LEO Weekly: We went to a vape party so you didn’t have to

I went to a vape party. Until last week, I had no idea such a thing existed. Now that the smell of the dankest pecan pie ever concocted has permeated and anchored itself onto every hair on my head, it’s not something I shall forget anytime soon, regardless of want or a visit from the hazmat team.

Welcome to Vapeblast, can you dig it?

Organized by Louisville-based e-cig purveyor Vapor Lab, Saturday night’s Vapeblast 2016was their (as far as I could tell) inaugural big soiree. Dear readers, many of you undoubtedly hold some preconceived notions of the vaping lifestyle. Your mind’s eye conjures up a vaper (n., vəpɜr – one who vapes) and perhaps they’re adorned in cargo shorts. Perhaps you’re also wondering how they can see anything through such a thick cloud and a Guy Fawkes mask in front of their face.

If VapeBlast had a compelling interest in dispelling that stereotype though, choosing Diamonds Pub as the venue — a neon-emblazoned watering hole often patronized by dudes who love hearing dick jokes yelled at them first thing in the morning over the radio — did them no favors. Nor did getting some guy from Rover’s Morning Glory as the celebrity judge. But I’m entering this party with an open mind. Or at least attempting to enter.

I arrived just before 10 p.m., and Diamonds welcomed me with a serious security pat down. The two gentlemen searched my messenger bag then said I couldn’t bring it in, even though they just searched it. That seemed rather superfluous, but considering security’s general distaste for any questions whatsoever, this too shall have to pass. As a bike commuter, I ended up stashing my bag in some bushes to hide it. The stakes are high at VapeBlast, and they brought the muscle to match.

Needless to say, VapeBlast was not off to a blast for me thus far.

I did clear security on the second go and trekked into a thick, foreboding mist, like descending into the Congo River valley on a balmy, foggy night to discover the silverback gorillas have hijacked a DJ’s laser setup. Darkness, suffocating smoke, flashing lights, glowsticks — VapeBlast comes out the gate in a swirl of sensory confusion, a veritable rave where the fog smelled like Mike & Ikes melted down in an industrial vat. The looming, trenchant mood of dystopia in tandem with spurts of shouting from the stage MC and persistent cheering felt like walking mid-speech into Cyrus’ monologue in The Warriors. “The future is ours! Can! You! Dig! It?!” Are the vapers takin’ it to the streets?

I stuck around for about an hour and a half to find out.

vapecover

Vaping plus time equals comedy

This is one of my favorite jokes: How can you tell if something is vegan? Oh, it’ll let you know!

While attempting to mentally parse out why vaping is intrinsically funny even though it’s potentially a helpful thing, veganism drew an obvious parallel. Though the science is still out, and lawmakers scramble to ban or at least tax e-cigs, vaping is essentially a healthier alternative to smoking because, well, basically anything is healthier than smoking. That, of course, fits a similar narrative to the vegan diet as a more conscious lifestyle, or at least one with some pointed sense of purpose. Of course, practitioners of both can be pretty fucking annoying about it. The vaper non-compliant with a flight attendant asking him or her to knock it off, or when the club-goer doth protest their “no smoking” rule and is eventually and very publicly kicked out. Vaping cultivates a dormant righteousness in many. It swims in the same lane as mansplaining, the “wake up sheeple” people, and a host of other personality tropes deserving of a good solid clowning.

But still, why is vaping funny? I spoke to Danny Maupin, a Kentucky-born and bred comedian currently in Chicago producing shows such as the Late Late Breakfast, who recently studied at Improv Olympic, to get some perspective. “I think most people are shocked by its popularity,” Mapuin said. “It’s like Nickleback fans. I don’t personally know anyone who claims to be a fan of Nickelback, but they still sell out arenas. And they are probably vaping.” He admits that vaping is a bit of an easy target … much like Nickelback (and wouldn’t you know, I wrote about that too).

There’s a notable focal shift in the butt of the joke within the collective psyche. As nerd culture increasingly resembles mainstream culture, the D&D players and Trekkies aren’t as uncool anymore, and the vape community seemed to catch a lot of the joke fodder runoff in a zeitgeist shift — a theory Maupin agreed with in our conversation.

In another recent conversation I had, local Twitter hero and comedic personality@actioncookbook succinctly described the vaping crowd as “extremely #woke atheists.” That’s to say, your friends from high school, puffing on their mods, who had to lay out “the real crime, man” in a condescending manner rife with faux-intellectualism and dashes of latent intolerance despite identifying as a “free thinker.” (Sidenote: “free thinker” usually translates to “still lives with parents because fuck the system,” should you come across this on Tinder.)

There’s a lot of material to work with, and obviously the Internet has churned out lampooning memes of the vaping community for years. To be fair, even some vaping enthusiasts themselves have identified their image problem and put their brethren on blast.

Poke all the fun you want to though, vaping isn’t going away anytime soon — and its popularity presents an interesting dimension to the joke. There’s an unspoken rule in comedy that you punch up, never down. That is to say, you satirize the powerful, not the powerless. With vaping, the “woke atheist” construction notwithstanding, its appeal has become so broad that crackin’ wise can essentially punch up, down, or laterally, depending on the circumstance. When it comes to grown ass adults inhaling candy, it’s hard not to at any rate.

Regardless of connotation, vaping is a path for many to ween off smoking, or eventually quit. Lara Kinne is a fellow LEO writer, and like many writers, she has to offset the bills through other jobs — like working in a smoke shop. “We get new customers every day looking for an alternative to smoking,” Kinne said. “I hear stories from people all the time about their struggles with addiction, counting days without a cigarette. Some eventually quit vaping, too, but for others vaping is a long-term lifestyle choice.” Kinne also noted that the majority of sales at the shop she works at, Liquid Palace in New Albany, comes from vaping products.

Though she finds vaping more “amusing rather than funny,” Kinne added, “Vapor bros, though, are the worst. YouTube ‘juice review’ and you will see what I mean.”

So I did. And… well, if you subscribe to the notion of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, this is what happens on the other side of the cave. That vape world has their own Marlboro Man is too perfect for any comedy writer to conjure up of their own creation.

Last night I dreamt that somebody vaped with me

With a determined anthropological remove, I found myself a fish out of water yet again and breathing in about 10 different fruit flavors through my gills. Roughly 100 people, give or take, spread out across the Diamonds space — some on stools on the perimeter the elliptical bar in the center of the room, some in various lounge corners gathered around booths launching plumes of putrid puffs into the air like a Saturn V, and a modest lot had gathered on the dance floor area near the stage. Per the latter, there wasn’t dancing going on so much as gentle head-bobbing. A young man danced about the stage, but did not solicit any crowd response — much like witnessing the sentiment intrinsic in Silento’s 2015 hit “Watch Me.” No “I do this, you do that” tit-for-tat, just “watch me dance.” As he gallivanted about, an older white guy in some pretty sick Oakleys announced door prize winners and other goings-on every few minutes, interrupting any momentum DJ Nightmare’s beat-droppin’ could cultivate. It was seriously awkward, but as it turns out via their website, he was Vapor Lab owner Terry Bulkhead and he had the agency to do whatever he wanted. So right on, homie. Enjoy the limelight.

To the immediate left of the entrance into Stephen King’s The Mist stood the vendor booths. Cotton Bacon, another sponsor, sold their version of a cotton wick. Stupid idiot me asked the rep if this was bacon flavored vape, though I’m sure that exists. Bluegrass Vapers evoked a little Cartesianism philosophy with a large banner reading “cogito sum vape.” I stood and meditated on this and, of course Meditations II, for quite some time. I accept the notion that I have experienced ego death, but surely I exist? Maybe not. I should vape.

So I vaped. Vapor Lab offered myriad samples at their table, maybe 50 or so. The rep snapped on a disposable rubber mouthpiece over a thick and turgid vaping contraption that Freud could write a peer-reviewed journal about. I inhaled.

So … it was fine. Fine in the way breathing in a vaporized, effervescent Jolly Rancher would be fine. Fine in the way expanding and saturating your lungs with the pungent aroma of a State Fair funnel cake trailer would be fine. Fine in the way smelling like a walking version of Willy Wonka who doesn’t believe jet fuel can melt steel beams would be fine.

I didn’t hate it, admittedly. But hours upon hours of breathing in gaseous Red Bull would feel grody, right? And what of that aforementioned indeterminate science on the medical effects of vaping? Vape mixologist Ian gave me some real talk. “Anything you breathe in that’s not air is probably not the best thing,” he said. “But proper vaping is at least 95% safe. Probably safer than a lot of the air you breathe in a city, honestly.” I appreciated his candor, nor do I strongly disagree with what he said, save for the fact that vape boxes have been known to explode just like your stupid hoverboard. Regardless, Ian would serve as a better ambassador than star-of-the-stage Oakleys guy, should anyone at the Lab be taking notes.

The free pizza, wings and nachos were a nice touch, but I had to leave at the bottom of the 11 o’clock hour. I missed the cloud competition sadly. And the “Hush Girl” too, I guess. I saw enough clouds and constructed personalities at any rate though. And truthfully, I grew increasingly concerned I would suffer a similar fate of exposure as Bruce Banner, but instead of turning into The Hulk, I’d become a giant Watermelon Starburst with a face. I certainly still smell like it as of writing this.