With wildfires raging through Southern California, LA-based comedian Rachel Wolfson chose to escape the chaos and head to New York City for a few weeks; it was a decision that paid off. She has been up at Caroline’s and the Stand—twice—this week. “I’m opening for my boyfriend (comedian Mat Edgar)—he’s recording his first album at the New York Comedy Club. I was also doing a couple of small spots at Old Man Hustle.”
For someone who started stand-up just over three years ago, performing on these iconic NYC comedy stages seems to mark a pretty meteoric rise, but Wolfson’s career has been a lifetime in the making. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Rachel grew up Jewish, the daughter of a judge and a District Attorney.
“When you think about religion and the types of jobs my parents had, it’s very repressive. They’re very strict, by the book, there’s not room for the gray; it’s very black and white. Religion is very much like that. You’re either by the book—the Bible—or you’re a sinner. I’m not anything like that. I was a creative kid; I was a distraction.”
Religion had a significant influence on Rachel’s childhood. Growing up she attended a Reform Jewish school for PreK through 8th grade; she then went to a Catholic school for a year before transferring to a Lutheran high school. “All of my religious schooling was in the City of Sin,” Rachel points out. “I definitely think it’s part of why I’m a funny person. I got all of these interesting perspectives as a kid, in a place like Las Vegas, which is also a funny city to be serious in.”
All the while, Rachel struggled with mental health issues. “I come from a place of privilege. I was in therapy at five talking about emotions and trying to process heavy stuff. I wrote my first suicide note at seven. As a young kid I didn’t want to live.” She continued, “As women, especially as children, it’s expected for boys to act out and be the distractors, but when it’s a girl, we’re seen as mentally ill. I was very outspoken, and that’s not something that’s great in religion. There’s no room for outspokenness.”
As young Rachel struggled to understand her place in the world, definitive answers to her mental health issues remained elusive, and relationships with her family worsened. “A lot of my friends were applying for colleges and had plans. I just wasn’t going in that direction. I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues. My depression was really bad and my parents thought sending me away to a lockdown in Utah would be the best decision for me. So they did.”
The facility she was sent to during her senior year housed a variety of teens; some, like Rachel, were sent there by parents, others were sentenced there by courts, and some were taken from their beds at home in the middle of the night then transported to this place against their will. Residents lived under prison-like guidelines. Their every move was controlled; privileges had to be earned and punishments were severe. Boys and girls were housed separately and not allowed to interact. There were drug addicts and felons. Everyone attended school and therapy. All outside contact was monitored, and any attempts to criticize the program resulted in calls and/or visits being terminated, with punishment to follow.
After thirteen months in confinement, Rachel graduated and was released from the lockdown facility. “When I got out, I definitely suffered PTSD from it. I would have nightmares for years about that place. I would wake up from nightmares where people were dragging me by my feet, and I was clawing at the ground that I was being sent back there.”
Leaving Utah to start college in Vermont, Rachel eventually transferred to The American University in Washington, DC, and then to Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. Wolfson credits her time in lockdown, as hard as it was, with helping her find direction. She credits her college boyfriend with helping her find weed.
For the first time in her life, Rachel found a medication that worked for her—cannabis. “I’m definitely part of the medication generation. I was put on Adderall and Ritalin at age five. From five until twenty-four I was on pharmaceuticals for everything from ADHD to Oppositional Defiance Disorder. When I was twelve, I was diagnosed Bipolar; I was hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center where they gave me the diagnosis. As I got older, they thought I wasn’t Bipolar, so I was mis-medicated most of my life.”
“Once I got a little bit older, moved away from home, went off to college, and was able to kinda do my own research and started smoking weed; that was a thing that immediately made me feel better,” Rachel discovered. “When I was 24, with the guidance of a doctor, I was able to come off my medication and that gave me some confidence back that I don’t need pills to manage me. I need to learn tools. What it really is is my emotional management; I’m just an emotional person.”
Rachel moved to Los Angeles in early 2013, where she put her Master’s degree in Marketing to work. A series of corporate jobs followed, including a stint with Levity Entertainment, the group who owns controlling interest in The Improv comedy clubs across the US and Canada. Something was still missing.
“I felt purposeless. I was still making phone calls way late into my twenties, apologizing to my parents for existing. I felt like I was a burden, I had no purpose. I’m just costing people money.”
“I listened to everything they told me to do; I went to school, I tried to be a good person, I got the jobs, I got the corporate jobs, and it wasn’t making me happy.” She came to realize, “This could very well be the rest of my life.”
As much as she enjoyed her time with Levity, corporate life and structure was not a good fit for Wolfson. Working in social media at the time, she discovered a creative outlet in meme writing. Comedy came naturally to Wolfson. She recalls, “I used to make my therapist laugh.” As an individual project, she launched Wolfie Memes and began creating cannabis-themed content.
There was one problem; recreational weed use was still illegal in most of the United States. As much as she wanted to be the face of her new brand, Rachel stayed away from the camera, in large part with deference to her parents and their respective careers in law enforcement. “I wouldn’t post any pictures of me because I was afraid—with my family—weed was still illegal.”
For a time, she enjoyed the anonymity. Most fans, it turned out, assumed the Wolfie Memes writer was a guy. Wolfson chose not to correct that assumption, many times even playing into it. “I wanted the humor to speak for itself. I didn’t want people to think, oh, I’m a girl, I just wanted people to laugh and not judge it based off my gender.”
Although she initially started the account to learn Photoshop, it did not take long for Rachel to get hooked on the entire process. “I didn’t even realize what I was doing at the time which was joke writing. I was writing these one-liners. I became obsessed.”
In 2016, both California and Nevada—Rachel’s home state, where her parents still lived—legalized recreational use of cannabis. Rachel made a phone call to her mom; it was time. She wanted everyone to finally know she was the voice behind Wolfie Memes.
Around this time, Wolfson teamed up with friend Olivia Alexander, founder of Kush Queen. Olivia had recently launched BuddFeed.com, focused on weed-centric content. Rachel came onboard, hosting a successful podcast for the site the two dubbed The Budd. With growing name recognition and several quality projects under her belt, there was a logical next step in Rachel’s evolution.
“It was a passion project. It wasn’t like I was starting it with the intention of becoming a stand-up comedian.”
“About three years ago I started going to the mics, and I just fell in love with comedy and stand-up.”
“I took a class called Pretty Funny Women,” she shared. “My sorority sister Sam Grody is also a stand-up comedian. I went to see her one night do stand-up before I got into it, and she was like you should really take this class. It’s like going to a weekly all-women open mic.” Rachel was hooked. “It gave me the confidence to go out there into the real world.”
Comparing her two solo endeavors, Rachel realized, “When I started my memes account, I wouldn’t even show that I’m a girl. That was uncomfortable for me.” Stand-up did not allow the same freedom.
“I am a woman. I am a female. I try not to take on the responsibility of the way people feel about female comics. My role is I just want people to find me funny. Because I am a girl, maybe that will change their idea of yes, women can also be funny.”
“Comedy is a guy’s club, like most industries. To this day, if you look at many of the major clubs, a lot of their lineups won’t include one woman. Our perspective isn’t wanted,” Rachel observed. “There are some really fucking funny women. There are some really funny gay people. There are funny trans people. There are just funny people. When I see a lineup of all dudes, I roll my eyes. Really? You didn’t think there are other perspectives out there? You didn’t think about the perspectives in the audience?”
While a lack of women coming into stand-up may have been a concern at one point, Rachel is grateful to see increasing diversity and notes, “More women are getting interested… we’re witnessing this revolution in comedy.”
It’s clear Wolfson is right where she’s meant to be. “I got to this place in my life where it all makes sense,” she said. “I now have the confidence and the ability to share my story.”
And what a story it is. Rachel’s willingness to make her private pain public—and to do it in such a bitingly hilarious way—has brought new definition to her experiences. Writing has arguably become as vital a component to her mental health as cannabis. “I’m a writer,” she said. “I’ve always been a writer. I feel like I’m a writer trying to be a performer.”
Wolfson’s favorite bit right now? “It’s still one of my first original jokes; my OJ joke. I want to keep working on it and adding to it. It’s a joke no one can ever take from me, it’s about my life.”
In December 2008, OJ Simpson—disgraced former NFL player and actor—was sentenced to prison for Armed Robbery by District Court Judge Jackie Glass, who also happens to be Rachel’s mother.
OJ Simpson got sent to prison by the same woman who sent me to my room.
— Rachel Wolfson (@wolfiecomedy) June 20, 2017
In 2003, Judge Glass established the Clark County Mental Health Court, which eventually led to the creation of the Clark County Competency Court in 2005.
“My mom became a mental health court judge in Las Vegas and helped start the first mental health court there, because before they would just send people to jail or prison, and these people needed mental health help. She launched a way for people to come through the court system, go up and get evaluated by a doctor and based off that determine if they were competent […] to stand trial, and get the help they needed. She changed so many people’s lives.
“I remember her doing an interview,” Rachel recalls. “I was so embarrassed because she called and asked me if she could mention that I was part of her inspiration for this, and I remember feeling so embarrassed, and so ashamed. I didn’t want people to know that side of me because there is a lot of shame that comes from it.” She continued, “What we all don’t realize is that we all have mental health; at any point we’re all susceptible to our mental health especially with the rates of schizophrenia and how many people are bipolar. We’re not taught emotion regulation as kids. We’re taught math, science, reading, things I don’t even use today. The interpersonal skills and the emotional regulation side of it and how to interact with different kinds of people is something I think a lot of us struggle with. Emotional regulation is one of the hardest things—to this day, I’m learning to manage my emotions.”
While most are obsessed with Wolfson’s connection to OJ, her mother’s tie to another former NFL player is a much more interesting story. “There is one case in particular of this guy’s life she changed. He was a former professional football player for the Raiders. He got older and he went missing; he was homeless on the street for years. His family had no idea what happened to him. I think he became schizophrenic or something. He had committed some crimes and he came through my mom’s court. He had been in and out of jail and on the streets for years. My mom got him evaluated (he) got put on the right medication. Now he lives with his family and they have a farm. His life has completely changed. That was just one of the success stories that came out of that court.”
There are people living completely different lives today thanks to Rachel. Without her this mental health court may have never existed, yet that thought has seemingly never registered with her. Her advocacy efforts on behalf of those living with mental health issues started with her work to save herself. “I know what my strengths are. My goal is to get to a place where I can use my platform to normalize and destigmatize; be a part of the conversation. Be a face. I’m me. I’m a depressed person. I like to smoke weed. This is what I look like, and I probably look like a lot of you.”
In addition to her other projects, Wolfson launched her podcast Chronic Relief in April 2019. With a focus on removing the stigmas associated with mental health and cannabis, Chronic Relief features interviews with comedians about their own mental health struggles. “I had this idea for a very long time,” Rachel explained. “Knowing how cannabis has helped my mental health, plus with the comedy, I want to talk about these things, and I want to use comedians as my medium in podcasting.”
With a solid concept developed and ready for Wolfson to begin recording, Comedian Brody Stevens’ suicide in February 2019 brought an added urgency. “He was very close with everyone I knew. It shook me,” she said. “He was hospitalized at UCLA where I was hospitalized; he was on the same medications I was on; I don’t have all the answers—I’m not a doctor—but what I can do is share my story and at least maybe provide some relief or connection to people who are also experiencing the same things.”
my favorite thing is smoking weed and my second is proving people wrong and my third is doing both at the same time
— Rachel Wolfson (@wolfiecomedy) June 22, 2019
With cannabis being a central part of her personal and comedic life, does Rachel worry about being pigeonholed? “Weed got me in the door with comedy. It introduced me to all these different mediums and ways to create content—places where I can use cannabis and also humor. I do get seen a lot as a weed comedian. If you actually listen to my stand-up, I maybe have one or two weed jokes and the rest is really about my life and relationships. I’m just a comedian. I see myself as a comedian who also is an advocate.”
This has been a busy year for Wolfson. She’s been touring regularly with Felipe Esparza. Her podcast Chronic Relief has featured celebrity guests like Jeff Garlin and Jim Belushi. Snoop Dogg posted one of her images from Wolfie Memes. She co-hosted the Budtender Awards with Modest Jones, where she presented Cypress Hill with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She and Mat Edgar are preparing to launch their joint project podcast, Got You Babe.
Hitting the road with Felipe Esparza has been huge for Rachel. “His wife (Lesa O’Daniel Esparza) saw my Laugh Factory video and asked me to come on their podcast ‘What’s Up Fool?’ Through that she booked me for my first gig to open for Felipe in Ontario,” said Rachel. “He’s a huge influence on my life. With three years into this, I’m eternally grateful to him.”
Wolfson was honored to recently host the first annual Budtender Awards. She explained, “It was an awards show that gave back completely to the community of people who are on the front lines of the cannabis industry. They’re the first people you see when you walk in and are the future of the cannabis industry. They’re the ones who are pushing the product, educating people, fighting the stigma, normalizing it; and it was a really cool event to host. I also was a budtender, so it was really important for me to not just talk about it but to be about it.”
For Rachel’s newest project—the ‘Got You Babe’ podcast—she and Mat Edgar teamed up to explore coupling in today’s world. “I’m fascinated with love and how people build together,” Wolfson explained. “You have to decide, do you want to pursue your dreams, or do you want to settle down, find someone, and have that life?” Conversations with their guests will explore modern dating and relationships. “We’re going to interview power couples; people we admire and respect,” she said.
Add fun photo shoots to Rachel’s ever-expanding list of creative endeavors. “A lot of my life is stand-up and creating content. I love doing photo shoots. It’s work, but I’m working toward something,” she said. Her most recent collaboration with comedian Sara Weinshenk and photographer Emily Eizen paid homage to comedy greats, Cheech & Chong, and their iconic film, Up in Smoke. “It’s all about creating images and content that people can relate to.”
There’s a lot on the horizon for this rising star. Wolfson has a secret project she’s excited about shooting later this month, but mostly, she wants to write the female Cheech & Chong. “Aside from Broad City, there’s really no strong female characters who smoke weed,” she said. “Weed smokers are portrayed as dumb or lazy, and that’s just not anything I identify with.”
With everything she has going on, Wolfson does make room for downtime. “If I’m not at my shows or doing shoots, then I’m probably at home watching 90 Day Fiancé,” she shared, laughing. A lifelong basketball player, Rachel has put a priority on staying active, with exercise a vital component to maintaining her mental health. “I love to work out. Working out is a big part of my life.”
For someone who has spent her entire life trying to not be defined by her mental health issues, Wolfson is, but in the very best of ways. Her tenacity and determination to feel and be better have driven her to find success and healing when most would have simply given up. Or in. “I carried so much shame my whole life for taking medication. My diagnosis. My mental health,” she said. “I felt like I was the only one having these issues.”
Comedy changed Wolfson’s life, and her mission now is to help change the lives of others. “I never just wanted to be a white chick smoking weed on the internet,” Rachel said. “I’m very much aware of my place and privilege in cannabis. That’s something I’ve always tried to highlight. I’m not just going to be a girl smoking weed while people sit in prison, especially people of color. It’s something I’m hyper-aware of, and that’s become my new shame and guilt. I’m not doing enough, but at the same time, humor is where I am best,” she noted. “That’s where I can make a difference.”
“We’re just now coming to a place where people are able to talk about these things, and obviously comedians have a great way of doing it, because we can find the humor in it. That’s something I think has helped me throughout my life; I would always find the humor in it. It was something that came naturally to me.”
Considering everything Wolfson’s been through, is there a vindication in success? “There’s definitely a validation. I’ve gotten to a place where all that shame and guilt I felt through my mental health issues, and using cannabis, being on pharmaceuticals, and all my experiences in lockdown and going to a psychiatric ward—through comedy and weed, that shame has melted away. I’m empowered now and I have a way to make that funny. That will relate to so many different people; there’s a power in that. I’m not ashamed of any of it anymore—now, where’s the funny in this?”
Rachel Wolfson is a stand-up comedian based in Los Angeles, CA. She hosts the Chronic Relief podcast, has a new podcast launching soon with fellow comedian/boyfriend, Mat Edgar, called Got You Babe, and tours regularly with Felipe Esparza. She is the creator of Wolfie Memes featuring weed-centric humor. Wolfson is a huge advocate for mental health issues and cannabis. She is on IG and Twitter: @wolfiememes and @wolfiecomedy.