Editor’s note: The following is an interview with comedian Shane Mauss, who is set to perform this week in Eau Claire. An abbreviated version of the interview was published in Monday’s Leader-Telegram.
For those who are unfamilar, how do you describe your comedy and comedic style? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I spent the first years of my career writing short, absurdist jokes that would be good for late night television. I spent the next several becoming a good storyteller. The last several years of my career, I’ve focused on creating themed shows. I interview scientists for my podcast “Here We Are” and try to incorporate some of the bigger ideas from it into my work through jokes and stories over a theme.
My first whack at it was my Netflix special “Mating Season,” for which I used animal mating behavior to illustrate human behavior. Then I made my favorite recorded work to date, “My Big Break,” in which I used the experience of breaking both my feet to have a funny look at negative emotions. Now I’m using jokes about psychedelics to explore perception and consciousness in the biggest tour of my career: “A Good Trip.”
Your “A Good Trip” comedy tour centers around the theme of psychedelics. What’s the weirdest or funniest thing you’ve experienced with them?
The show isn’t about getting high and doing something stupid like most drug humor. The show is about using humor to highlight the potential meditative benefits of psychedelic experience as meditative, therapeutic aids.
But as far as weird goes, DMT is the weirdest thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s about the most powerful psychedelic that there is. It’s such an intense experience that it can’t be put in the same category as something like LSD or mushrooms. I talk a lot about it at the end of the show but I would sound like a lunatic trying to explain it in a couple of sentences. It’s called the Spirit Molecule because it makes you have something like an out-of-body experience.
Why do you think it’s important to destigmatize psychedelics?
On a personal level, psychedelics have seemingly cured the chronic depression that made my inner world miserable for 20 years. They’ve also helped me be a more thoughtful and creative person.
On an scientific level, I communicate with psychedelic researchers about using them for potential benefits like breaking people of drug addiction (often caused by legal alcohol, pain pills, and speed). My tour sponsor, The Multidisciplinary Association Of Psychedelics, (is) working with the FDA to legalize MDMA for clinical use of treatment of PTSD. This is scratching the surface. It’s just a little bit of research to government is allowing because it’s of the undeniable results.
My show is not about getting everyone high and going to raves like I’m sure is the stereotype in many people’s minds. My show is about moving toward a more reasonable society that allows these things to be tested. I’m an advocate for scientific research. I also promote harm reduction and informing people about safe use. Abstinence education does not work.
Abstinence education doesn’t work for sex and it doesn’t work for drugs. I know your grandma thinks it does, but the statistics simply aren’t there. People have lots of different opinions. This is why we research things. Are psychedelics bad? Show me the data. Allow them to be tested so we can all find out. That’s what we do with every other drug on the plant.
We’re heading into 2017. What are you most looking forward to this year?
Finding new ways to convey science in a fun, accessible way. In my travels I go to scientists’ offices or homes and interview them about their work. People get to hear that recording on the “Here We Are Podcast.” In an effort to contact it even closer to people, last year I experimented with doing a couple of live shows of it in comedy clubs. The two live episodes were my listeners’ favorites.
Having just started the third season of the show and heading into 2017 with 50,000 downloads per episode and growing, the plan is to line up more live episodes. It’s really fun having the chats with scientists in front of an audience. I’m used to performing on stage and playing off the audience and their laughs. I’m just more entertaining and my timing is better in those circumstances. It makes it a little more fun for everybody.
So like I did with my “A Good Trip” show, I’m booking some shows at some small venues to work out the kinks and figure out the marketing, and then I plan to build it and make it better and make it a tour. Not a 85 city tour like I’m doing with this one because what I’m doing right now is insane and I don’t think I could do it again. But it’s been amazing!
You’re originally from La Crosse. How have your Wisconsin roots influenced your comedy?
Early in my career, I was able to use my innocent seeming “ah shucks” delivery to get away with edgier more shocking material. Now that I’m doing more intellectual stuff, I feel I’ve benefited from grounding it in my blue collar background. I never went to college and worked blue collar jobs from the age of about 12 to 27. I feel like my background allows me to communicate these interesting ideas in ways that everyone can understand. I try to have an everyman approach to academia. I don’t want people to be as intimidated as I was when I first started learning about some of this subject matter.
What do you consider your biggest career highlight?
In 2007 I won an award from HBO for the best stand up at HBO's US Comedy Festival. I had my pick of agents and managers, the Conan bookers saw me and had me on the show multiple times, I got a bunch of TV spots and my dream came true of having a Comedy Central Presents.
After that I reassessed what I wanted out of my career and wanted to start doing more meaningful, challenging, and interesting things. It was a rough transition. My career plateaued and then dipped as I resisted doing all the traditional routes and doing all of the things that the industry was trying to get me to do. More and more I started doing things on my own and going my own way. Eventually things started picking up for me again.
Last year was really interesting. I left traditional comedy clubs and started doing independent venues. I left my representation and started booking my own shows. I stopped catering to the masses and started finding people who wanted to hear about the things I wanted to be talking about. I stopped putting time into putting together TV spots that never got me an audience and started focusing on doing interesting podcasts and connecting with people. I stopped caring about trying to get more money and invested the little money that I have into projects that at the time were making me nothing. Next thing I knew I had put together a bigger comedy tour than I've ever heard of and am selling out almost everywhere I go.
There's obviously a growing comedy scene here in Eau Claire. What advice would you give to aspiring comics and performers?
Get out of your comfort zone. You already took a chance doing comedy so why stop now. Don't get complacent. Don't do what you think people want to see. Do what you want to see. The things you like having conversations with people about are the things that you should be joking about. The stuff that makes your best friend or significant other laugh is the hardest to get to work in front of an audience. But when it does work, it works the best. And it will be you.
And just for a fun closer: In five words or less, why should people come see your show here in Eau Claire?
This show is amazing
— Emily Miels