‘Half Baked’ Turns 25: A Highly Official Account of the Stoner Comedy Classic from Director Tamra Davis
The 1990s saw the stoner comedy return with a vengeance. To start, there was Dazed and Confused (1993) and Friday (1995). But the genre hit a new high (pun unavoidable) in 1998, when The Big Lebowski, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Half Baked all hit the mainstream.
Half Baked led the way, at least temporally speaking, as it was released first on January 16th. In the quarter century since, it’s become a classic in both the stoner genre and comedies in general — with highly memorable/quotable moments like “the guy on the couch” and an unparalleled number of amazing cameos.
The movie was directed by Tamra Davis, who began her career helming videos for a wide array of musical acts (The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Tone Loc, Cher and Hanson, to name just a few) and was the woman behind Billy Madison, Adam Sandler’s inaugural starring vehicle. Half Baked, of course, was the first leading film role for another comedian who went on to dominate the comedy scene soon thereafter — Dave Chappelle, who wrote the movie with his friend and collaborator Neal Brennan.
In honor of Half Baked’s 25th anniversary, Davis is puff-puff-passing along her favorite stories from the movie — from her and Chappelle having to convince Universal executives that “I love weed, but not as much as I love pussy” was the perfect line for Half Baked to end on, to Snoop Dogg’s refusal to smoke fake weed for his cameo, to all the ways co-star Jim Breuer reminded her of her own weed dealer Hippie Steve.
The Start of Her Half Baked Journey
After working with producer Bob Simonds on Billy Madison, I got a call from him one day in 1997. He said, “I’m making this movie, it’s called Half Baked. It’s with these two young guys named Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan. I’ll send you the script. We’re going to start shooting in five weeks in Toronto. Are you available? I need to know right away.”
I got the script, and as soon as I read the opening scene — with them as kids getting high and going to 7-Eleven — I called Bob and told him I was in. I was dying. It was the funniest opening I’d ever read.
Meeting the Screenwriters
Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan were like 23 at the time. Dave had so much energy, and he was so excitable. Dave felt that by making this movie, it would allow him to smoke weed wherever he wanted. He was so fun, and he was game for anything. There was so much hopefulness and promise in both him and Neal. It was my job to make sure I got that energy on film.
Dave was set as the star, but finding the other guys was tricky. We wanted people Dave could really work with, and we wanted people up-and-coming in comedy. Jim Breuer came from Saturday Night Live, and he was solid. Throughout the movie, I felt like he was playing a guy that I knew — my old pot dealer, Hippie Steve. He had the fanny pack and the Birkenstocks. Even now, when I picture Hippie Steve in my head, I can’t really separate him from Jim Breuer.
It was so much fun to find Guillermo Díaz. Especially now that he’s such a scary, serious actor, it’s fun to look back at how funny he was as Scarface. He wasn’t a stand-up comedian like the other three; he was hired more as an actor that could do comedy. When working with stand-ups, you want that energy they have, but it can be tough to ground it in reality. Having a more serious actor can help you do that.
Harland Williams was super funny, too. I don’t know if I’d say he was the odd man out, but he was a bit set apart from the others. Maybe it was because he was Canadian, or because he’s the one who got arrested and his character was off from the core. It worked though. He added so much to those prison scenes.
My favorite scene with him was when he killed the horse on the sidewalk by feeding it all this horrible stuff. That’s the kind of scene I miss in comedies now. Back then, comedy could cross this line into absurdity, and you could just go with it. I feel like comedy has lost that now — it’s too smart or something.
The Level of Bakedness on Set
You can’t really work and be high. I mean, some people can — Seth Rogen can. But generally, I don’t think you can. My parents smoked weed when I was a kid and Cheech and Chong was a big thing in my home, but I couldn’t smoke at work because I had to have some level of authority. As for the actors, if they were flubbing their lines and everyone knew it was because they’d smoked weed, it would be considered super unprofessional.
All that being said, there were two times that there really was weed on set. I didn’t know it then, but I heard later that they got high before doing the flying scene. That was just them on wires and floating around, being goofy in front of a blue screen, so it worked out fine, and it’s one of the scenes people remember most from the film.
Then there was the cameo with Snoop Dogg. We were shooting on the Universal lot, and we had fake weed. Snoop said, “No way, I’m going to really smoke weed.” Again, this was on the Universal lot, but it was Snoop Dogg. There was no way to tell Snoop Dogg he couldn’t smoke weed. So he lit up a joint, and they were all really smoking on the stoop there.
Then I saw security start coming over. I was like, “Oh shit, are we going to get shut down?” They all started surrounding us, and I yelled, “Cut!” Then they said to me, “Hey, do you think it’s okay if we get an autograph from Snoop Dogg?”
A Galaxy Full of Guest Stars
We had the best cameos ever. We got Willie Nelson, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Stewart — they all had a good little moment to be funny, too. Bob Simonds and Bob Saget went way back, that’s how we got him and his cameo just killed us. We had no idea what he was going to say. Tommy Chong was especially cool. I was so happy to involve him and give a nod to that past. We felt there was a torch-passing to it.
Sir Smoka Lot
Dave’s other character in the movie, Sir Smoka Lot, was part of the reason I got the job — because of my music video background. He was based on Snoop as this character that was known to rap and smoke weed. You start to see the sketch comedy side of him and Neal in those scenes. It feels a bit like Chappelle’s Show.
A Lovely Conversation with Universal Executives About the Film’s Final Line
In the original ending, Dave throws his last joint off the bridge, then walks off with Mary Jane, then runs back and jumps off the bridge after the joint. We decided to change it — where he chooses his girlfriend over the weed. We liked the message better that he desired something more than his love for weed — that there’s only one thing that’s better than weed, and that’s pussy.
But Dave and I had to go into Universal to explain this change. It’s the two of us at this table with Universal executives, and Dave has to pitch that last line to them: “I love weed, but not as much as I love pussy.” He had to explain why that was the best ending, and I’m giving it this feminist pitch. We were kicking each other under the table because of the absurdity of it all.
It worked, of course. The whole movie did. I knew then that this wouldn’t be a movie that would please the critics — which it didn’t — but I did want it to please the fans, which it certainly did. It’s one of those movies where it’s just made it into the popular culture. I remember being told once that Blockbuster said Half Baked was their most stolen movie ever, which, I mean, that’s just the greatest.