Jokes and tokes
The Gateway Show combines comedians and cannabis for an evening of laughs
The setup for the show is simple: Stand-up comics perform their best sets, disappear, smoke weed and return to the stage completely stoned.
You might expect the featured comedians to all be potheads, but they’re not. About half don’t really have any tolerance to weed. And that’s what makes the show so fun.
The Gateway Show started about four years ago in Seattle—a random idea that became an instant, consistently sold-out hit. The show migrated down to Oregon, then to California, Las Vegas and even Vancouver.
In late 2017, the Gateway started hitting Sacramento every month. It returns to the Sacramento Comedy Spot on Friday, March 8, with a stacked lineup: Sacramento’s Ellis Rodriguez, a San Francisco International Comedy Competition winner; Jessica Wellington, who recently appeared in a Clint Eastwood movie, The Mule; and Los-Angeles based Ramsey Badawi, in addition to founder and host Billy Anderson.
Wellington, a former Sacramentan, has performed at the Gateway several times. But she wouldn’t call herself a stoner. She prefers to be in control when she consumes cannabis, so generally she is at home, alone, with nothing to worry about—not in front of dozens of strangers expecting entertainment.
“It’s already an awkward thing to do a set and then go back onstage, and then to add the component of you getting high, it’s really uncomfortable,” she said. “But they just feed off it and you feel the crowd and then you start having fun and it’s amazing.”
For Anderson, the key to a successful show is to book a diverse lineup—both in point of view and cannabis tolerance. Big-time stoners aren’t ideal for the Gateway, because they’re less likely to reemerge with a radically different set. Back-to-back similar sets would be dull. At the same time, he said, “if everyone had a meltdown, that would be boring by the end of the show.”
Ideally, you get delightful moments, like a set by comedian Chris Mejia, captured on video in 2016 in Seattle. “I have no idea what reality is right now,” he says with a silly smile and spacey eyes, right before offering anyone in the audience oral sex in exchange for some coconut shrimp.
“We’ve had people two-and-a-half minutes in be like, ‘Nope, I’m done,'” Anderson recalled. “Our goal isn’t for our comics to have a bad time. I don’t think there’s anything funny about someone crying on stage, but I think there is something funny about someone cracking up or having a low-key existential crisis.”
One curveball for the traveling show is that every state’s weed is different. Anderson always asks the comics what kind of cannabis they prefer smoking, and then he’ll find a slightly different strain local to the host city. Wellington recalled traveling up to Seattle for a show and feeling a little more terrified than usual for her second set.
“I don’t know if it was the different weed or different place, but I just felt so out of my body,” she said. “I wasn’t connecting and it wasn’t working.”
The cannabis comes from AbsoluteXtracts, a vape cartridge company that sponsors every California show. It also takes care of the advertising and ensures the comics get paid. That’s one very real, tangible benefit to organizing a cannabis-themed comedy show—most comedy nights aren’t sponsored.
“It’s hard to be a producer right now and pay comics a fair wage and make money and not charge audience members $50,” says Anderson, who also credits the Sacramento Comedy Spot for making the Gateway’s stops in town possible.
Sponsorship has also allowed Anderson to send Sacramento comics, including Becky Lynn and Mike Cella, to other cities and pay for their travel and hotel costs. It’s a recent endeavor that he hopes to be able to do more in the future.
“I think Sacramento is a city that is pushing out great comics faster than any other community in the nation right now,” he said.
It’s worth noting that Anderson doesn’t identify as a stoner, either. He grew up in Georgia, where weed is still very much illegal. Even though cannabis might seem like it’s at the forefront of the Gateway, Anderson doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s really more about the freedom to do whatever the hell we want,” Anderson said.
And if it is about cannabis, then it’s about making smoking weed seem like a more normal part of society.
“We drink beer at sporting events,” he said. “I’d love to normalize the idea of weed at events without there being a tie-dye shirt-wearing pothead.”