Stand-up comedian by trade, and cannabis activist almost by accident, Ngaio is known for uniting his two loves: cannabis and comedy, while spreading knowledge on the mighty plant through a form of comedy he calls “edutainment.”
Kantoka had the opportunity of catching up with Ngaio over self-isolation to hear more about his journey, his experiences in cannabis activism, and the advice he would give to those looking to pursue a career in the cannabis industry.
Marrying Comedy and Cannabis
If you’ve been streaming Netflix on the regular, and love cannabis content, we’re sure by now you’ve become acquainted with Cooking on High’s Ngaio Bealum, better known as Ngaio420 to his fans in the cannabis community.
“For me, I’ve always used humor to express myself, to get my way, or to get my point across,” said Ngaio, who was born in San Francisco and currently resides in Sacramento, California.
“I had been a stand-up comedian for a couple of years before I started focusing on weed. And I wasn’t really focusing on becoming a cannabis activist in my comedy act; I was just pointing out things that were funny to me from a stoner perspective; pointing out the hypocrisy and inconsistencies. That you can be boozed all up, but not high, or that you can get thrown in jail for a plant,” he explains of his earlier prohibition-days comedy acts. “I kind of pushed against the cannabis comic thing for a while, and for a while, I wasn’t ‘needed.’ Now that it’s legal, everyone wants a stoner comic. It’s kinda funny how it’s come around.”
Bealum was first approached in 2016 to do Cooking on High originally as a web series before it hit the global streaming service.
“I’ve been on television before and understood the power of TV, but I didn’t understand the reach of Netflix. Now I’m on Netflix all over the world! That was wild!” says Bealum about his unexpected rise to “weedlebrity” status. “I went from 4,300 Instagram followers to 40K a week after. Now, I’m at 77K. Sometimes I forget about the power of media when it just becomes part of your job, but it was great to be able to do “edutainment” and have the opportunity to talk about weed in a humorous and engaging manner and get good feedback. I still get questions from people online asking me how to make weed butter!”
When asked about his “weedlebrity” reputation, “Generally, if someone recognizes me, I can generally smoke a joint with them … or at least used to be able to smoke a joint with them, now we have to share our own joints,” he says, “I don’t mind being well-known – I’m a people person! And stoners are generally really nice people.”
“I like to say that weed is a subculture of every other culture,” he says, “For every subculture of things people like to do — except for maybe brain surgery or driving a school bus — there’s a group of people who just like to get high before they do that shit!”
“I’d like to reclaim the stoner lifestyle, he adds. “Hey man, it was the stoners that got weed legalized! Let’s show some love to the stoners. Yay Stoners!”
Paying Respects to His “Cats” of Cannabis
Bealum has participated in cannabis culture since the 1990’s, having advocated alongside some of the greatest legends in cannabis.
“Activists are strong-willed and individualistic,” Bealum explains about his early cannabis activism experience. “You have to be a bit crazy to think you can take on the federal government. You have to be a bit nutty, and I say that with love and respect, but you have to be a bit crazy. And I include myself in that.” Indeed, it takes a certain level of gumption, thick skin, and a whole lot of perseverance to make a legislative change, especially around cannabis.
He refers to his fellow activists as his “cats.” He counts “The Granddaddy of them All,” Jack Herer as his top cannabis activist to have worked with, referring to Herer’s infamous book The Emperor Wears Clothes as a “phenomenal” read. He names Debby Goldsberry, co-founder of the United Cannabis Collective, and Steph Sherer and Don Duncan of Americans for Safe Access as some of his most respected organizational trailblazers. As a frequent attendee of events, often being asked to MC, host or perform at events around the world, Ngaio tips his hat to Vivian McPeak of the Seattle Hemp Fest and Stacy Bloch of the Bellingham Bud Fest for pulling of some of the finest cannabis events in America.
“And of course, the activists in places like Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri are kicking mad ass,” he adds, noting that on the west coast it’s a heck of a lot easier to get initiatives on ballots than other places in the country.
Always looking north to see what’s happening in Canadian cannabis, Bealum has big respect for Canadian trailblazers Jodie Emery and Abi Roach, who fought so long for legalization, with the latter making great strides to improve the regulated cannabis industry from within. He notes that newer industry players in Canada like CannaWrite’s Anne-Marie Fischer are working hard to spread education and awareness about cannabis in this new era of legalization.
Ngaio also credits Alex Rogers of the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), a global conference for which he is the host. “ICBC opened my eyes to the scale and the scope of international cannabis. The opportunities of a legalized global regulated market are interesting. I’d love to go out to my local shop and buy some actual Afghani Hash, or an authentic Spanish Haze,” he said as he referred to the “super sativas” grown in Spain. ICBC will hopefully resume in time for its Vancouver event this fall.
What’s in Ngaio’s Pipe?
“I’ve smoked some of the best weed in my life in Portland, Oregon,” he says, paying homage to the cannabis state that remains close to his heart for many “danky” cannabis memories.
“My favourite weed is whatever I have in my hand at the moment,” said Ngaio as he flashed a nugget of the LA Kush Cake, a cross between Ice Cream Cake and Gorilla Glue, that he’s currently enjoying. “Generally, I prefer cannabis to be outdoor, organic and sun-grown over indoor-grown cannabis – there’s something about dirt and sun, the natural, earthy thing just creates a vibe.” We agree, Ngaio!
He hopes in the future of cannabis, that he’ll be able to get cannabis imported from other countries at his local shop, while seeing social clubs become a “thing” again. “Cannabis is legal, and we shouldn’t have to hide it!” he said.
His Advice to Young People
Despite being well-known for decades now as a cannabis connoisseur, Ngaio himself didn’t start using cannabis until the mid-80’s, when he was in college. In his message to young people, he is adamant that young people wait to try cannabis until they’re older. “Let your brain develop. Get to know yourself a little bit. Your brain doesn’t even know what it needs or wants; you don’t even know yourself yet,” he advises to the young canna-curious.
For those young people who are eyeing careers in cannabis, he offers crucial advice: “Just learn, and pay attention, have fun, be yourself, and not everything has to be new-fangled or old-fashioned. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways, while looking for new ways to do things.”
As someone who has seen a whole lot unfold in his activism life, he says, “Respect those who came before. Talk to your elders, talk to the cats who made this happen. You’ve got two ears and one month, so listen twice as much as you speak. Remember how easy it is now for you. I met young people the other day that didn’t know of a time when there wasn’t a dispensary!”
He notes that young people are living in very privileged times as it pertains to cannabis, especially now. “Cannabis has gone from a gateway drug to an essential service. Education is more preferable than prohibition. It’s slow, but we’re on the right path and moving the right way.” See Ngaio perform cannabis comedy! The 5/20 420 Show will be held on Wednesday, May 20, featuring various comedians of the Nowhere Comedy Club talking weed! Tickets can be found here