Consider True Romance.
The Quentin Tarantino-penned movie still holds up, but a few elements have aged poorly since its debut in 1993: Aerosmith on the soundtrack; the excessive use of the “n-word”; Christian Slater.
Watching the movie in 2015, the thing that seems most out of sync with our times is Brad Pitt’s blink-and-you-miss-it cameo as Floyd, Michael Rapaport’s lazy, hazy roommate who lies on the sofa all day watching TV and ripping hits off a honey bear bong.
A slow, dimwitted stoner? That’s so 90s.
Now we are living in the age of the Alpha Stoner, a time of almost preternaturally productive potheads smoking, vaping, and nibbling their way to the top of their respective games.
One of the most visible fields to catch Alpha Stoners at work is in entertainment, where several high profile (har har) movies, shows, and web series have floated into the public consciousness on a cloud of weed smoke but have eschewed the sticky-icky hippie vibe in favor of hard laughs, serious precision, and fat bottom lines.
On screens big (Seth Rogen is practically Hollywood royalty now), to medium (Weeds had an 8-season run on Showtime, and its creator now works on a little show called Orange is the New Black), to small (High Maintenance recently became Vimeo’s first original series), Alpha Stoners and the greater pot-embracing machine now drive many of our most fertile pop culture conversations.
Take High Maintenance, the Vimeo On Demand series created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair. (Update: HBO announced today that the network has picked up the series for six new episodes.) The show, which chronicles the interconnected lives of New York City imbibers through the runs of a weed delivery guy played by Sinclair, is partly inspired by the husband-and-wife producing team’s recreational pot smoking.
“It really loosens us up and gets a lot of ideas going, but it can also get make it harder for us to communicate ideas clearly with one another,” Sinclair recently told Fast Company by email. “And sometimes it stalls us from getting our words on the page. But man, it really jogs some stuff loose when used correctly.”
That loosening has resulted in four critically beloved seasons largely written and directed by Blichfeld and Sinclair. To maintain their energy, they stick with sativa, a more “up” strain of marijuana, which they use partly out of necessity since New York doesn’t have legal medical marijuana or the taxonomically precise weed cornucopia one finds in California, Colorado, or Washington. (According to Blichfeld, they recently visited a dispensary in Washington, which she describes with a combination of awe and envy as “the first time we’d ever been around that many strains of weed. We’re really missing out in NY!”)
Here’s how Blichfeld describes their highly productive writing process: “We’ve actually come up with a solid way to use it of late: we get ourselves ready to get outdoors, and then we get stoned and get outside immediately. Then we take a long walk–like 5 or 6 miles–and just talk out a story. When we figure out all the major elements and beats, we record it on our phones. By the time we’re home again, we’re not really stoned anymore and we write everything out and go from there,” she explained.
“So weed is a muse, I guess,” she continued.
Researchers, meanwhile, are less certain about pot as a force for creative good. Taken together, there’s a fair amount of ambivalence in the science. A 2012 report from Reuters cited a Norwegian study that suggested that, “People who reported smoking in the past year generally reported less dedication to work than abstainers.” (This study was published in a journal called Addiction—make of that what you will.) A year earlier, the science reporter Jonah Lehrer looked at some studies when he was a writer for Wired and found some results that suggested weed’s anxiety-reducing and mood-stabilizing properties might lead some users to focus on tasks since “a few puffs seem to dramatically increase feelings of relaxation and euphoria.” (Lehrer’s career suffered a major blow when his reporting was found to be flawed and some of his quotes fabricated, so again, reader beware.)
On cable TV there’s another pot power couple, Abbi Jacobson, 31, and Ilana Glazer, 27, creators and stars of Comedy Central’s wickedly funny series Broad City, who operate essentially as hilarious weedvangelists. On the show, their characters, also named Abbi and Ilana, smoke or vape using a trendy Pax Vaporizer in the same way the Sex and the City characters sipped brightly colored cocktails. That is to say: constantly. (Ilana also advocates storing pot in “nature’s pocket,” which you can Google if you’re curious.)
Off screen, Jacobson and Glazer enjoy weed, too. A New Yorker profile by Nick Paumgarten from June 2014 reported that Glazer “smokes pot every day” and that “She Instagrammed a photo of her vaporizer on her birthday, and threw a 4/20 party on April 20th.”
Even their co-stars are taking the occasional hit. “I‘ll smoke and write some jokes sometimes,” Hannibal Buress, who plays Ilana’s sorta-kinda boyfriend and dentist Lincoln, told High Times earlier this month. “I’ve written some good stuff on weed.” (Buress has also appeared on High Maintenance.)
Somehow everyone involved with Broad City knows that there’s a time to get high and a time to get down to work. “Everyone thinks we smoke in the writers’ room,” Jacobson told New York’s Jada Yuan last month. “It’s like, we would never be able to do anything high!”
Following the success of Broad City’s second season, which took them from cult figures to the millennial queens of New York (and the inspirations for a Comedy Central app), Abbi and Ilana are working on the next season of Broad City and developing their first feature film.
Turn the dial (or toggle between apps) to HBO and you’ll find Bill Maher, political satirist, atheist, and full-throated pot advocate. Maher not only hosts his own weekly series, Real Time, but also executive produces Vice, all while maintaining a robust road schedule as a standup comic. Last year, Maher taped a special episode of Real Time in Washington, D.C., which he immediately followed up with an hour-long standup set in another theater without breaking a stride. An impressive feat for any 58 year old, but even more so for someone who fills “watermelon-size balloons” of marijuana vapor to take with him when he heads out to the club, as Maher did in the presence of journalist Joe Hagan in 2012. Lest you assume Maher is a selfish Hollywood blowhard, he offered a bag to Hagan, telling him: “It won’t hurt you. It’s vapor.”
Not long ago Maher’s late-night colleague Jimmy Kimmel told Rolling Stone about his California Medical Marijuana card and enjoyed the contents of a “vacuum-sealed baggie bulging with buds the size of baby Brussels sprouts” in the company of reporter Jonah Weiner. Kimmel’s show airs nightly and he hosts the occasional live awards show, a crushing schedule for anyone. No wonder he might seek to medicate in his few off hours. (Weed is also the inspiration for a recurring segment on his show called Pot Quiz.)
One of the reasons these very famous folks are suddenly talking about—in many cases reveling in—their pot use is that the culture has changed so much since the days Robert Mitchum was thrown in the clink for possession in 1948, or David Lee Roth was arrested for trying to buy a nickel bag (which actually cost $5!) in New York’s Washington Square Park in 1993. Even a two-term president of the United States has openly admitted to youthful pot smoking. In 2006, then candidate Barack Obama quipped, “When I was a kid, I inhaled . . . that was the point.”
As “a kid,” the president was also part of high school clique that called itself “the Choom Gang,” and was known for something called a “roof hit,” according to biographer David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, who may seek to run as President Obama’s successor, has acknowledged his own pot use as a young man. (Asked about his alleged youthful marijuana use, Rand Paul acknowledged unspecified “mistakes” and said: “I wasn’t a choir boy.”)
“It seems like more high-functioning marijuana users feel emboldened to be open about their habits, since the law is starting to come around to their side now,” High Maintenance’s Sinclair says.
Of course, it’s not just on television, the web, and the White House where current and former Alpha Stoners reside. The movies, especially in the post-Judd Apatow era, are as crowded with weed-heads as Willie Nelson’s tour bus. There’s Obvious Child star (and Marcel the Shell-ist) Jenny Slate, who spoke openly about her love of pot with WTF podcast host Marc Maron, and told Late Night’s Seth Meyers that that marijuana was “like [her] soulmate.” (That might help explain the trippy stop-motion animation series she created with her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp.)
There’s also Zach Galifianakis, who told Rolling Stone’s Josh Eels that he ate marijuana chocolates and walked around listening to the new Fleet Foxes record. Galifiankis once lit up a (fake) joint on Bill Maher’s show in 2010, costarred in a Funny or Die video with known pot-smoker Barack Obama and was romantically linked to a High Times cover model named Watermelon who reportedly sold pot cookies (in the nude) on the beach in Vancouver. All that while costarring in The Hangover trilogy, one of the highest-grossing R-rated movie series of all time.
But of all the Alpha Stoners, the most high, most alpha is Seth Rogen. Along with his writing and producing partner Evan Goldberg, Rogen has brought the world The Interview, Pineapple Express, and The End, among other films. They’ve also spoken repeatedly about their love of pot, so much so that a news item about how much their office on the Sony lot reeked of pot spread halfway around the world before the actor could Instagram this response: “I don’t know what’s more irresponsible, that they would print a story that is completely untrue, or that they would refer to how pot smells as a ‘stench.’ #myshitsmellsgood.”
“I’m never really at zero, I don’t think,” Rogen joked to David Letterman when the host asked him if he was “weeded right now” in 2012. After some back and forth banter, Letterman told Rogen: “You may be impaired, but you’re pretty funny!”
“That’s my whole thing, the actor-writer-director said. “That’s what it’ll say on my tombstone.”
If Seth Rogen can talk that frankly about pot on The Late Show—not to mention President Obama writing about it in Dreams From My Father—it’s time to remove to towel from the bottom of the door on the pot closet and acknowledge the ascendence of the Alpha Stoner. High achievers of the world, unite: You have nothing to lose but a little bit of your short-term memory. The pot closet—at least in states where it’s legal—need not hold or hide your ambition hostage any longer.
“I don’t want to tell anyone what to do,” says High Maintenance‘s Ben Sinclair, “but I will say it’s more fun being out of the pot closet.”