In the mid-000s I worked in a variety of comedy clubs in Manhattan. This was a time when alt. comedy was in its infancy: Aziz Ansari still worked at the UCB theater, disliking Dane Cook was thought to be a controversial stance, and 90s Dennis Leary jokes about being extremely angry were somehow de rigueur. Comedians regularly complained about how stupid their audiences were for not "getting" their misanthropic cigarette comedy, indulging a Hicksian fantasy that they were too intelligent for the ovine masses to understand. Eight years later I am amazed by how much this has changed; comedians routinely dip into incredibly obscure material in front of open-minded and adoring audiences. Greg Barris hosts a successful show at Union Hall where he sings songs about Terence McKenna's philosophy. Simon Amstell delights crowds internationally with an hour show about drinking ayahuasca in the Amazon, etc. So I was glad to see that my old comedy-friend Adam Strauss had crafted a long and complex story about overdosing on a variety of Psilocybe cubensis known as "Penis Envy" into an amazing and funny 60-minute act. The show (called Varieties of Religious Experience) runs two more times this week, so I Gchatted him to hear about how it's going.
VICE: What do you think of this as a title: "My friend Adam Strauss was therapeutically dilded by the penis mushroom"?
Adam: I don't know if I want to go public about that. I mean our friendship. Otherwise it's fine.
You’re a kidder. When you were promoting Varieties of Religious Experience at the Horizons conference I thought you were scamming people by saying it's a show about psychedelic psychotherapy, but that’s actually an accurate description.
Yeah, it's a completely true account of how I read an academic paper suggesting psilocybin could potentially cure OCD, which at the time was just taking over my life. The fact psilocybin is a hallucinogen was irrelevant; at that point I would have tried almost anything because all conventional treatments had failed. So I was only "scamming" people in the sense that the show is a ruse to extract credit card numbers... just kidding! Hey, I'm a kidder.
You're too much. Have you used any of those jokes outside the context of this show in your stand-up comedy routine? I was amazed by how receptive a (seemingly) drug-naive audience was to jokes about 5-MeO-DMT, Trichocereus bridgesii, the Shulgin rating scale, Penis Envy, etc.
Well, I think part of the receptivity is precisely because of my typical audience's naiveté. It's a bizarre world for them, hence there's surprise, which—along with recognition—is one of the twin pillars of comedy. And part of it IS recognition—they may not know this world, but once you scratch the surface it’s really not that unfamiliar. What's the difference between a wine snob talking about nose and bouquet of a merlot and a Shulgin aficionado discussing the headspace and malleability of 2C-T-21?
What is the difference?
That's a rhetorical question. There is no difference.
The circumstances I'm describing may seem extreme or insane, but my basic motivations, desires, fears—those are utterly conventional, everyone can relate to them. But let's be honest, extreme experiences are generally more entertaining.
You said that in the 90-minute version there is mention of me but that it was cut out in the 60-minute version you’re doing now. I'm offended.
Honestly, it was not an easy choice. You had some great (true) lines, such as the time I called after you'd unintentionally ingested an unknown quantity of CP-55940 and then decided to smoke a massive amount of marijuana because you thought the THC would displace the CP-55940 from your cannabinoid receptors.
Wow, I don't remember that. Moving forward, I'm really glad that your show does not talk about ayahuasca. I'm getting a little tired of listening to stories about ayahuasca healing. An entire industry has emerged to publish tales of self-transformation in South America and I like how your show totally side-stepped all of that––being set in New York and placing no emphasis on the naturalness of the drugs.
And to go a step further, I absolutely did not get "healing" from psychedelics. I don't want to give away the ending for people who have yet to see it, but suffice to say the drugs didn't give me what I’d hoped I'd get from them. They were ultimately instrumental in bringing about the show's final outcome, but they played a very different role than the one I'd imagined.
Have you considered a prop comedy variation where you bring in some cacti and Sonoran Desert Toad?
Not sure about the toad; I don't want the ASPCA picketing me. Though honestly I'd never thought of it before but I could see how actually having a cactus there might add to the show.
Yes, I would be willing to donate one.
I could smash it Gallagher-style at the climax!
I retract what I just said.
Adam Strauss is performing Varieties of Religious Experience this Friday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 4:30 PM at the Red Room on 85 East 4th Street (directly above KGB bar). Tickets are $8 with discount code "shulgin" at http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showcode=var1AE. More info is available at http://adamstrauss.com/