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Shane Mauss doesn’t want to be labeled the “psychedelic comic,” but he does want you to have a good trip.
In fact, he’s made a whole tour about it, called A Good Trip. The comedian has done themed shows that dovetail with science in the past, but in the last year or so he started doing a psychedelic-themed show to take a break from comedy clubs. And he found a new audience.
At a Good Trip stop nestled at South by Southwest, Mauss talked about the stigma of psychedelics, and how Richard Nixon criminalized them when he was president. He discussed human beings’ long history with psychedelics, how shamans used to be the leaders, and how certain drugs are being used to treat depression and PTSD now. He claims he’s done DMT more than 100 times.
“I believe I’m doing science,” he explained during the set. “That’s probably incorrect.”
He’s at least doing his research. Mauss started working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) on A Good Trip. The show used to be called This Is Your Shane on Drugs, but it gave off the wrong vibe. Mauss aims not to advocate drug use, but to understand the brain and open up perception.
“I do think our brain operates like the movie Inside Out, in a way,” he told the Daily Dot. “I try to understand how that works. I think ideas take shape in our heads and form these lives that run through these different worlds of simulation. All of this sounds kind of crazy, but I feel like I’ve seen this on DMT.”
Mauss speaks about DMT, a psychedelic compound that’s been labeled the “spirit molecule,” in A Good Trip. He’s seen things on DMT he has a “really hard time explaining in a scientific way, which is what I aim to do.” Mauss has gone from “super-duper atheist to agnostic” after the experience. The insight he’s gotten from the trips isn’t of the I-saw-the-truth variety; he’s learned more about how the brain works, and how powerful it is.
With this pivot, Mauss says he doesn’t feel attached to jokes anymore. A Good Trip is more about ideas than setups and punchlines. Though he says he wasn’t that happy with his 2013 Netflix special Mating Season, he tried to introduce “bigger ideas through a series of dick jokes.” His 2015 special My Big Break, which sprung from a hiking accident in which Mauss broke his feet, took it a step further. (He picked up a lot of “foot injury fans” with that special.) With A Good Trip, Mauss finally feels in his element, though he cautions, “I don’t think people should do as many psychedelics as I do.”
Mauss isn’t the first comedian to talk about psychedelics, of course. Bill Hicks made it a major part of his set, and contemporary comedians like Joe Rogan, Doug Stanhope, and Adrienne Airhart have talked about their experiences. But with A Good Trip, he’s acting as a guide for the curious, a barometer for those who fear what psychedelics might do to them. He’s an advocate for harm reduction, and the use of psychedelics in clinical settings. Mauss says his trips have made him a better comedian, too.
“Comedy is about looking at life in a different way,” he says. “Psychedelics just force a different perception on you.”
Mauss also addresses the science of the brain on his popular podcast, Here We Are. His interests are bigger than doses: cognitive biases, self-delusion, simulation theory. He’s a big fan of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Mauss had no opener at his show, he just distributed some cases of Lone Star beer and jumped in. By upending expectations of what a comedy show is, Mauss is quietly getting fans to think about comedy differently, to open up their own perceptions not just about drugs, but the world and themselves. And he’s bringing his show to places in America where opinions about mind-altering drugs might not be so plentiful, like Minot, North Dakota. But he thinks comedy is heading toward a place where people are more genuine.
“If you can shake up people’s perception a little bit,” he says. “…I think all of us, including myself, just buys into their own ideas about life and beliefs just way, way too much.”
Audra Schroeder is the Daily Dot’s senior entertainment writer, and she focuses on streaming, comedy, and music. Her work has previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle, the Dallas Observer, NPR, ESPN, Bitch, and the Village Voice. She is based in Austin, Texas.