Why The Studio Behind Half Baked Originally Wanted To Cut The Opening Scene

While we're still a bit far out from the now widely celebrated reefer holiday 4/20, it's still not too early to dig into the hilarious hijinks of "Half Baked," the cult classic stoner comedy that's been on weed-themed holiday watchlists for nearly 25 years. Though it was critically panned upon its release, the film has always appealed to younger audiences, who understand how the film accurately reflects the ridiculousness of their pot-induced paranoia — as well as the luxurious lethargy of being stoned. Starring a then-burgeoning comedic talent Dave Chappelle (oh how far he's fallen), "Half Baked" took the classic charms of its predecessors ("Up in Smoke," Friday," and "Dazed and Confused" come to mind) while simultaneously heralding a revival of cannabis-oriented cinema — though "The Big Lebowski," which came out just a few months later, may have also had something to do with that.

While American culture may have just begun cozying up to the idea of recreational marijuana use no longer signaling good-for-nothing depravity, studio executives were still particularly wary of how the film endorsed smoking weed. As it turns out, the film's very first moments already proved worrisome — who knew kids engaging in drug use would be so controversial?

Opening scene corporate anxieties

The scene in question features a tongue-in-cheek flashback narrated by Chapelle in which he recounts the first time he ever smoked "that sweet, sweet cheeba." Joined by his best friends Brian, Kenny, and Scarface, they each take a hit of a shoddily-rolled joint. They're immediately hit by a killer case of the munchies, causing them to hallucinate enormous Abba-Zabas, vats of thirst-quenching cola, and a knockoff comic book superhero while perusing a convenience store. The boys are clearly having a life-changing experience, and this particular narcotic vice would follow them into adulthood, where the actual meat of the film's plot takes place. Now adults residing in a New York City loft, the gang are still up to their old tricks — though they've upgraded their seshes to include an enormous water pipe, which they've dubbed Billy Bong Thornton. One night during a harmless snack run, Kenny (Harland Williams) accidentally kills a diabetic police horse after feeding him a sucrose-heavy treat, an apparent crime that results in him being thrown behind bars and his bail set at $1 million. Thurgood (Chappelle), Scarface (Guillermo Diaz), and Brian (Jim Breuer) hatch a plan to sell their own weed to help make Kenny's bail, hurling them into turf wars, romantic troubles, and the inevitable threat of getting high on their own supply.

For corporate suits, however, none of those other plot details served as a red flag. The prospect of showing children smoking weed and effectively getting hooked for life on it appeared deeply troubling to the studio folks. While most viewers likely see their own curious adolescent encounters with "forbidden" substances reflected in the opening scene of "Half Baked," there was certainly a question of tastefulness that merited a test screening. Executives were eyeing the audience to see their reactions from the get-go, while director Tamra Davis had her own idea of how the film's target demographic might respond.

It turns out teens have a great sense of humor

Having previously directed the hit comedy "Billy Madison" and a couple dozen music videos for amazing artists (The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Hanson, and Veruca Salt among them), Davis was certainly more attuned to both mainstream comedic and counter-culture tastes of the time than big-wig corporate lackeys, an essential boon to her helming "Half Baked." In fact, the director recounted this very scenario in an interview with Mass Appeal, proving that her directorial instincts were spot-on:

"We were in a movie theater in Pasadena with like 400 teenagers. All of the studio executives are standing in the back, and I'm standing back there. It's really hard to be a director at that moment. You're freaking out. The lights go down and that opening scene played and the theater went crazy for that opening scene. The whole theater just like exploded and the executives looked at me and they said, 'Okay, you can keep your opening.'"

Honestly, so many stoner comedy movies are just as indebted to "Half Baked" as they are to earlier canonical predecessors. For starters, "How High," "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" are totally influenced by themes explored in "Half Baked," particularly when it comes to subverting stoner (and racial) stereotypes and creating overarching odysseys for their characters to embark on, though they'd really much rather be posted up on the couch. Forever cemented in the annals of high history, "Half Baked" more than merits its existence with just one hilarious cameo from Bob Saget, who was filming "Dirty Work" nearby at the same time. Stoners everywhere can attest to the time-honored tradition of flipping on "Half Baked" during this beautiful springtime holiday.