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Marijuana Is Serious Business, But Leno and Conan are Hooked on Bad Pot Jokes

Although cannabis has been known to give people the giggles, there isn't exactly an abundance of amusement to be found in U.S. marijuana policy. Even as the nation moves towards a more sensible approach to the drug, our top comedians are still looking for laughs and coming up short.

Last week's news that the medical marijuana market is valued at $1.7 billion and will soon outsell Viagra was destined to become the butt of a late-night groaner or two, but Leno and Conan managed to mangle this one even worse than anyone could have anticipated. Here's Jay Leno's attempt (at 4:20, which I hope is a coincidence):

And here's Conan (at 4:40):

Of course, these guys are just doing their jobs, and I'm sure the combined marijuana/Viagra hook on this one was just too much to pass up. But is marijuana so funny that you don't even need a serviceable punchline to joke about it? Leno's was insulting to sick people, and Conan's didn't even make sense (at least not to me or Andy Richter).

So, at the risk of sounding like a humorless, oversensitive social justice advocate, I'm calling out the purveyors of pathetic attempts at pot comedy. I care too much about both humor and cannabis to let either be degraded any further by the false assumption that jokes about pot are automatically funny. The opposite has been made clear to a cringe-inducing extent too many times now, and I think we could all use a break and perhaps a period of reflection in which to carefully consider what is and is not amusing about marijuana. For example, we all know that it can give you the munchies, but the whole pot-makes-you-eat-twinkies punchline deserves to die. Jokes about glaucoma are lower still.

None of this is to say that comedians can't or shouldn’t ever joke about marijuana, but rather that what passes for a pot joke really ought to be re-examined. In particular, if professionals like Leno and Conan are having a hard time pulling this stuff off, then there's absolutely no excuse for public officials to look for laughs when responding to serious concerns about the harms of our marijuana laws (see here or here for gratuitous examples).

As a culture, marijuana users have survived far worse than a few dumb jokes, but it's gotten old nonetheless, and meanwhile those who've advocated our continued persecution have often escaped the mockery they so thoroughly deserve. I'd love to see Conan take a jab at the Drug Czar one of these days. In the meantime, please share your favorite (or least favorite) pot jokes in the comment section.

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Humor is a double-edged sword

In some respects, the fact that marijuana "humor" -- if you can call it that in the above two cases -- is so commonplace is a fantastic testament to the utter and complete failure of the drug war.  The battle for hearts and minds was lost by the time Cheech and Chong made it big.  People don't so readily laugh at something they consider a legitimate threat.

On the other hand, bad pot jokes definitely serve to marginalize victims of that same drug war -- it tends to make the entire situation, rather than the substance itself, seem "harmless".  That whole attitude that "nobody really gets in trouble for pot" is implicitly reinforced by this sort of stuff.

Anyway.  If you ask me, the best marijuana humor I can recall is in The Big Lebowski -- no munchie jokes or bad puns to be found.  The movie laughs with The Dude, not at him.  It allows his pot smoking to be woven in with the larger character, rather than turning it into a one-dimensional punch line.  It's a fantastic movie for many reasons, but its treatment of marijuana use is among them.

Very eloquently put. I've

Very eloquently put. I've very much felt that same outrage when moving to the United States. From stand-up comedians to filmmakers to politicians, I've heard the audience laugh to hundreds of "jokes" that would be seen as unfunny if the subject matter was not cannabis-related. There is nothing inherently funny about cannabis, and I suspect the laughs emerge primarily from the cognitive dissonance between the Just Say No mentality we're supposed to adhere by, and the more lenient attitude most Americans have towards cannabis. This attitude may or may not be admitted by the people who laugh at the cannabis references, and my hypothesis is that a lot of those laughs come from older generations who subconsciously reminisce their experiences with cannabis.

thanks for the work you guys do

I regularly link to this site in my posts over at


pot humor has a lot of potential, but the bad puns ruin it.


jon stewart did a clip not too long ago where he called out all the bad puns in newspaper headlines.


conan always brings out the black guy who writes for his show when it's time for pot humor. not only is it not funny, but it's a bit racist.


when I saw conan deliver that lame joke about viagra and pot, I wondered if his writers saw the news on this site, because I didn't notice that story being reported widely in the media, including LA Times.


I couldn't get the Conan clip to download but I've heard his jokes already.I think we're being a little too sensitive but what the hay.At least we've caught up to the 60's pot jokes that Rowen and Martin did all the time.It was really cool in 65.That's where Conan and Leno get their material anyway.


strange place this america...

Oh well, comedians get a free

Oh well, comedians get a free ride, really, unless they are doing an out and out hatchet job on it.

There is one thing that is guaranteed for every comedian - they will piss somebody off, and fairly often.

Goes with the territory.

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