You won’t have to be on drugs to appreciate comedian Shane Mauss’ Nov. 15 appearance at Scruffy City Comedy Festival, but it might help. Because when Mauss takes the stage at Scruffy City Hall Nov. 15, the Wisconsin-based performer will be eschewing his usual material — the stuff that has fueled multiple television appearances and three full-length comedy albums — in favor of 60 minutes worth of jokes about dope.
Mauss says the set, which he has dubbed “This is your Shane on Drugs,” is a special routine he began compiling some years back, and which he began pulling out for special performances in 2014.
“It’s one hour devoted to the subject of psychedelic drugs — completely different from my usual show,” says Mauss during a recent phone interview. “It happened pretty naturally over the years. I’d have a joke here and there.
“I do psychedelics a few times a year; it’s something I enjoy doing. And using that in routines is also a good excuse to delve into deeper creative concepts. I’d tell a weird joke, then pass it off with, ‘Never mind, I was on mushrooms.'”
Then one day last year, Mauss says he was performing at a club in front of an audience full of fellow comics when he decided to go out further on that limb. “I started doing psychedelic jokes, and I realized, wow, I have a whole show’s worth of these,” he laughs.
“So I decided to create a separate set, to perform at indie-type venues. The response was unbelievable. It’s still pretty novel, though. Doing it as a full show is very new to me.”
Having kick-started his career in 2004 at the age of 23, Mauss flouted expectations by making his first appearance on late-night television (Late Night with Conan O’Brien) in 2007 — standard industry wisdom holds that it usually takes young comics seven to 10 years to land a late-night television set.
But though that success has continued, with four subsequent appearances with Conan, three comedy albums and a couple of his own comedy specials, Mauss says he’s found himself moving away from some of the elements that contributed to his mainstream recognition.
“I used to be very dependent on one-liners,” he says. “But then I learned more about working off themes, and now my one-liners are part of a longer set or story. My comedy is more thematic, based more on story-telling than it used to be.
“The result is that it’s not as late-night friendly. But it allows me to branch out more, and do more challenging material.”
And there is perhaps no better evidence of Mauss’ probing comedic intellect than his Here We Are Podcast, an interview series wherein Mauss sits down with doctors, researchers and academicians of various ilk, entertaining discussion on a bewildering array of subjects ranging from broken bones (Mauss recently released a comedy album based on his breaking both feet in a hiking incident, and interviewed his podiatrist on the podcast) to the meaning of life.
“I do lots of shows on evolutionary biology and psychology, neuroscience, behavioral sciences,” he says. “It’s a passion project. But life and human nature are incredibly funny to me, looking at the non-conscious factors that drive our behavior, be it in mating or money.
“I think it goes back to a combination of variables that have driven my life,” Mauss continues. “I was raised in a strictly religious household, but it never clicked with me. So I was forced to learn more in order to defend my own beliefs.”
But Here We Are was actually born five years ago, when Mauss found himself, having just embarked on a relationship with a new girlfriend, entering a period of pot-fueled introspection. “She liked to smoke weed, so I was also smoking more weed, and watching lots of Animal Planet on TV,” he says.
“That led to me writing lots of animal behavior jokes. And things started clicking. I started reaching out to academics, and having these mind-blowing conversations. And then I thought, wow, I should be recording this.”
A (very) short list of Here We Are Podcast episodes looks like this: Cocaine and brains, with standup comic and neuroscientist (!) Jono Zalay; Gestalt Therapy with life coach Nina Rubin; Psychedelics and Philosophy with philosopher Michael Garfield; Sperm Competition with Evolutionary Psychologist Todd Shackelford; 3D Printed Dildos and Anal Probes with neuroscience researcher Nicole Prause.
“Some episodes are more serious than others,” says Mauss, citing a recent interview with the director of a homeless shelter. “It’s meant to be more thought-provoking than laugh-a-minute. And it’s labor intensive. Now I have to read all the time just to keep up with the podcast.
“But that’s okay,” Mauss concludes. “I’ve come to the realization that through my entire career, I’ve just pretty much done what I enjoyed doing. I’m not the most successful guy in the world now, but I do have as much freedom as any comedian I know who’s working today.”