Drugs

Meet the Sketch Comedian Who Got Famous Smoking Salvia on YouTube

After his appearance on the latest episode of 'Hamilton's Pharmacoepia,' Erik Hoffstad tells us about how he came to fame for smoking 'Salvia' on YouTube.

by Larry Fitzmaurice
Nov 10 2016, 8:15pm

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

As part of comedy team lets GOtoCLASS, 31-year-old Los Angeles resident Erik Hoffstad pumps out YouTube sketches skewering topics ranging from skeevy prank shows to internet trolls. Before that, though, he became internet-famous through a series of faux-instructional videos in which he smoked Salvia and attempted—or, more accurately, failed—to do daily tasks like gardening and driving a car while on the drug.

Hoffstad appeared on Wednesday's episode of Hamilton's Pharmacoepia to discuss his experiences with Salvia, and I spoke with him on the phone earlier this week to talk about how he got into making funny videos on the internet, what his parents think about his Salvia-related notoriety, and what advice he has for people looking to take the drug for the first time. Just make sure you don't smoke any Salvia before reading this—save it for after.

VICE: How did you get into working in the medium of video?
Erik Hoffstad:
My high school had a really good media program, and the teacher let us have our way with the equipment. Eventually, everybody started downloading editing software to make projects on their own, and a good number of kids who came out of that media program probably still do that to this day. The first video I ever made was a recut trailer for The Horse Whisperer where I made it look like a horror movie.

I've enjoyed using hallucinogens over the years, but Salvia has always scared me—to the point where I've never touched it. Were you apprehensive the first time you smoked it?
If I'd known what it did, I don't think I would've touched it either. I had no level of apprehension whatsoever, though—I had nothing to be apprehensive of, you know? I smoke weed, I drink beer, so I'll take a new thing. My friends brought it over, and when they said they bought it at a gas station, I was like, "OK, this can't be that bad, right?" And they were telling me, "Oh, you've got to try it, it's really crazy." I smoked it, they were looking at me waiting for something to happen, and I was like, "Oh Christ, what did I just do?" That's when the apprehension might have started. Salvia does kind of the same thing every time you smoke it—you don't build a tolerance. Every time I smoke it, it knocks me out and turns me into a little baby.

Is Salvia your favorite drug?
Far from it. I don't feel the need to go on vision quests on a regular basis. I'll take a joint any day.

Tell me about the decision to make YouTube videos about smoking Salvia.
Me and my friend Chris Lader have our YouTube channel let'sGOtoCLASS, but before that we'd get together on random weekends and shoot funny sketches. YouTube was just beginning at that time, and there were plenty of people who were carving out their niche. We had just gotten out of film school and saw that we could put our stupid videos up somewhere. Our the first one was called "Billy's Guitar Lesson," and it did pretty well, so we were like, "Let's keep doing this." The salvia sketches are the channel's heavy hitters.

How'd you come up with the conceit behind the Salvia videos?
The effect it has on you makes you fairly useless. I wasn't the first one to put up Salvia videos on YouTube—there were dozens up before I'd even thought of doing a video—but they were all the same thing. They'd smoke it and they'd flop over on their side and ramble. It's endearing—you could be the most racist asshole in the world, but when you smoke Salvia you turn into an adorable child. "David After Dentist" is a very similar thing—this little kid who's zonked out on pain meds and saying ludicrous stuff. A lot of funny Salvia trips are usually when they zone out and say something that makes no sense. People really love that shit.

Was there ever a concern that you were being too lighthearted about such an unpredictable drug?
No, there wasn't much concern. The fact that it was something that you could go out and buy in a store took the worry out of it. Anything in the wrong hands can be dangerous—alcohol, pot brownies. You shouldn't do too much of something.

When did you first notice that the videos were taking off?
I put the first one up on the Something Awful forums and that gave it a push because a big group of people were sharing it. It was very strange—I'd log on and all of a sudden it would have 100,000 views. I was like, "Jesus Christ, this is awesome."

Did you receive any negative attention because of the video?
Yeah—KTLA and Fox 5 would do investigations about, "Has the Salvia craze gone too far?" and they'd have me smoking out of a bong in my car. I didn't drive, though—I didn't even have my car keys.

What did your family think?
They think it's funny now, but they didn't think it was funny at the time. They thought it was terrible, and I'm sure that if I have kids one day, they're going to do something stupid on the internet and I'm going to have to feel that burn. I got interviewed by the New York Times about Salvia, and there was this picture of me in a fucking sunhat with a bong in my hand smoking Salvia in the article. My dad saw it and was like, "What is this?" I woke up at noon that day and had a bunch of missed calls from him, so I called him back and was like, "Dad, what happened—is everyone OK?" He was like, "Why the fuck are you smoking a bong in the New York Times, Erik?" I was like, "Oh, listen, that's fake."

Did he believe you?
No, but he accepted it anyway. My mom was like, "Listen, thanks for telling us it's fake—we're going to choose to believe that." Over time, though, they've been more inquisitive. At one point, my mom asked me what the high was like, and I explained it to her. They're not closed-minded whatsoever—they're just worried that if I go get a job and my name is googled, there's going to be a picture of me smoking a bong. They're not as worried about what I'm doing to my body as they are about what I'm doing to my career.

Have the Salvia videos negatively affected your career?
No, not at all. When I filmed the videos, I was working in the art department on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so I emailed them a link to one of the Salvia videos. They were like, "Hey Erik, we saw the Salvia video—are you OK man? Are you going to hurt yourself?" I was like, "No, no, it's funny," and they were like, "Oh, OK." That was the extent of the videos affecting my career.

What were the positives that you experienced when it came to filming the videos and smoking Salvia in general?
I'm glad I experienced it. Initially, when Hamilton was interviewing me, I was like, "It's terrible, it leaves you sweaty, and there's nothing fun about it." But the more I thought about it—even before doing it with him—I was like, "You know, it's really wasn't that bad." It's actually kind of relaxing—it's interesting to put your mind into that place. You can have a hallucinatory journey in the course of five minutes, and it's interesting that we can make our brains do that. If we were allowed to study it further, we'd be able to do some interesting stuff with it beyond getting people high. Classifying it as a dangerous drug is the greatest detriment you can possibly do to something like Salvia.

What advice would you give to someone who's about to smoke Salvia for the first time?
My advice would be, "How much thought have you put into this?" [Laughs] One of my friends tried it out for the first time, and within two minutes she stood up and face-planted into the wall. It affects everyone differently, and I can't recommend it to anyone unless they're aware of what their limits are. I'm surprised it didn't make me freak out, but I think that's because I drink a ton of beers before I smoke it. If somebody came to me right now and was like, "I'm smoking Salvia right now, what can I do to make it good?" I'd tell them to go outside, drink two beers, smoke just a tiny bit, and then when that tiny bit doesn't work, smoke a lot of it. When that works, you'll see why you never want to do it again.

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You can catch Hamilton's Pharmacoepia on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.