SXSW Comedy Review: A Good Trip With Shane Mauss

Mauss lights up Hideout with cleverness and faux-slacker charm

Shane Mauss
Shane Mauss (Photo by Tyler Ross/Atrossity Photography)

When Shane Mauss took the stage at the Hideout Theatre Tuesday night to perform his acclaimed stand-up show A Good Trip, he wore a hoodie, a graphic T-shirt, loose jeans, and sneakers. It became apparent within minutes that his slacker-comic costume was part of a calculated ruse to pleasantly baffle the packed house’s expectations.

Those, like myself, who were led by the title to fear that Mauss would employ a shaggy, drug-addled schtick were relieved to find his set hyper-articulate, inquisitive, and informed. Part Birbiglian monologue, part educational lecture, A Good Trip is far closer to a humorous TED Talk than to Super High Me.

“I believe I’m doing science. That’s probably incorrect,” Mauss joked, referring to his expansive interest in psychedelia both as a field of study and as a personal lifestyle. “Most drugs are an escape from the mind. [But] psychedelics are a way inward.” Mauss’ unique onstage facade uses cerebral juxtapositions like this one to comically undercut himself. At the Hideout – “the 95th stop on my tour” – he spoke consistently and eloquently, but in a low mumbling register; he advocated for experimentation with mushrooms and LSD, with the quick disclaimer that their effects differ for individuals; and he praised the innovations of neuroscientists and psychoactivity researchers, only to lambast the political structures that turned their important discoveries into chemical weapons.

As the act employed no opener, no musical cues, and no multimedia, it took the crowd 20 minutes or so to warm up to it. But this somewhat classical solo structure worked for Mauss: He spent the entirety of the show holding the mic in his right hand, gesticulating actively with his left, and sometimes sitting on a lone stool. I hesitate to compare him to Bill Cosby, but his expert crowd control, stage-work and incredible memorization skills brought Cosby’s legendary sets to mind.

It was in the more active second hour that Mauss hooked the crowd with personal revelations, hinting about the depression and adrenaline addiction that led him to shatter his feet (subjects of his album My Big Break as well as an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast). Scattered among his own narrative were sharp criticisms of major social institutions, which received successively bigger laughs. In one set piece, he acted out governmental LSD testing on American soldiers, who respond to their trips by asking: “Wait … why am I in the military?” The comedian even went so far as to contrast the murderous commonality of opiates with the prudish illegalization of acid and marijuana, all through the lens of how Nixonian political dogma impacts our contemporary prison system.

While speaking truth to power is not the central focus for Mauss, the fact that he manages to wedge several feuding historical narratives on the evolution of Western psychedelic culture into one hour-and-a-half show is a Herculean accomplishment. His facility for juggling such gargantuan themes while making psilocybin mushroom chocolates sound delicious ultimately makes for a very fun journey indeed.

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SXSW Comedy 2017, SXSW 2017, SXSW Comedy, Shane Mauss, psychedelic drugs, Marc Maron

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