that his albums are always infectiously enjoyable, even when so much of the content is thin and lightweight enough that it practically floats away before the records is done. That's not a knock against Benson, either -- it's the kind of comedy he does. And because of the "let's put on a show" approach to his act and the amount of interaction he has with his very vocal crowd, Smug Life, like Potty Mouth and Hypocritical Oaf before it, is yet another Doug Benson album that does a good job of recreating what it's like to be at a Doug Benson show.
It's hard to dislike Smug Life. It's never aggressive, never mean-spirited. It's the kind of album that just wants to hang out and giggle for a while. The biggest problem with it is that, gimmick aside, it feels like Benson has already put this record out a couple of times. Since we already know that we can expect another one from him around this time next year, let's hope he finds a way to change it up a little.
- Album Release Date: 7/3/12
- Label: Comedy Central Records