Seán Devlin (叶 世民) Is a Canadian Cannabis Hero

"People will often approach me after a show and assume that I was high on stage," says the Vancouver stand-up
Seán Devlin (叶 世民) Is a Canadian Cannabis Hero
Photo: Katrin Braga
Seán Devlin (叶 世民) is the first-ever comedian to sign with Arts & Crafts, and his album Airports, Animals. represents a surprising curveball for a record company that has long been closely associated with indie rock. Its release is a well-deserved moment of recognition for a comic who has spent years honing his deadpan, keenly observational and sometimes surreal brand of stand-up.

Airports, Animals. contains stories about weed and politics, but the humour defies easy categorization. The only real constant is Devlin's laidback manner and bemused delivery.

"I listen to reggae music more than anything else," he tells Exclaim! "Reggae artists can lyrically explore everything from intimate love to violent revolution, all while sonically holding the listener in a calm and reassuring state. This album aspires to a similar form of alchemy. You'll hear jokes where I trace colonial history and jokes where I just riff on how amazing birds are. I developed this material for years, until performing it felt like an hour of bliss for me. Hopefully some of that translates for the listening audience."

There's also an in-depth story about getting turned away by a movie theatre for smoking weed outside of the building — so naturally we asked Devlin about his cannabis preferences. He told us about learning to embrace CBD, the therapeutic benefits of gardening while high, and the incredible cannabis history of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

What do you smoke and how do you consume it?

For years, I was only smoking sativa strains because I didn't like the way indica strains would make me feel. A couple of years ago, filmmaker Daniel Code explained to me the way that CBD and THC affect you differently. Ever since, I only smoke strains or blends that have twice as much CBD as THC, or I consume just straight CBD.   

What do you like to do when you smoke?  

I love to sit down in a cinema and watch a film on the big screen when I'm high. I have a story on the album about the lengths I've gone to in pursuit of this experience. As a filmmaker, it's very easy for me to overthink while I'm watching a movie. I can get distracted trying to dissect the craft that went into what I'm seeing on screen. Smoking weed usually makes it easier to just let a film wash over me.

During the pandemic, my wife and I have gone from hobby gardening to borderline urban farming. My wife used to practice horticulture therapy with seniors who had dementia, and I've learned so much from her. Caring for flowers and vegetables while consuming marijuana has been a profoundly healing experience for me. Over the course of the pandemic, I've also taken to running basketball drills by myself, often aided by CBD.

What do you think about the recent changes in cannabis culture?  

It hasn't been properly legalized until the people who were convicted for growing and distributing it are free, have received financial compensation, and have had their records expunged for their wrongful convictions. Julian Fantino is a former Toronto Police Chief and Conservative Cabinet Minister who, in 2004, compared legalizing weed to legalizing murder. As late as 2015, he said, "I am completely opposed to legalization of marijuana," and, "This is simply wrong," and, "[It] puts the health and safety of our children and communities at risk." A couple years later, he co-founded his own marijuana business. It's ridiculous that he is free to profit this way after spending years locking people up for the same. Also, he admitted he's never even smoked weed, so clearly he's just some sort of morally bankrupt leech.

Marijuana laws have disproportionately harmed the lives of Black and Indigenous people in Canada. A criminal record for possession of small quantities makes it hard to secure housing and employment. I like that the NDP has proposed that these criminal records be expunged not pardoned, but we should go further. The government and opportunistic profiteers like Fantino are making billions off this plant now. There shouldn't be any profit until there have been reparations.

Where in your city is great for cannabis?  

KushKlub on Commercial Drive is a Black-owned business that has great products and service. I like smoking weed outside of my favourite weekly comedy venues. The Fox Cabaret has New Moon Comedy and the Sunday Service. Little Mountain always has great shows; Blind Tiger Comedy school does student shows there that are very fun. Last but not least, going to pretty much any of the city's beaches on weed is a real pleasure.

Does cannabis play a role in your comedy process?  

People will often approach me after a show and assume that I was high on stage. When I first started comedy, smoking weed made it easier to get over the nerves. However, the truth is, I haven't been high on stage in about 15 years. In part, that's because I eventually started doing most of my writing on stage. I will usually start working material out live with just a concept written down, maybe some funny wording. I record all my sets and then, when I feel like a bit is coming together, I'll go back to the recordings and transcribe them. I'll then continually perform, record and revise this transcribed version of the joke. Sometimes I might be high during the writing process, but the critical part is the time on stage when I'm discovering the material.  

Who are your Canadian cannabis heroes?  

Tommy Chong! As a fellow comedian of mixed Irish and Asian heritage, he was a role model growing up. I would love to meet him or share a stage with him someday. I recorded a demo for this album in 2016 at a great venue in Chinatown called the China Cloud. In the late '60s, Chong was running a comedy club just across the street that was called Shanghai Junk. Cheech once delivered a new rug to the club and that's how they met. They performed in an improv group out of that club. Cheech & Chong and stoner comedy itself started in Vancouver's Chinatown! The wild thing is that I didn't even know that until just last year. Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside have such an incredible history.