During a time when our nation is exploding in protest and uprising in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, comedian Eric Andre is offering a simple remedy to America's problems with policing: legalize everything. The message comes in the form of his wild and crazy Netflix stand-up special, "Eric Andre: Legalize Everything," which is centered on, as Andre told me on "Salon Talks" this week, "getting punished for the things that bring us pleasure." Turns out, there is a ton of truth in his hilarious commentaries.
If the failed War on Drugs was ended and narcotics were legal, then Breonna Taylor would have never been gunned down in a BS, botched drug bust that should have never happened. Add that to fact that millions of African Americans have been on the wrong side of the drug war since President Richard Nixon launched it the 1970s and worked at getting the public to associate "the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin," according to his domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman. Nixon's plan to criminalize both heavily and disrupt those communities has worked like a charm and has created a new American tradition for Black men: the tradition of prison.
Outside of my writer friends that I have met in the last two or three years, I don't know any Black man that has not been through the criminal justice system, and I know a lot of people. Senator Bernie Sanders explained it clearly to hip hop star Cardi B last year. "We have something like one out of four young Black men in this country end up in the criminal justice system," he said. "They may end up in jail, they may end up on parole, they may end up on probation."
This is the sad reality that many of us Black people must face until America gets some heart and follows forward thinkers like Andre on the road to legalizing everything. Watch my "Salon Talks" episode with Eric Andre here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below to hear more about his Netflix special, defunding the police, and the future of "The Eric Andre Show." The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I was up a 5:00 in the morning trying to do my Peloton thing, then I crawled off of the bike and I put your special on and I'm like, holy f**k. I wasn't ready for this.
You watched it at 6:00 am?
I do a 45-minute ride so maybe close to like 5:50ish.
I wasn't ready for that type of energy. How do you prepare for a show? Where does all that energy come from?
Coffee, I guess.
What kind of coffee?
I just like my coffee black, no sugar, no cream. I did a lot, a lot of shows. I did I think 100 shows in 50 cities last year. I think it's an endurance thing, you know what I mean?
I was wondering if you were home schooled or something.
Public school my whole life. I was just hyper and was getting detentions every day at school.
I hope that you get a chance to go talk to some students with that same energy so they can see like if he's bouncing off the walls don't give him detention, he could be a famous comedian.
I was a nightmare. I would drive my teachers insane. I got good grades, I got straight A's but I was so bad behaved. I was bouncing off the walls.
Why did you choose New Orleans for your Netflix special? Is it a special city for you?
I love New Orleans. I love the people of New Orleans. They have a great vibe there. I love the diversity of New Orleans. It was one of the only cities we didn't put on the tour at first when we booked all of our cities we skipped New Orleans because it usually is a little bit slow for moving tickets for comedy shows. But then also there's a lot of television and film production in New Orleans, so there was a practical thing about it where we had the resources out there. It kind of checked all the boxes. It turned out great. The audience was amazing. I lucked out that the audience was so hyped. There's definitely some shows that weren't filmed that you're like, oh f**k. The Oakland show was incredible. Madison, Wisconsin was incredible. Lexington, Kentucky was incredible. A lot of the shows the farther you travel, the better the crowds.
I'm in Baltimore, on the other side of this monitor.
All right B-More.
You start your show off by playing a police officer passing out drugs. We need more cops like that. How does all the protesting and the reaction to all of the horrible things police have been doing affecting you right now?
It's making me want to leave this country. We live in a police state, we have an authoritarian president with worms eating his brain.
Wait, he has a brain?
He has brain worms, it's almost gone. I don't know. It's depressing. I think that there's been a lot of progress. I know Seattle has banned tear gas and there's a law passed in Breonna Taylor's name. They're saying that the turnout for these Civil Rights marches is the largest turnout in Civil Rights history worldwide. The Minneapolis Police Department is being dismantled and reassembled to serve the people hopefully. Those four cops that killed George Floyd are arrested, so there's progress being made. With that, I think we're trying to dismantle hundreds of years of institutionalized racism, it's not going to happen overnight and there's a lot of money and power against keeping the structures of white supremacy and patriarchy.
It's scary because the cops who killed Freddie Gray were arrested, even though they didn't do a day in jail. A year later, when everything died down they kind of slipped in and let them all go. So it's like while I'm so happy that the police officers that killed George Floyd and the cowards who watched were arrested, I hope the charges stick. I read something about you being arrested and witnessing racism firsthand while in custody.
Oh I deserved my arrest. I got arrested doing a prank on the show. That had nothing to do with the color of my skin. I was being a f**king lunatic. Even the cop was like, "Why are you doing this?"
I feel like if Ellen DeGeneres did that prank Ellen wouldn't be locked up.
Maybe that's right, that's true, but I was being a f**king maniac.
Are you optimistic for some of the changes that you just named?
I think so. I mean people are taking down statues of slave owners, people that profited off the slave trade and Christopher Columbus who killed between three million and eight million Arawak Indians. There are positive things happening. I think we're at a tipping point. It's going to tip either direction but people have had enough. I think power is going back to the people. We're seeing how much racism still exists in America, massive wealth inequality that the 400 richest Americans own more money and wealth than 60% of the rest of the working class in America. I think that all this stuff is coming to light and we're having this revolution. This is a country where everybody owns guns and it's a little bit dangerous. I'd feel safer having a revolution in France or England just because people aren't strapped.
Yeah, I hate guns, man. I only own guns because cops and other people have them. If nobody had them, I don't need them.
Yeah, I mean if a maniac breaks into your house you have a split-second decision, the cops can't get there in time, I believe in self-defense. But you don't need a gun that shoots 1,000 bullets in one . . . You know, an AR-15 shoots 99, 100 bullets in one pulse of the trigger. You don't need that to defend yourself or hunt deer.
I thought it was hilarious when you were talking about how "Cops" the TV show is set to reggae. I never thought about that.
It always tripped me out. Like, who made this choice? You'd think watching "Cops" it'd be like rock or country, s**t that they listen to. But reggae? What?
Now that show is gone for good and I think that's a good thing. I have had a lot of conversations with police officers talking about why they joined the force and where they were coming from. A lot of them talked about how that show made them feel like they were subscribing, they were joining something bigger than themselves and they were going to be able to like be like Bruce Willis or some s**t and change the world.
Yeah they're small dick, C-average students that watch "Cops" and they watch "The Expendables." They want to be Jason Statham without working out or eating healthy. You get fat, pudgy Jason Stathams with miserable spouses and kids and they want to f**king brutalize working class people and poor people to make themselves feel better that they're losers. Not all of them, not all of them, everybody has to say that. Not all of them. You know what the f**k I'm talking about. It's like they're not accountable for their actions. They get away with literal murder. So yeah, that show "Cops" is propaganda. It's showing that state power will always win and will kick down your door and take the rings off your fingers.
The so-called good cops are the ones watching their friends do all the bad s**t.
The whole thing needs to be dismantled and reassembled to serve the people. They're so rich and powerful. They're like a Hells Angels biker gang. Their unions are like mafia-run unions. They operate like mobs, you know? It's like that Tupac quote, the worst gang in the world isn't the Bloods or the Crips, it's the cops.
And they don't snitch.
They don't snitch. They cover each other. They're a Hells Angel biker gang. There's no difference.
We need to defund them. We need change. I think that's why I connect to the whole concept of "Legalize Everything." What's the story behind "Legalize Everything," and what does that mean to you?
Well it doesn't literally mean legalize everything. Obviously, I don't want rape or murder legalized. It's more about legalize non-violent, consensual adult activities that bring us joy. The War on Drugs totally failed us. It's done absolutely nothing to curb drug addiction, it just gives cops an excuse to lock up Black kids five times as much as they do white kids, even though we do drugs at the same rate, all the races. Portugal decriminalized all drugs and they saw a decrease in drug addiction and a decrease in crime.
But not just drugs, I talk about sex work too. I talk about things that give adults joy are made illegal only to working class people and poor people. Millionaires and billionaires can do drugs and have sex with sex workers and do all these pleasurable activities and they get away with it because they're puppet masters that control the strings. For the working class and poor people, why don't we have the same access to things that bring us joy as adults? It's because they don't want us to have joy. They want us to be punished for things that bring us joy.
The fact that marijuana is still illegal in a lot of states and psychedelic drugs and mushrooms that grow naturally on this earth are illegal. It's like that Bill Hicks thing, it's like why are we making drugs that are naturally grown illegal? It's a little unnatural. Meanwhile, Pfizer is pushing up . . . My friend went to rehab and he said, "Nobody is in there for weed, nobody is in there for mushrooms. Everyone is in there for legal drugs. Everyone is in there for Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, everything that Pfizer, a billion-dollar corporation, they're the biggest drug dealers in the world, not El Chapo."
That's the other thing, the only people and the only groups that the War on Drugs benefits are the DEA, which is corrupt, and drug cartels which are violent sociopaths because when you take away something that there's a demand for naturally that people want, and you make it illegal, that demand for it doesn't go away, it just gets pushed to the underground and it goes into the hands of violent sociopathic criminals. If you want to dismantle the drug cartels and dismantle the DEA we would all benefit from a free society. That's kind of the gist of the special. Then I go into John Calvin and the Pilgrims and how we got here and why we were punished for things that bring us pleasure. It's basically this puritanical Calvinist Christianity that the Pilgrims forced down our throats.
Yeah, the Pilgrims are creepy.
Then their descendants kidnapped a bunch of Africans hundreds of years ago to build this country and they gave a bunch of Native Americans smallpox and murdered them. This country's got a s**tty history. Welcome to my comedy show! Get ready to laugh.
The way you bring up the War on Drugs is so important because the bulk of my family were drug dealers, and I grew up in that super predator era. A lot of times we think that we're born into this s**t and it's just our fault. But at the same time, it was something Nixon created to be able to demonize Black people. I'm still haunted by that quote from his policy advisor who said we just need a way to demonize the Blacks and the hippies on the news every night. So it's bulls**t.
Let's just say Joe Biden gets elected, right? He's in office and he's on the phone with Stacey Abrams, she's the vice president. They get together and they call you, right? They say, "Look, Eric, we want you to be able to start a drug-free city in America. You pick the state, you pick the city." What does it look like?
A drug-free city? Or like non-illegal? Legal drug city?
My bad, there's no such thing as a drug-free. See they're even in my brain! Yes, legal drug city.
I would take a trip to Lisbon and see how they do it. But the other issue about drugs being illegal and the demand for them still being there is that when they're made illegally they're filled with toxins and a lot of s**t. I'd make sure that anybody who has a problem with drug addiction gets proper help. Anybody that wants to do drugs are doing regulated drugs that are toxin free, that they're educated about drugs, like what's the appropriate amount to take? Where your mental health is at. I think that if you have mental health problems certain drugs should not be available to you. If you're a child, drugs should not be available to you. They should only be available to adults.
And drugs should be regulated. Recreational drugs should be regulated, so they're not filled with any toxins that could potentially harm you. Also, if you choose to do any opiates you should have Narcan available. Narcan is the antidote to a heroin overdose. They try to make it illegal. The DEA wants to make it illegal because they want people to die from heroin overdoses so they have this statistic so they can go, "Heroin is bad," when you have Narcan which will cure an overdose. I think it's about drug education, regulating drugs, never taking more than you can handle, never taking any if you're a child or if you have mental health issues, and always know your dealer, always know where you're getting it from. But first I would go to Lisbon, Portugal for a little bit to see how they're doing it. They decriminalized all drugs.
Then you have capitalists that would just slide right in and be like, "Hey Eric, can we open up a cocaine Walmart where all the people at the register are dressed up like Tony Montana?"
I would just make sure that the cocaine is organic and we're growing the plants ourselves. It's not processed with gasoline like illegal cocaine is. Because like, Peruvians chew coca leaves all the time. When they climb Machu Picchu, they chew coca leaves, and it gives them a little high, a little buzz. It's like a cup of coffee. I think that's the problem because Pablo Escobar and sociopathic violent drug lords cut it with baby laxative and toxins and process it with gasoline. That's another issue. I think it's a much different experience chewing a coca leaf than snorting cocaine mixed with all these chemicals. That's another thing, I would encourage drug education because I think there's an organic healthy experience.
Also, drugs are legal. Alcohol is a drug. Coffee is a drug. Tobacco is a drug. Like I said, Pfizer creates 9,000 drugs that are totally legal. I think it's also a misconception that all drugs are illegal.
Every time I have this conversation with somebody who struggles with these basic ideas, I find myself talking about my uncle and his homeboy. My uncle would drink Hennessy and side swipe every car on the street and fall asleep drunk with his pants down. His homeboy who only smoked weed would be up at the park doing pull ups the next day, taking care of his family and living his life.
But one is illegal and one you can just easily buy anywhere in this country.
I also tell people there's a difference between drug use and drug abuse. Even with Hennessy, if I just have a couple glasses of Hennessy, fine. If I just go out on the weekend and drink some Hennessy, fine. If I'm drinking Hennessy at 7:00 in the morning and I drink it for the next 12 hours, then it's not fine. That's how I feel about drugs too. If you take them once in a while on the weekends, you're careful with your intake, it's like anything else. It's like cupcakes. If you eat a cupcake, it's your birthday, whatever. If you eat 10,000 cupcakes a day then you're going to have some health issues, there's going to be a problem. Life is about balance. What's your drink of choice? You like Hennessy?
Grey Goose. I'm a vodka guy because vodka doesn't give me hangovers.
Yeah, I can't f**k with Hennessy. I used to drink Hennessy in my 20s. I don't like it anymore.
Yeah, my 20s is gone. Like, perfect drink for your 20s with your throwback jersey, your boot cut jeans, your new Air Force Ones and your Hennessy. You're ready to go. Now it's no good. Now it's vodka and I got to stop before 10:00.
Or you won't wake up the next day.
I like how you talk about the Constitution and how people act like it's some flawless holy document that wasn't created by a bunch of racist slave owners.
Exactly. Even Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves, even Thomas Jefferson was like, "Hey you guys should update this every 50 years. This is just working for us now in 1776." So it wasn't meant to be, like you said, holy. It's full of flaws, it's poorly written, it's a mess. It condones slavery and prison. It's a mess. I don't worship it. People just pick and choose what amendments serve their agenda. They don't know the, whatever, 30 other ones, 40 other ones. It's a mess.
So many of these politicians with their little flag pins. It's like yo, if I have to update my iPhone every 30 f**king minutes, why can you update this old a*s document?
Exactly, exactly. It's a mess. It's a f**king mess.
A guy like me, I couldn't work on it because I would be like abolishing too much s**t. Like you know them big chunky white Fila sneakers? I would abolish them. Those fat chunky Fila's with a gripped sole.
Yeah, get rid of those shoes. I like that that's your first, that's the top thing. All the s**t going on in America that's what's pissing you off.
Then we'll get to systemic racism.
Right, after the Fila's are gone.
At the end of the show, you have this prank call piece that was hilarious too. Can you talk a little about it without giving it away?
Yeah, I prank call a mom. I take somebody's cell phone out of the crowd and start doing auto fill and I just say whatever auto fill says to the mom and make a crazy run on sentence that makes no sense. I'll start texting the audience member's mom in real time. They have no idea, the mom starts freaking out like, "What the f**k is going on?" I've had moms really freak out.
Did you do that through the whole tour?
The whole tour, I did it every night.
What's your take on comedy right now? The industry is having its own moment when it comes to race and language. I'm talking about white comedians using racist language or the N-word. Do we need to put these restrictions on comedians?
I think everything, especially comedy, comes down to context. I think it's completely case by case. I think it's about who's saying it? What's they're point of view? What's the point they're making? I'm very wary of censorship. I believe in free speech and free speech means freedom of speech for all people, including those you do not agree with. The more you limit and the more we're being the woke thought police about it, believing in diversity means not just racial diversity but it means believing in diversity of thought. It's the diversity of thought that makes us grow as a nation. If you start censoring people and not hearing them out, you might not like what they're saying but they have the right to say it. So I'm very, very wary of censorship.
Comedy has to be served raw. It's like medicine. You don't want to dilute it, you don't want to water it down. It's a way of looking and processing tragedy and coping with tragedy and healing your wounds. If you water it down, you're doing a disservice to the audience. I'm not going to self-censor myself. I'm going to always commit to my choices. I'm not going to apologize for my choices. I don't believe in that because everything comes down to intent. Your actions are the karma, the positive or negative karmic charge of your actions is defined by intent. Is your intention to be malicious and hurt people? Then that's not so cool. If your intention is to teach people and challenge their thinking? That's cool. Is it to dismantle the status quo? That's cool. Those are good intentions. I think if your intent is to make people laugh and challenge people to think, it's good to keep an open mind to people's views that you didn't see before. I think that's healthy.
Last thing, fans want to know is "The Eric Andre Show" coming back?
Yes, Season 5 is coming back at the end of the year. We just were pitching it now.
"Eric Andre: Legalize Everything" is currently streaming on Netflix.