Captain Toke

[A classic from 2005.]

Randy Barnett mentions the great DC Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg who was nominated for the Supreme Court, but was then pressured “to withdraw his name when it was disclosed by Nina Totenberg…that he had smoked marijuana in the presence of law students when he was a professor at Harvard Law School.”

Note: I don’t know much about Ginsburg, but based on what Barnett writes, I’m sure he’s the kind of judge I’d greatly respect and be happy to have on the Supreme Court.

But on a lighter note, growing up, I knew Ginsburg as “Captain Toke,” mainly because of a really funny, absolutely classic, Saturday Night Live sketch, done around the time of the incident, where John Lovitz played Ginsburg. The episode was entitled, “The Rolling Paper Chase.” Dressed as a hippie, he introduces himself to his Harvard Law class, “Hi, I’m Professor Douglas Ginsburg… But you can call me… Captain Toke.” His office hours don’t begin until midnight. And when his students come to see him, he coaxes them into smoking pot with him before he discusses the law. Then, the “natural law” becomes all the clearer under that marijuana buzz. One student, after smoking up with him, asks, “So what you’re saying is that the Constitution was always there…and that Madison just…found it?” Captain Toke slowly nods in an authoritative way influenced by his marijuana stupor. Heavy, really heavy stuff.

What’s funny about SNL, and also The Simpsons (when they’re both good; I think The Simpsons are consistently better than SNL; even though both have had their share of bad moments) is the way that they get sophisticated writers who can write at different “levels” with jokes that may go over the heads of one audience but immediately followed up by, or put in the context of something that others will find amusing. For instance, growing up (I think I was about 15 when the skit, which I still have on tape from its original broadcast, aired) I’ve showed that clip to numerous friends who had no freakin’ clue who Douglas Ginsburg was; in fact, they thought he was a fictional character created just for that sketch. But they found the sketch hilarious nonetheless.

I think the old Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny cartoons were some of the first shows to write at different “levels,” entertaining to both a young (children) audience, but also full of references and “inside jokes” — jazz and classical music (once they had a Wagnerian opera), movie stars, political figures, etc. — to entertain the parents watching the cartoons with their children.

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