Comedian Shane Mauss was only sort of famous until he started doing drugs
You’ve got to find your place. Comedian Shane Mauss’ is drugs. Before he got on them — both on them and onto the topic — he did normal jokes your grandmother would love: skewering vegans and how men couldn't handle being pregnant. "Clean-cut, midwestern wholesome boy," is how he described himself to me. This worked well; he was Seinfeld with a Wisconsin accent. He earned himself spots on Conan and Kimmel and specials on Netflix and Spotify.
But, there was another Shane the public didn’t see much of. Semi-secretly, he'd been visiting the edge, doing drugs — mostly hippie drugs like marijuana and shrooms. These blew his fucking mind. Occasionally they crept into his act; he did a few jokes here and there about taking mushrooms, going to Best Buy, and sitting and watching himself on the TV for an hour because he thought they were broadcasting a movie about him he forgot he had filmed. But on stage, or on his podcast, Here We Are, he mostly kept mute. He was worried about losing fans because, as he said, "People are going to think I'm a lunatic."
Then he changed. Started talking more openly about them. His drug talk started happening in part because so many of his comedian friends have podcasts, with lots of time to fill. See, podcasts are a freer medium. You can talk about edgier stuff. He'd spill about drugs with Joe Rogan and Pete Holmes. They were fascinated, so he kept on talking. Sure, his mom didn't like the new drug stuff much. "To my parents, mushrooms might as well be crack," he told me, after performing in Boulder last week.
But others loved it. It turned out that Mauss explains drugs to non-drug folks as well as Anthony Bourdain explains cooking to people who don't cook.
He says: "If you don't think psychedelics are important, look at the Native Americans. They've been doing peyote forever. And white men come, steal all their land, screw them out of everything, but in the negotiations they're like, 'Alright, but we're keeping the fucking peyote. We will not bend on the peyote.'" Also: "Here's a helpful hint: don't drive with more drugs in your car than you're comfortable swallowing."
Fans started egging him on, to go deeper. So he did. This year, he launched a tour with an act called "This is Your Shane on Drugs." The name is a pun based on the old 1990's public service announcement, saying that drugs fry your brain like a skillet fries an egg. "Never understood that metaphor by the way," Mauss says. "Cooked eggs are way better than raw eggs." But the act is just one full hour purely about drugs. And it's a hit. And suddenly people who had spent too many years trapped inside an acid flashback to distinguish Louis Anderson from Louis C.K. saw the show and decided Mauss was their new favorite comedian. They came up to him afterward and hugged him and vented about the government and handed him mountains, piles, pyramids of drugs.
With this show (which he had to rename "A Good Trip" because too many people thought he'd actually be on drugs on stage), he's joining a long lineage of great drug comedians. George Carlin mined his acid trips, Robin Williams explored coke and Lenny Bruce joked about morphine a little, then overdosed on a fuckton of it. Some drug humorists have been incisive geniuses, like Bill Hicks, and some have been cliche, like Cheech and Chong, but what they did mattered, especially to "clean-cut, midwestern wholesome boys" stuck in boring suburbs, because they could sneak ideas about drugs into their comedy albums that would otherwise trip up the censors.
Mauss mines humor out of the notion, advanced by Carlin and Hicks, that some illegal drugs might not lead you to a life giving gutter handjobs for dime bags; some drugs are, well, kind of sweet, and the fear about them overblown. After smoking DMT 80 times — DMT is the Big Bang supernova gangbang of drugs — the only, tiny, little downside he saw was that, "It has definitely raised the bar for what I consider an experience." The Medieval Times experience might be interesting, but unless there's a purple lady living in a computer chip city communicating telepathically with him, he might yawn. The man has so much to say about DMT he'll do an extra hour some places just about that particular drug. It's funny if you're done DMT, and baffling if you haven't.
Mauss doesn't want everyone tripping face 24/7. He's not Timothy Leary. "Sometimes you'll see someone who did a 20 strip of acid and hasn't quite come back to us," he told me. "That one guy that just dabs 24/7, every ten minutes is just like ripping dabs the hardests and is like, 'whaooo!' — which, honestly, good for him — but people will be like, 'See, that's what drugs will do to you.' That can give drugs a bad name."
Mauss's more balanced approach to talking about drugs got his tour sponsored by MAPS — the drug research outfit working to turn an illicit party drug — MDMA, a.k.a. Molly, X, E or ecstasy — into an accepted, legal prescription drug for PTSD. It’s also made him a sought-after guest on all kinds of podcasts … and upped attendance at his shows … and earned him more money … and given him more opportunities in general. And so, all those fears this nice-midwestern boy had about being abandoned by fans or colleagues didn't happen. Far from it. Drugs helped him find his place. Maybe that whole “this is your brain on drugs” thing isn’t so bad after all — maybe sizzling in a frying pan is exactly where your brain should be.
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