How do you define a stoner comedy?
On the surface, the answer seems obvious: weed. Lots and lots of weed. But maybe it’s not that simple. Because while we often identify stoner comedies by the prominence of marijuana-intake depicted on-screen, the reality is a lot of weed-centric stoner comedies tend to suck.
Sure, Pineapple Express is great but you know what isn’t so great? Your Highness. Or most of Cheech and Chong’s filmography (not including Up In Smoke, obviously). Or Half Baked, which even Neal Brennan, one of the co-screenwriters, admitted is a kind of shitty movie.
It turns out when the entire foundation of your movie is “LOL weed,” the movie usually isn’t actually that funny. It’s like the film version of that annoying guy who bases his entire personality around that fact that he burns. Yeah, dude, we all like getting high; it doesn’t mean we have to talk about it all the goddamn time.
These movies miss the point of what makes an excellent stoner movie. Because what is truly foundational in a classic stoner comedy has less to do with how much the characters are shown smoking and way more to do with a movie’s ability to embody the true spirit of the stoner. In fact, many of the best stoner comedies ever made don’t have weed in them at all.
For evidence, look no further than Good Burger.
On paper, Good Burger doesn’t fit the bill of a stoner comedy. The PG-rated, 1997 Nickelodeon comedy is based on a sketch from All That (basically the ‘90s kid version of SNL) and doesn’t feature a hint of a reference to weed or anything remotely stoner-esque throughout its 95-minute runtime. And yet, upon deeper reflection, not only is Good Burger unquestionably a stoner comedy, it’s one of the best representations of everything that makes stoner comedies such an enduring, beloved genre.
Good Burger tells the story of Dexter Reed (Kenan Thompson), a 16-year-old ne’er-do-well who is forced to get a summer job when he takes his mom’s car for a joyride and crashes it into his teacher’s car. Dexter ends up working at Good Burger, a charming, slightly rundown fast-food joint that’s filled with a collection of lovably zany employees, including Ed (Kel Mitchell), the dim-witted but good-hearted cashier who quickly decides that he and Dexter are best friends. But when Mondo Burger, a shiny new fast-food chain, opens up across the street, it’s up to Ed and Dexter to save Good Burger from being closed down for good.
(Quick sidebar: Before diving into my deep love for this movie, I would be remiss not to note that Good Burger was co-written by Dan Schneider, a longtime Nickelodeon writer and showrunner who was fired in 2018 due to multiple complaints of harassment from members of his staff.)
So what makes Good Burger an iconic stoner comedy? All credit goes to Ed, who earns himself a first-ballot entry into the Cinematic Stoner Hall of Fame by emulating everything good about getting baked without actually partaking in the precious plant. Despite almost never understanding what’s going on around him, Ed manages to live in a state of complete and total bliss. When a disgruntled customer tells him that he’ll see him in hell, Ed cheerfully replies, “See you there!” And like a true stoner hero, Ed makes up for his lack of natural intellect with a kind heart, a secret sauce that makes burgers tastier and an unappreciated enlightenment best demonstrated in his main life mantra: “I’m a dude, he’s a dude, she’s a dude, cause we’re all dues.”
Ed is hardly the lone stoner movie icon who doesn’t bother puffing, passing or taking hits from the bong. Just think of Wanye and Garth or Bill and Ted. None of their respective movies feature even a whiff of chronic, and yet, would anyone argue that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or Wayne’s World aren’t bona fide classics of stoner cinema? Of course not. Even without explicitly getting blazed, all of these easy-going, lovable dummies manifest the core tenets of stoner comedies.
This isn’t to say that stoner classics can’t or shouldn’t have bud in them. That’s obviously not the case, as evidenced by The Big Lebowski, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and pretty much the entirety of Seth Rogen’s filmography. Perhaps the best example is Dazed & Confused, where the presence of pot is almost constant and yet the movie could essentially be the same without it, which was highlighted by director Richard Linklater’s anger over the studio choosing to market the movie as a generic stoner comedy.
These movies all feature plenty of smoking, but that’s not what literally every joke in the movie is about. Because much like the true spirit of Christmas not coming from a store, the true spirit of stoner movies doesn’t come from weed. To put it in the most pseudo-profound stoner wisdom possible, stoner movies are all about the vibes. The job of a stoner classic isn’t to show you people smoking a joint; it’s to properly reflect the feeling of your stoned experience on-screen. You know, that wonderful feeling of idiotic joy when Garth asks Wayne if he ever found Bugs Bunny attractive when he dressed up like a girl bunny, or Bill and Ted bonding with their future selves over their favorite number (69, obviously), or Ed’s attempt at fixing Good Burger’s milkshake machine resulting in a strawberry jacuzzi.
So next time you want to get zooted out of your friggin’ gourd while enjoying some quality stoner cinema, avoid the cliche-ridden “classics” and instead go with Good Burger or the countless other great weed comedies that don’t feature any pot whatsoever. Because in many cases, the only weed that’s actually necessary for the quintessential stoner movie experience is the stuff that you the viewer are about to smoke.