By Ryan Meehan
Originally from Wisconsin, Shane Mauss caught his first break when he was awarded ‘Best Stand-Up” at The HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in 2007. This led to his TV debut and first of five appearances on Conan. Since that time he’s been on Jimmy Kimmel, Showtime, has had a Comedy Central Presents, a Netflix special ‘Mating Season’, and most recently released an album inspired by breaking both of his feet in a hiking mishap called ‘My Big Break’ which spent time at #1 on the comedy iTunes charts. Shane has also been getting a lot of attention as a popular guest on podcasts such as You Made It Weird, Bertcast, WTF, Duncan Trussell’s Family Hour, TOFOP, Crabfeast, Never Not Funny, Keith and The Girl and last year he started traveling around the country interviewing scientists about the meanings of life for his own podcast “Here We Are” which has a 5 star rating on iTunes. I am very excited to have Shane Mauss as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You started writing jokes when you were only fifteen years old, but didn’t actually try your hand at stand-up until you were 23…What was the catalyst for you eventually overcoming that anxiety and having the confidence to step on stage?
SM: I planned to move and become a stand-up right out of high school. After high school I worked to save up money, but ended up partying too much and never being able to save anything. On my 23rd birthday, I realized it had been five years since I graduated and I hadn’t done anything that I said I was going to do and was stuck working a factory job that I hated.
At that point I finally decided that it was comedy or bust. I was fortunate enough to have a friend moving to Boston and was able to tag along. Once I got to Boston I naively started calling clubs and asking them how I could be a comedian. Fortunately, a club called The Comedy Studio was owned by Rick Jenkins who pointed me in the direction of a stand-up class that was helpful in figuring out what to expect and where to start doing open mics.
RM: How did your initial expectations of what it meant to be a comedian change once you found yourself telling jokes in front of an audience? What adjustments did you immediately know you were going to need to make in order to alter your approach to comedy writing?
SM: After I started doing open mics, I realized that it was going to be a lot harder than I realized. One thing that struck me was that the worst comedians always did the same bad material week after week. My approach was to do different bad material each week. I just understood very quickly that most jokes simply don’t work when you are starting, and so I would just try as much stuff as I could and would always get a line or a joke each week that would work. I was a pretty good joke writer from the start, but I was so nervous that I would read directly from my notebook because I couldn’t remember anything. Once I got five minutes of jokes that I had a little confidence in, I was able to put them together and perform them from memory.
Then I went and did my first showcase at a club, and I was just very fortunate to have a really great audience and a bunch of more experienced comics who were very supportive. It was my first “real” show and I absolutely killed. After that a lot of people in the comedy community were really supportive and I knew that I was on to something.
RM: What’s the biggest difference between the comedian you are now and the comic that you were when you recorded your 2010 album “Jokes to Make my Parents Proud”? Which aspect of your performance would you say has progressed the most over the past five years; and why do you think that facet of your stand-up developed faster than any of the others?
SM: I started comedy as a short joke guy and kind of an absurdist comic’s comic. As I became a full-time headliner, I started to realize that I needed to do more things to mix it up a little bit and keep the audience guessing. So I started telling more stories and having more jokes about my actual life.
“Jokes To Make My Parents Proud” was kind of a nice mix of absurd jokes, observational material, blue-collarish jokes, and storytelling. It was everything I knew how to do at the time. After that, I just kept pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone and take more chances and try new things. I tried improv, sketch, political humor, characters, whatever else I could think of. A lot of it didn’t stick but I kept on trying to grow.
Several years ago I started working internationally. A lot of international comics put together one-man shows to perform at festivals. I had a lot of different ideas for what my one-man show might be and everything I thought of was science themed.
I always was interested in and reading science but I never incorporated much into my act. After fiddling around with some physics jokes to no success, I eventually started talking more about human nature. I started reading evolutionary biology and psychology obsessively and that was the basis for my Netflix special Mating Season.
After that I just kept trying to expand my knowledge of human nature and finding ways to make science relatable. I turned breaking my feet while hiking into an examination of negative emotions for my album “My Big Break”. I’m currently doing a show about psychedelics called “A Good Trip” which is essentially a way for me to talk about perception and consciousness in a way that won’t bore people.
I have some other themed shows that I’ve been writing but aren’t ready for the stage yet, but they are all oriented around human behavior. I also kind of want to do an hour of just stories because I have so many that I tell in my regular club act that people really like. But at the moment I’m just more interested in trying to push myself in a deeper, more cerebral direction.
RM: In a paragraph or less, how would you summarize the accident in which you busted your feet? How long were you in the hospital for; and what was the worst part about that whole experience?
SM: I tried taking a short cut that involved jumping off one ledge onto another trail. It was too high and I broke both of my heels. One of them exploded. It required two surgeries and I had to take a total of five months off.
It was physically and financially crippling. The adjustments that I had to make to my act with having to sit on stage for a year and finding the benefit of making my science jokes more personal was ultimately good for me as a performer.
My one foot still hurts and I’m not sure how good it will get, but I’m hoping it will get to at least 80% eventually. It did a number on my psychological well being, and I fell in to some old bad habits like drinking again that I’m still trying to straighten out. Ultimately, I’m still growing as a comedian and as long as the work comes in, I’m happy.
RM: Your podcast “Here We Are” is a pretty big part of your life nowadays…How do you go about creating differentiation between your program and other shows within that medium; and do you ever worry about the over-saturation of the podcast market seeing as how there are so many individuals in the entertainment industry who have a show these days?
SM: I like to think my podcast separates itself from other similar things. Most comedy/science podcasts are just comedians talking science and very comedy oriented. I’m interviewing scientists themselves and the focus is on science. And most science podcasts don’t have a comedian hosting them. Also, most other programs focus a lot on physics and technology. I might eventually get into more of that but mine is about human nature. I discuss how we got here and why we behave the way we do. This is all information that has an effect people’s everyday life.
Trying to get a new podcast to standout amongst the sea of podcasts that already exist is a challenge, but ultimately I’m learning so much and forming so many new connections in the academic community. It’s a great source of material for me and I’m getting a cheap education, which hopefully translates into a better personal and professional life.
RM: Could you give us an example of a show you’ve done recently where the guest steered the conversation in a direction that you weren’t expecting? Were there any interesting tidbits of information you discovered during that episode which were strangely unique and caught you completely off-guard?
SM: I do my research for each episode so they don’t typically take an unexpected turn. Sometimes there is just a quote that strikes me or something that I misunderstood that is interesting. A lot of times there are things that we all might intuitively understand that are restated in a way that strikes a chord.
For example in the last episode I recorded, Professor Geoffrey Miller talked out the absurdity of the lot of advice that we get about having confidence. Most self-help books go on and on about just believing in yourself or whatever feel-good crap that does few people any good. Confidence without experience is delusional and if you want to be confident in something you have to start with being confident that everyone has to start somewhere and it takes a long time and practice to gain true confidence. Essentially having confidence that if you put in the work, you’ll have confidence one day. It might not seem groundbreaking, but it’s a refreshingly realistic kind of optimism that you don’t find in most self-help crap like ‘The Secret’.
RM: You’re obviously a guy who is a very deep-thinker and into a lot of different subjects that the typical road comic wouldn’t find themselves pondering to an extent…What is the key to writing material that has a healthy balance of relatability and stimulating thought within the mind of the comedy fan?
SM: We have evolved to be storytelling animals. Humans don’t respond well to data. People watch the news and think that terrorism, plane crashes, murders and other statistical anomalies are very big concerns while they completely ignore actual threats like heart disease. You can go on and on about not eating fast food or exercising and it will be vastly ignored. But show one story of an Australian being attacked by a shark on the other side of the world and people are scared to go for a swim in the ocean. We just evolved to respond to these highly salient anecdotes. Our hunter-gather ancestors in small tribes of fifty had no use for or way to collect big data. Our brains just aren’t built for it.
If I want to present scientific information to a crowd, not only does it have to be funny of course, but it has to be anchored in something personal or people don’t attach in the same way. I had a lot of great material about the psychology of negative emotion that did fine and got laughs, but once I had a story about breaking my feet to attach it to, people became so much more interested even though they were the same jokes.
RM: How has your interest in subjects such as psychology influenced your perspective on failure in the world of comedy, whether it be a joke or set of bits bombing in front of a tough room or struggling with new material throughout the writing process?
SM: I recognize more of the non-conscious effects within an audience. I have a better understanding of things like first impressions and the importance of confidence in delivery and appearing genuine and likable. There is more to people’s perception than how well written a joke is. These are things that most any comic can tell you…Like a packed room is better than an empty one. But now I know more of the underlying psychology and how to work with that better.
RM: How would you best describe your current relationship with drugs? What is the most bizarre experience you’ve ever had while ingesting mind-altering substances; and how did that instance change the way you view your existence in this world when you are completely sober?
SM: I do psychedelics about once a month. DMT is the world’s most powerful hallucinogen and my favorite drug. You literally leave this conscious existence. There were trips where I’ve momentarily forgotten that I was human. It’s a ten minute long trip, and there have been times that I felt as if I had been gone for hundreds of life times. It’s jarring. Many people think that you somehow go to a different dimension or are talking with spirits or aliens, and that’s exactly what it seems like when you are in it.
But it’s just what the programming in our non-conscious brain looks like – Just like how your computer interface looks completely different from the programming that is running it. It’s made me realize how powerful our brain actually is. You can have a dream with a whole bunch of people in it that you don’t even know that your brain is talking for and directing and in your dream you think this scene is happening to you ,rather than your brain actually creating all of it. There are universes of perception inside of our minds that we can’t even perceive mostly because the raw data would be way too much stimulation for our conscious experience. I believe that I’ve gained a lot of neuroscience insights that just aren’t possible any other way. I will eventually be exploring them in my podcast once I can find the right people who are open to talking publicly about it.
Is that bizarre enough for you?
RM: Who do you think are the top three comics working in America right now? Why do you think die-hard and casual comedy fans alike seem to gravitate towards their work?
SM: Doug Stanhope, Maria Bamford, Bill Burr. They are genuine and unique. People are constantly looking for something new and different. As time goes on, comedy is becoming both more genuine and more creative at the same time. These three are all good examples of being very vulnerable and at the same time innovative.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
SM: I’m hoping to make a special about psychedelics. I’m putting the finishing touches on that act. I also do a whole separate club act which is more your traditional stand-up. I’m hoping to replace that act with something with bigger ideas and more of a theme as soon as I’m done getting my psychedelic show ready to record.
Official Website: http://www.shanemauss.com/
Here We Are Podcast: http://www.herewearepodcast.com/
Shane on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shanecomedyfan
Shane on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shanecomedy
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.