While planning the first issue of Reverb magazine, a Bumbershoot-focussed pullout in the current issue of Seattle Weekly, music editor Chris Kornelis and I discussed a list of talent to whom we'd like to lob a series of somewhat random "Why...?" questions. Doug Benson was certainly on my list, since he's been a hardworking comic since the late '80s who's graduated from MTV to Comedy Central to his documentary Super High Me (about pot, what else?) to a late-career embrace of podcasting and Twitter. He's 47, not a Harvard Lampoon or Apatow-endorsed sort of performer, but he keeps plugging away. Though his stage image is that of the affable stoner, he's a trouper. But when we asked about querying him by phone or e-mail, we were told "Doug doesn't do interviews."
Now I see why, or did, at his packed Doug Loves Movies show/podcast at the Bagley Wright Theatre on Saturday . . .Benson chooses not to do interviews because he communicates directly to fans via Twitter and MySpace. And his fans came to the Rep armed with handmade nametags and signs, something like the old The Price Is Right TV game show of Benson's youth. He structures Doug Loves Movies like a boozy game show/cabaret, where his panelists--all of them appearing at Bumbershoot, not all of them comics--compete in "The Leonard Maltin Game," essentially name-that-movie, to earn prizes for audience members clued-in on Twitter and MySpace. (Has he not yet shifted to Facebook? Surely he has.) All of which seemed strange to the Benson agnostics in the audience. Why were these other people waving pie plates and bad movie posters? Why did four, then six other Bumbershoot comedians join him onstage? Why was an audience member with an infant in his arms dragged up as well? And why did Benson use a slingshot to send a plush toy monkey into the audience? Again, if you don't know the podcast, it's all a little hard to follow.
But Benson proves to be a generous, patient host to the rambling show. He gives the other comics plenty of room to ad-lib, doesn't make himself the star, cheerfully plugs their gigs, takes note of audience questions, and checks his Twitter feed during the show on his phone for trivia challenges to his guests. (Film critic Leonard Maltin apparently has an iPhone app, something like IMDb, that Benson uses onstage.) Those invited to join his podcasts on Sunday and Monday won't be repeated from Saturday's show, where Rory Scovel and Amy Schumer both scored big laughs by being, respectively, ornery and bawdy. (All the comics jump among one another's shows, meaning that no matter who's billed, you'll likely see someone else, too.) And a welcome bearded participant from the music stages was the leader of Valient Thorr, a fairly witty guy who's an avid podcaster himself.
Get in line early for Benson's remaining two shows. If you couldn't see one of your favorite comics on one of Bumbershoot's other stages, chances are that he or she will be a panelist on Doug Loves Movies.
Doug Loves Movies: 7:45-8:45 p.m. at the Bagley Wright Theater (Seattle Rep), Sun. and Mon. (He returns to the Neptune on Fri., Oct. 28.)