Interview With Comedian Ashley Ray – ‘I Want More Black Women Stoners’

by Leslie McMann
Comic Ashley Ray

The whole world is going to know the name Ashley Ray very soon.

A talented tour de force forging her own path in the worlds of TV, comedy, and cannabis, Ashley Ray’s star is rising faster than the smoke off one of her many hand-rolled joints, which she notoriously keeps in an antique gold cigarette case to dispense to friends, fans, and strangers on the street like a fairy godmother granting wishes. Give a listen to her podcast “TV, I Say with Ashey Ray”  for her witty discourse on television and interviews with major celebs (what’s up, Seth Rogen?!) or perhaps read her published criticism in the A.V. Club, Vulture, Elle, and basically any other site trading in pop culture journalism.

Better yet: you can catch her tight five-set on HBO Max’s Queer Comedy Showcase, where she delightfully reveals her source for ethical porn (spoiler: it’s The Sims 3) and makes a case for the concept of Black privilege. Or be like me: one of the tens of thousands of people who follow Ashley on Twitter, where she chronicles her exciting and aesthetically on-point life as a polyamorous, multi-hyphenate creative in Los Angeles.   

And if not for Ashley documenting her canna-filled life online, I would never have known she is a regular customer of Emjay. On her recent visit to New York City, I got to sit down for a cocktail with Ashley and ask a few questions in some downtime she had between performing in a spate of sold-out shows all over town and hunting down the best fancy restaurant to have a solo dinner. We talked about her TV debut, rebelling against categorization, and how America is in dire need of a Black female Seth Rogen. Below are her remarks, edited and condensed.

Congrats on your HBO Max debut in their Queer Comedy Showcase! Do you feel like ‘this is it, I’ve made it” or is it just the start of even bigger things on the horizon?

Ashley Ray: I feel like I’m just getting started. It’s interesting because you work for years and years—I’ve been doing stand up, comedy writing for like seven years, almost—and you do it for all those years and finally, you get something like this and everyone is like “this is the payoff” and you’re like “no, this is just another first step.” This is just like another thing where my managers were like “we’re so happy for you! Now finish your pilot, do the next thing, let’s get on the next booking, we gotta get your tour booked.” So, I don’t know, it mostly feels good because of the recognition. I got to do the showcase with four comedians who I adore and have looked up to Megan Stalter, Nori Reed, Zach Noe Tower, and Ali Kolbert. They’re all so incredible and such wonderful names in comedy that I was like “Me, with them?” That was the part that felt like ok, I’ve kind of made it. Like OK, I can do this! Yeah, people come out to see me tell jokes! Awesome! That always feels so special that I still can’t believe it. I’m like, “my dumb jokes? Ok, cool.”

But you don’t just tell jokes. You’re a kind of renaissance woman of the 21st century, a multi-hyphenate I’ve never seen before: comedian-tv critic-podcaster-cannabis influencer. 

I did tell my therapist that once and she was like, “What is that?” She did not believe it was a real thing, but I was like, “I AM a weed influencer.” Yeah, I do a lot. I also still have a day job and stuff; I work in advertising. I don’t know, I guess—it’s weird, I’ve just always done the things I like doing. And a lot of people will say, “isn’t it hard to be a comedian and write comedy and also be a critic when you have to use that lens to examine comedy?” And I just feel like I’m very good at separating it out. Like I mostly review reality TV and documentaries—things I know my friends didn’t work on or do. So that helps? But I like doing a lot, I like television, I like being able to be like I can go tell jokes and I can also give you a detailed analysis of I May Destroy You, and also still be funny. I think there’s always this desire to box Black women in, into like “you’re this, you’re this, we see you this way.” And when you jump across different boxes, people are like “what the hell?”

How did you get on this path in comedy?

I got into comedy because I always loved performing and writing. I started doing poetry and spoken word in high school, which is super embarrassing. I was like a real spoken word poetry girl. When I went to college I was on our spoken word team, I would go to the Nuyorican and perform and stuff, like I was serious about it. And when I moved to Chicago, I was like, “Yes, storytelling, poetry!” and I got so tired of the scene because it was just people wanting you to be the sad Black girl.

Everyone would be like “Ashley’s gonna tell this sad, moving story,” and I would just be like, “I want to laugh! I want to be funny!” Sad things have happened to me, but I can laugh about it. I would get mad when I would do these stories and afterward, people would be like “that was so moving,” and I’d be like “but did you laugh?” Finally, some comedians in Chicago, the amazing Sarah Squirm and Becca O’Neal, who hosted an open mic were like “Ashley, you do all this poetry, you perform, you do storytelling—if you just want to do the funny parts, why don’t you come to our open mic and do just the funny parts?” And I immediately fell in love with it. I was like, “this is it, I will never go back to spoken word.” 

Does cannabis influence your creative process? How?

Absolutely. First of all, I am always stoned. I’m always high. I smoke weed all day. But I feel like I’m at a point now where I will smoke certain things for certain effects. Like obviously I smoke indicas when I’m like I wanna just chill out and be super high. Something with high CBD when I want to sleep. But like, being able to just smoke a high THC percentage sativa and watch a show over and over again and capture every detail is so helpful! I feel like if I wasn’t a stoner I probably couldn’t watch an episode of 90 Day Fiance three times in a row. I think any person just in their right mind would be like “I cannot stand this,” and for me, I’m just like (mimics puffing a joint) “I could watch Angela yell at Michael all day.” Just joint after joint, I’m catching something new every time. So I feel like cannabis just helps me to slow down and like process things that normally I’d be like—without weed, I feel like I’m such an anxious rush all the time. I’m always just like, “gotta do this, gotta do this,” and I can’t just slow down and think my thoughts and think about what’s funny about them. So smoking weed just helps me go “oh, that’s funny!”

So smoking cannabis helps you with being a TV critic, but what about comedy? Yea or nay: doing stand-up while high?

I say yea. Like I said though, I am always high, so I’m used to performing, like, functionally, while high. Before I came here I smoked weed, before I go back home I’ll probably smoke weed. So for me, I feel like I’d probably be more nervous onstage if I wasn’t stoned. Like I’ve done a lot of those weed shows where they’re like “we’re going to have comedians eat edibles and smoke joints onstage!” and I’m just like “I do that anyway.” But if you’re a new comic and also a stoner, I think feel that out first, you know? I used to do open mics just stoned out of my mind and that’s when I would find some of my funniest stuff—it’s also when I would bomb my hardest. But, that’s also when you find your funniest stuff! I always prefer doing a show super stoned, where like maybe I forgot the end of a punchline, versus super blackout drunk, where I would be like “oh, I don’t even remember what I said last night or why people thought it was funny.”

What’s your usual order from Emjay?

When I’m in Los Angeles I order from Emjay easily 2-3 times a week. That’s not a joke, I can show you. (She pulls up her account and scrolls through her orders to prove it). I don’t go really to dispensaries anymore because I’m just like, “they’re the best delivery service, they have everything.” But I have a few different standard orders. I will go through waves where all I want to smoke are pre-rolls. This is usually when I’m deep in writing or production and I’m like “I don’t have time to roll the 50 joints I need to get through today.” Then, I stick with pre-rolls. Emjay is the only place I’ve seen where you can get the 14 packs of Pacific Stone pre-rolls in multiple strains. So I will usually do two of their Wedding Cakes and two 805 Sour Diesels (editors note: that’s 56 joints total). And then I love the Pacific Stone blunts, the prepackaged ones. Oh my God, I will just buy every flavor and just keep them on display in my room like lollipops, like “this is the tropical blunt, the peach mango blunt.” 

Now I’m in a phase where I got into cones and using a six-shooter, so now I’ve been packing my own joints and not buying pre-rolls as much. But I will still buy those Pacific Stone pre-roll blunts! Just because they’re so good. I also love the Honey 24k Gold blunt by El Presidente. I love that one. So that’s my standard order for when I’m busy and just need pre-rolls, and that’s my stoner quick tip: get bulk pre-rolls and you can just never stop smoking. 

But, when I’m like “ok I’m going to a party” or like I want to use my fancy, cute papers… then I will just buy flower. In bulk. I like to get 2-3 different indicas, and then 2-3 different hybrids plus 1 sativa— I’m really not a big sativa person. I read the reviews on the site religiously. I always want to try new things. I have my go-tos, like Cream of the Crop Kahlua Cake I really love. I like Wedding Cake in general, but I always go for the Pacific Stone Wedding Cake because it’s the best price. Viva Sativa for daytime. Those are my standards. But then I’ll switch it up with some crazy ones. There was one with a 38% THC called The Frog and I was just like “we gotta try this.” It made me sleep for two days. So yeah, on Thursdays I usually think up my own weekend Emjay tasting menu. I go on the site and pick out all my flavors, and I’m like “ok, this is what we’re tasting this weekend, let’s go.” 

Would you say you prefer smoking over other ways to use cannabis?

Yeah. I love smoking, I love the physical act of rolling a joint, I love smoking a joint. But I do have a Volcano, I have a PAX. I keep oil on deck as a backup for when I’m out of flower. And I do love edibles. I will treat myself on Fridays; that’s when I will do an Emjay edible delivery. I get a 4-pack of the Blood Orange Cardamom CANN and some KIVA or WYLD gummies, and I’m great. It’s a Friday night, I’m just gonna watch TV and sleep: let’s drink a 4-pack of weed soda and eat a bunch of edibles.

What’s the cannabis accessory you can’t live without?

That’s hard, because you know I love my cannabis accessories. I now would say that I cannot live without my six-shooter. I don’t think I could live without a six-shooter. With a RAW six-shooter, it’s basically just a really big cone with a flat surface and six holes. Really small holes that are cone-shaped. And then you drop the cone inside—usually, the issue with cones is you have to shovel all the weed in, and it’s really annoying and hard. But with this, you just drop the cone in and there’s a big hole on the top where you just pour the weed in. I have a video of this on my Instagram explaining how to do it. But you just pour the weed in and bang it until all the weed falls into the cones. My neighbors and my roommate must hate it because I—on a Saturday I will just roll 60 joints and every five minutes I’m just like “bang bang bang” (mimics slamming something on the table). But once I figured out my six-shooter, I was like “Oh, duh, this is how people mass-produce joints. That makes so much sense.” So, as a high smoke user, a six-shooter is important to me. 

But I would also say maybe my cigarette holder rings. Which like, I need them. It fits on your finger and just holds the joint. As a writer, typing away on my laptop is the easiest way to just stay chain-smoking and typing. So as a stoner-writer, that is probably my most useful accessory. But people are always just like “isn’t that stupid? Aren’t you gonna lose it? That’s just cutesy.” And then they try it and they’re like “this is the most useful thing I’ve ever had.” All my tough guys, male friend smokers were like “Ashley, I don’t care about that stupid ring shit. You’re always trying to make weed girly and cool.” And then I let one of them use one and now he’s obsessed. He ordered his own from Etsy, like a special design. He said, “Well once I tried it, I realized it made me feel so classy. It’s easy to play video games.” I was just like “exactly!”

What’s your favorite strain?

That’s like asking me to choose my favorite TV show, or my favorite niece or nephew. Oh God, ok. I would go with…Matcha Cake, by Cream of the Crop. It’s an indica but not as heavy as their Kahlua Cake. It gives me a nice frosty feeling. It’s also beautiful; the crystals on it are so amazing. I love that one. And their bottle is just beautiful! Every time I order one I just have to keep this gorgeous bottle. It’s a good indica that I think if you’re a high tolerance stoner you’ll say “oh this is chill” and if you don’t smoke a lot you’ll say “that knocked me on my ass.”

What’s something you want to see in the future of the cannabis industry? Where do you hope we go from here?

(without pause) Black women. Black women, I wanna see Black women selling weed and weed accessories. I want to see Black women owning weed companies and I want to see Black female celebrities—I mean Whoopi Goldberg is already doing it. But I feel like with Whoopi Goldberg she’s making lotions and CBD stuff, not like the real stoner shit. She’s coming from a health angle, and I don’t want that. I want Black women stoners like Seth Rogen who are like “I smoke weed because I like weed, I have anxiety, it helps me—but I also do it because I like it!” I don’t feel like Black female stoners are embraced that way. If you look at my Twitter, anytime I post a weed picture I get 90% of people being like “that’s pretty cool, that’s amazing, oh my God I love what you do!” And then there’s always a percentage of people like “a woman smoking this much weed? What are you running from? You must need therapy! This is unhealthy! You’re an addict!” 

And literally, Seth Rogen will post a picture smoking with the same amount of joints and everyone’s like “hell yeah brother, that’s the coolest shit I’ve ever seen! Smoke all day 420 blaze it!” It’s a weird double standard. Even weed companies and big distributors right now aren’t considering Black women. They’ll do all these partnerships with your standard white guy or some skinny white girl who looks cute on Tik Tok, but they don’t do any sort of outreach to Black women. I think it’s this weird thing where a lot of cannabis companies are owned by white men who feel like “If I even engage with Black stoners, then I’m gonna be held accountable for the fact that most Black people are still in prison for marijuana charges while all of these white people profit off it.”

Yeah, that is a reality you have to face, and one way you can face it is by working with people of color, working with Black people in cannabis, and working with Black people in cannabis who also want to work on reform and bail people out and who can like make sure you are doing that stuff. I think they’re just afraid. They’re afraid to be held accountable in that way, just like “oh no, it’s scary!” And it’s like, I don’t know, we’re all stoners! The most chill people you could probably get on your side to help you navigate this. But that’s what I want to see in the future. I want to see Black female stoners fucking making stoner movies like Pineapple Express and being celebrated for being the stoners that they are. And just more female stoners—I mean what have we had since Smiley Face? Broad City? That’s it? We have four or five female stoners on our side. Just in general: diversity. I’m tired of white men being the face of stonerdom. We don’t all listen to The Grateful Dead! Well, I do, but you know what I mean, that’s not all of stonerdom.

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