All-Star Comedy Revue Raises Money for Cannabis CausesBy: Vally Girl Howard Dover is a comic, author and medical marijuana advocate. He is also the Executive Producer and creator of the highly popular ExtravaGanja, a live comedy revue /medical marijuana benefit show that has been bringing in bucks and yucks for over 10 years. Howard had been doing shows in Canada for several years before bringing his benefit shows to Hollywood, California in 2001 to immediate success. Award-winning comics including Bill Maher and Joe Rogan have eagerly volunteered their time to perform for the cause. Embraced by comedy lovers and medical marijuana activists alike ExtravaGanja is getting the word out in a fun and creative way. You know you are doing something right when you have the King of Marijuana advocates, Jack Herer’s seal of approval. Cannabissearch sat down with Howard Dover for an exclusive interview:
When and where did you do your very first show?
It was 1998, in Toronto, at Yuk, Yuks. Largest comedy chain in Canada. They were great with me and gave me a lot of leeway. They let me do these shows that filled a little niche.
How many shows did you do in Canada before you came to the United States?
It’s hard to keep track but I’d say about 40 – 50 shows.
When you did your first show back in the 90’s, did you have a hard time finding comics that would be willing to do a benefit for marijuana?
No, it was really easy. In fact when I had comics who were against weed at first or even indifferent wanting to do the show I knew I was on to something that was really special.
So what came first for you? Was it interest in the pot culture or the Comedy
The pot culture preceded the comedy.
How did you first start promoting the shows and getting the word out in the pre-Facebook days?
I would use the local compassion clubs in Toronto. There are quite a few that exist and I was friends with most of them. It was a good way for them to make some money. They would sell the tickets and keep most of the money. So they’d make a few bucks. They’d be offering their patients a nice, fun night out and I’d make it a fun time. Also, I’d make sure I gave each of the comics a little loot bag.
When was your first show in the U.S?
My first one was with Bill Maher at the Improv in December 2001. And it was sold out, over sold out. They had to return tickets because they over-sold the room. Even people who called in and made reservations were turned back. You can’t buy publicity like that. It was great.
So how did you get Bill Maher involved?
I got really lucky through a mutual friend, Todd McCormick. Todd McCormick (http://cannabis.wikia.com/wiki/User:Todd.McCormick) is a pretty well known marijuana activist and is good friends with Bill Maher. He references him on his show all the time because he went to prison for like 5 years and has an interesting story. He had thousands of plants that he was experimenting with and was doing research. Doing the sensible thing, doing research with different strains and such. So we’re both friends with Todd and that’s how I got him. Then Kevin Nealon (Weeds) came in and did a walk-on that night. It was pretty exciting.
Was that show a benefit?
Absolutely. The first few shows benefitted the Inglewood Wellness Center. They were the first compassion house I befriended when I came to town. They were hugely supportive right from the beginning. They were the recipients. Right now my favorite is ASA (http://www.safeaccessnow.org/), Americans for Safe Access. I’m a big fan of that organization. ASA is an organization who really has its shit together and gets things done.
So after that huge first show with Bill Maher, did you become well known in those circles?
That show gave me a lot of credibility, absolutely.
When was your next show after that one?
It was April of 2002.
So how did that show go?
The second one was interesting. A real lesson for me. I was cocky. I was thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got the formula.” So I went to the Key Club (500 seat capacity) and I think it was a little too much, too soon. I had an amazing line up. Bill Maher again, Patton Oswald. The Pussy Princess and her shtick. This woman paints her labia and takes a stool and sits down on a piece of paper and hands you an original pussy print. It was really fun.
How were the ticket sales for that one?
It was horrible. The show tanked. I lost a lot of money. I really don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t spend enough on advertising. Maybe the $20 dollar price was too much, I don’t know. I was even "Comedy Pick of the Week" in the LA Weekly. That’s when I learned if you’re not on the front cover it doesn’t help.
When did you first go to the Comedy Store? I remember going to one of those shows and meeting Jack Herer. How did you get involved with Jack?
Jack Herer is a longtime medical marijuana advocate/author who passed away in April 2010(http://www.jackherer.com/)I think he went to my first show in the US, the Bill Maher show. I met him at a party he was having in Burbank. He used to have these social gatherings, parties, in these apartments he lived in. He had 2. One to live in and one to socialize, party in. I just called to invite him to the show and told him about Bill Maher and hope he’d come out and that I’d make him the guest of honor. Then he invited me over to his place and I went and met him and his wife Jeannie and it was love at first for me. That was 2001 and we became friends. In fact he slept on that exact couch you’re sitting on when he’d pass through LA. That was really lucky. And I’m still friends with his wife to this day.
Did he come to most of your shows?
Whenever he could. He ended up moving up North, so he came down every two or three after he moved. And then when he had the stroke I went up to Eugene, Oregon to see him while he recovered.
What did he think of your shows?
He loved them. He had so much fun. He laughed, he loved Joe Rogan. I ended up introducing the two of them. And Joe was really appreciative of that. I absolutely introduced the two so that was really nice. He loved Joe because Joe did at least 6 or 7 shows, so Jack had seen him at least 3 times. He always had a good time. Always laughed. We had a “green room” so to speak. Jack would always bring a stack of books to sell at the venue. “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” is a book that everyone should own. It is the quintessential book that everyone should have and read. It’s life changing.
How did you get such big-name comics to perform?
They loved the event, the benefit aspect. I had great audiences too. The Main Room of the Comedy Store was packed. The rooms were great. The shows were packed and the crowds were awesome. So I had some of the biggest names in stand-up: Joe Rogan, Rick Overton, Kevin Nealon, Bill Maher, Dom Irrerra, Harland Williams, Greg Proobst, Jim Gaffigan, Bill Dwyer, Doug Stanhope. Plus Doug Benson and Sabrina Matthews and Rob Van Dam. And Ric Rockwell. Remember Ric? He was the ‘Millionaire’ on that reality show back then, who coincidentally I had to reimburse for the train ride up from San Diego. Some millionaire huh? Rick Overton (Dinner With Schmucks, The Informant, The Dennis Miller Show) is a comic, actor and Emmy-winning writer who has done 5 ‘ExtravaGanja’ shows.
Rick, Why do you do these shows?
Even though I don’t smoke marijuana anymore I’m 100% behind what Howard is doing here. The shows are always well attended when the word gets out. I got to meet Jack Herer before his sad passing. Jack was a kind man, a gentle soul. He loved the show because there was a solidarity you don’t see much in today’s push-button, PDA, texting world where everyone is having a conversation…just not with the person standing right next to them. If you are getting people who don’t use the product to talk it up like this then you know Howard must be doing something right. I love my species. I love people. Some people don’t. If someone is hurting and this (marijuana) is the answer, someone else does not get to tell them not to do it when they are in pain. I don’t think that’s right. I think the person who is in pain can decide what they need. Someone who has cancer can say, someone who had AIDS can say. Or even someone who doesn’t have those things who just wants it. Everyone with a soul should see that you shouldn’t be going after people who are suffering like that. It just isn’t right. (www.rickoverton.net)
Back to Howard:
Are most of those comics marijuana smokers?
Most. But not all. I don’t think Jim Gaffigan. Dom Irrerra definitely doesn’t smoke but is really just indifferent. Harland Williams doesn’t.
So have your shows become more political since you’ve become more involved in the cause?
Yes and No. Because in essence it’s still a comedy show. That’s always at the core. It’s just a good, strong comedy show where people just have a good, fun time out. My last few shows I’ve added a burlesque number to open the night. I get some of the girls from Jumbos Clown Room to come out and perform. They also love it. The girls from Jumbos love donating their time and just love the shows. Love to support the cause. I’ve had a pole dancer and a strip tease where the girl’s strip down to little pasties they made themselves out of pot leaves. That was on Youtube with 15,000 hits so far. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBPXMnFFpQ (Clip entitled Dr. Dre never looked so good) *PLEASE NOTE*: some partial nudity in video…you’re welcome.
Do you have any memorable moments from your shows you’d like to share
There have truly have been so many. They all have had standing ovations. A real good party atmosphere with everybody having a good time. Even the staff. The waitresses, the management are happy because they have a roomful of people. The comics are happy because they get to do a great show and get a goody bag. They are getting to party in the back. Plus we are also getting the message out. That’s the most important thing. That’s something I do every show. I have tables set up in the foyer area with lots of literature and information. I want educational tables to be out there available so people can learn about medical marijuana. Meet some of the patients. Meet some of the owners of the compassion clubs. I set it up so the audience has to walk by them. So there is always the message.
Have you ever calculated how much money you have raised
No. But it’s been a lot. Because the money is a far more secondary issue to the message and having a good time. When I welcome people to the show I always give my message. I tell them to get involved and then I use my favorite quote: “Never underestimate your power as an individual to affect positive change.” I always open with that and close with that. I stick a little message in there and then the burlesque comes out to soften the blow.