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This Comedian Is Bringing Psychedelics to Middle America

Shane Mauss is about the furthest you can get from a stereotypical psychonaut—and as psychedelic medical research prepares to take off in 2017, that's a great thing.

Blake Gillespie

Photo by Meghan Sinclair

"People aren't going to listen to some person with dreadlocks tell them about psychedelics. They're just not," Shane Mauss tells me. Mauss looks pretty much like somebody's grandson from the Midwest. Probably because he is. 

But that benign appearance belies the fact that Mauss, by all accounts, has done a shitload of drugs over the past 20 years. For one, he claims he's experienced more than 100 DMT trips—a lot for a drug that famed psychedelic advocate Terence McKenna called the "most powerful hallucinogen known to man or science." 

On his currently-running 80-plus city tour, A Good Trip, he's taking audiences inside the mind and experiences of a man who loves drugs and the neuroscience behind them. In the process, he's helping to normalize psychedelics for audiences who, like him, may lack dreadlocks but carry open minds toward what may be a revolutionary tool for bettering lives.

"Most psychedelic users don't really need psychedelics. They've already gotten it," he said. "Let's focus on the veterans, people with PTSD, the children, people with drug addictions."

The poster for Mauss' tour. Illustration by Ramon Nazer

A Good Trip is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (or MAPS), an organization at the forefront of medicinal psychedelic research. Dedicated to forging relationships with government bodies and conducting clinical studies on medical applications for psychoactives, its partnership with Mauss arrives at a fortuitous time for both parties. The past few years have seen unprecedented headway toward legitimizing psychedelics in medicine and science, and never before have drugs like MDMA and LSD seen as much interest by researchers and legislators as they enjoy today. And Mauss's comedic anecdotes, about everything from smoking weed for the first time to taking enormous doses of mushrooms, are helping audiences discover where their fears about psychedelics may be misplaced.

Mauss's endgame is not to become the Doug Benson of DMT, or a Ken Kesey–type figure, traveling from state to state in a Day-Glo bus (Mauss drives a Hyundai Elantra). His show is rooted in the same inquisitive approach to human behavior and the mind that drove his 2013 Netflix special, Mating Season. He doesn't use his platform to rail against legalization or criminalization issues, and there's no MAPS mailing list at the merchandise table. His comedy is also far removed from the goofball, stoner stereotype seen in earlier drug comedy icons like Cheech and Chong. Mauss is intelligent, likable and sharp, and by openly discussing psychedelics in cities like Minot, North Dakota and Norman, Oklahoma, he's helping to shift already-eroding American taboos surrounding drugs in a big way.

"He's discussing the challenging issues [surrounding psychedelics] as a culture," said MAPS executive associate Merete Christiansen, who agrees that because Mauss doesn't resemble what many think of as the typical acid user or "rail against society" onstage, he's helping to challenge stereotypes. "He's not necessarily making light of it." To MAPS, he's the funny guy from a small town in Wisconsin that hasn't fried his brain on the stuff—which, to many Americans, is a notable departure from drug lore.

Mauss's show aims to balance his psychedelic experiences with deeper analysis and a little science. And he's wary of being overly celebratory. "Someone could think maybe I haven't done enough?" he said. "The last thing that I want is to inspire someone to do some crazy shit. I hope I'm emphasizing that I want this to be in clinics. I don't think everyone should just be giving it a shot willy nilly. It's going to make the movement look bad when some rich white person's kid dies. That's why MDMA is illegal in the first place."

In November of last year, the FDA announced that it had approved MDMA for Phase III clinical trials, a drug's final step before being approved for prescription use. That research is set to begin this summer in a trial with more than 230 participants; like many of the Phase II clinical trials that preceded it, the study will be funded by MAPS. The announcement was a milestone for the founder of MAPS, Rick Doblin, who began advocating for psychedelics more than 30 years ago when he sued the DEA over MDMA's classification as a Schedule I drug. Before one of his show's intermissions, Mauss called Doblin to celebrate the good news, holding up his phone for Doblin to hear the cheers of 300 people down for the cause in the audience.

Between sponsoring Mauss's tour and other efforts, like sponsoring psychiatric harm-reduction spaces at events like Burning Man, MAPS's efforts to culturally normalize psychedelics are paying dividends. "Even though something is difficult doesn't mean it's a bad thing. That's the struggle MAPS has had for 30 years in having these studies approved," said Christiansen. "We're not trying to tell people that psychedelics are right for you. We are creating the opportunity for them to decide for themselves."

And neither is Mauss, whose show is, more than anything, a social gathering for people who enjoy altered mental states and hearing about them. Mauss is no Timothy Leary; in fact, he's considered the very real threat of demagoguery. "I have people coming up to my afterwards asking to hug me and call me their Jesus," he said. "Please, don't. Be your own Jesus. I'm in town for a night. I can't help you."