Comedy and Cannabis:

Finding the funny in dark times with Rachel Wolfson

Photo credit: Andrew Levy

It’s no secret getting high usually comes with a side of the giggles, but Rachel Wolfson has built a lucrative career on 4/20 funnies.

Many know the L.A. comedian and content creator by her handle, Wolfie Memes—a digitally viral name thanks to her quippy, acerbic weed humour. In a few short years, Wolfson has built her social media platforms to over 60,000 followers strong, featuring photos, one-liners, and edits that pull in double-taps and shares from the likes of Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. (Not an easy feat considering the conservative content policies on some of these platforms.) From pot puns and smokey takes on pop culture trends to photoshoots of her burning blunts in bathtubs, she’s become a fast-rising star on social platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Over the last year, she’s toured comedy and improv clubs, hosted weed events, presented an award to rap group Cypress Hill, and launched Chronic Relief, a podcast in which she tackles topics like mental health, racial inequality, and political tension alongside high-profile celebrity guests.

But while cannabis helped Wolfson tap into her funny, what her followers don’t often see is that it also helped her face and conquer some daunting battles against mental health, prescription drugs, and self-discovery.

Inside the Jar caught up with Wolfson by phone. As she sparked a joint on her patio, she told me where her journey with the plant began:

“The first time I smoked weed I was 17 in high school, and I smoked it out of an apple,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t get high, so I didn’t think much of it. When I got to college, when I was 19, I actually got high for the first time and really enjoyed it… Here was a whole other side of me that existed that I had never experienced before. And I liked this side.”

From the age of five, Wolfson was tested against a plethora of pharmaceutical drugs, first to manage anxiety and depression, then a bipolar diagnosis at the age of 12. She said by the time she discovered cannabis, she had tried numerous medications, each with its own lot of uncomfortable and unnerving side effects. Some even aggravated her conditions further. Cannabis, however, began to make her feel “really good”. But raised by the daughter of a judge and a district attorney in a Jewish home, she struggled to process just how this “drug” was her answer to a lifetime of mental health struggles.

“When I first started smoking, there were a lot of different emotions I had to process. In my mind at that time, I was consuming what my parents and family members called a ‘drug’. Here I was asking myself things like: ‘does this make me a drug addict?’ But it was also providing relief from these pharmaceuticals that didn’t make me feel good. It was a lot of mental stress.

“You know in your heart that it works for you, but also that your use could hurt the people around you because they just don’t understand it.”

Wolfson started college in Vermont, and then transferred to American University in Washington, D.C. (where she said her real “pothead” years began), before landing at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. When it came to cannabis, the strict penalties and conservative attitudes towards consumption in the Sunshine State was an icy contrast compared to D.C., where possession was decriminalized in early 2014. Recreational use is still illegal in Florida, but its medical applications were constitutionally amended in 2016. While Wolfson was living there, a close call with the cops on her doorstep investigating a skunky odour was enough to shake her loose of her Floridian daze.

“That’s the moment I said, ‘fuck this, I can’t stay here anymore. I’m going to get in trouble. It’s not safe for someone like me’ and I moved to L.A.”

In early 2013, freshly planted in a California’s classic weed-friendly community, Wolfson started to feel at home.

“It was the first time I felt accepted and was surrounded by people who were like-minded. They understood that weed is a medicine, not just to get high. But if you were using it just to get high, that was cool too.”

Embracing her public persona

Putting her master’s degree in marketing to use, she took on a corporate social media gig with Levity Entertainment—one of North America’s largest comedy agencies. It was here she began “messing around” with Photoshop and launched her side gig, Wolfie Memes.

Having followed all the traditional steps to success—listening to your parents, going to school, getting a degree, then a master’s, then getting a job, and showing up on time Monday through Friday—Wolfson said she still felt unsatisfied. “Empty.” At the time, her social media account was faceless, as she wasn’t ready to air the extent of her consumption to her parents or the online community. Cannabis, though widely integrated in L.A. culture, wasn’t yet legal (and still is federally illegal throughout the United States.) But her account was steadily growing and she was starting to network with other digital-savvy stoners making a name for themselves online.

“I left the agency and I began working for a dispensary on the west side called BSE, then I was working with my friend Olivia [Alexander] for a weed YouTube channel and podcast called The Budd in 2015.

“But people still didn’t even know if [Wolfie Memes] was a boy or girl. I was very private. Then rec [recreational legalization] happened in California, and then it passed in Vegas, and I knew it was time to make a call.”

It was 2016 when both California and Nevada—where Wolfson was born, raised, and some of her family still resides—opened their doors to the legal recreational consumption and the regulated sale of cannabis.

“I picked up the phone and called my mom. I can remember I was at Hollywood Improv, right about to record an episode of the podcast, and I just outright told her I would be focusing full-time on weed and comedy. I told her about the podcast. I told her she was going to start seeing pictures of me consuming, and I remember saying: ‘I don’t want you to be concerned, I just want you to trust me’.”

Wolfson said her initial secrecy was rooted in respect for her parents’ careers, adding “if I got charged, I could embarrass my family and, in an extreme worst case scenario, it could jeopardize their jobs,” but there was also an underlying feeling of guilt.

“Disappointing my parents wasn’t anything new to me… My family is full of lawyers and politicians, and from a young age I knew that wasn’t my route. It wasn’t my path,” she said.

“When I finally told them, they were supportive. They always come from a good place, not wanting me to get in trouble. But that wasn’t always the case. They used to be very against it, and would tell me I was self-medicating or look at me like a drug addict. The truth is I was just misunderstood. And misdiagnosed.”

Wolfson said her family’s attitudes have warmed to her new career in seeing both her success and the proliferation of the industry in Vegas, which is now littered with pot-themed billboards and cannabis dispensaries.

“It’s so in your face that you can’t help but be more educated about it now. It’s become a thriving industry, so you can’t deny the power of it.”

Though her journey wasn’t the traditional route to success, Wolfson said she wouldn’t have been happy in the corporate world. She credits cannabis for providing more creative opportunities.

“Slowly but surely… I found all of my passions and interests in a really backwards kind of way. I found my way into both weed and comedy through my corporate jobs because that’s what I thought I was expected to do—because I went to college and that’s the next logical step. I didn’t think for a second becoming an artist or a performer and entertainer was something I could do,” she said.

“Weed led me to discovering my passions. They were always in there, it just took something to push me in the right direction.”

She adds that it’s not always the case—weed catalyzing professional discovery—but allowing herself to follow “what felt good” instead of succumbing to guilt or fear opened doors she wouldn’t have otherwise paid attention to.

Photo credit: Andrew Levy

Life in L.A.

“So much has changed,” she said when I asked how four years of legalization has impacted her city.“

I walked right into this rich culture, one that had existed for many, many years before I got here. I heard the stories of what it was like and how it used to be before, and I got a little slice of that culture when I moved here. Since then, it's nothing like what it was.”

Wolfson said the most noticeable difference is the loss of mom n’ pop brands and artisanal companies she once saw everywhere. They have since been clear-cut from the industry, along with numerous iconic L.A. dispensaries.

“Activists who based their whole livelihood on a community and plant have been completely fucked over by a government that only sees money. A lot of what used to make cannabis special is gone.”

She went on to list a few of her favourite weed hubs, dab bars, and consumption spaces that have since been snuffed out in the new market too.

“But in exchange, we have more access, less fear about smoking weed in public, and we can start slowly changing those laws,” she added.

“I am grateful that I got a small slice of what it was, and I know in time we’ll see the culture return. We just need to grow back up through the cracks.”

The power of comedy

As someone who has so visibly advocated for the unabashed consumption of cannabis, Wolfson said her goal with her social media was to make it normal for women like her, everyday consumers, to proudly come out about their use. And she would like her stand-up comedy to be an extension of that for a discussion around some of the cannabis industry’s oversights and the pervasive silence around mental health.

“I got into weed at a time when it was still taboo to show pictures of yourself smoking it on the internet, especially for women. But I was able to use comedy and Instagram to do that.

“Now, it’s as normal as seeing a picture of a girl with a beer.”

She said her latest project, Chronic Relief, is another platform to bust stigma around mental health, much in the same way she’s helped normalize the cannabis conversation.

“I think there is a very strong belief that still exists that if you talk about your mental health battles it makes you weaker. But I truly believe when you discuss your struggles openly, it makes you so much more human and relatable. It’s real,” she said.

From discussing the acceptance of cannabis in drag culture with queen and choreographer Laganja Estranja to reviewing the evolution of stigma with comedian and potcaster Doug Benson, the show takes a look at the deeper impact of drug culture in America. But it goes beyond that, too. Wolfson and her guests unpack thoughts on everything from the scary state of political leadership to the rejection of gender as a social construct.

“We can make so many jokes about this culture and the legalizing industry, but if you go to certain parts of the country and the world you can be locked up for years, banned from travelling, fired, and fined if you have a weed charge. That will fuck up your whole life. Depending on which state, it is very much still a risk for people of colour to consume openly compared to a white person,” she said, continuing to list more cannabis industry pain points like barriers to access for patients and the lack of education around its medical use.

“These are the conversations we need to be having. It can be hard to find humour in that, but that’s our job. And comedy can help ease everyone else into difficult discussions.”

Wolfson said she’s grateful for the impact she’s had in the weed space, but now it’s time to use her platform to bridge the gap for other stigmatized groups.

“Comedians have a great way of finding the funny in the dark moments, but also some of the most unique takes on life. We need these voices and representations from all backgrounds—no matter what you look like, or the religion you celebrate, or your sexuality—because when everyone talks about [their mental health], we start to create safe places for others to do the same. That can start with comedy. Jokes can remove some of the fear.”

Just like cannabis, oddly enough.