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Ari Shaffir interview: ‘You wouldn’t want to tape a special on mushrooms’

The acerbic comedian talks about mushrooms, more mushrooms, and…actually, we mostly just talked about mushrooms

Photograph: Jesse Grant
Ari Shaffir

January is a busy month for Ari Shaffir, who’s ignoring the deep freeze and airing both a new stand-up special and hosting a storytelling series on Comedy Central, on top of his regular comedy shows and his podcast, Skeptic Tank. Despite all that, he still found a free half hour to chat with us, a lot of which we spent talking about hallucinogens. 
 
Your second special, Paid Regular, premieres on January 16th at midnight. What can you tell us about it?
This one has way more of the feel of an actual club show. At filmings, they always take a cool room, then turn all the lights up and take half the seats out and you’re like, well, now it’s not the same room! So I went around the room, with each light, asking, “Why is this light bulb here?”
 
That sounds like it must have been super fun for everyone involved.
It wasn’t that fun! But as much as possible, I want people to feel like they’re there at the Comedy Store, in the Original Room, on a Saturday night. The Comedy Store is my home! I’ve gotten laid there, like, 15 times. I’ve slept there drunk. So a special in this room is my dream.

Both the special and your storytelling series, This Is Not Happening (which premieres January 22 at 12:30am) are airing pretty late. Are you ever tempted to clean it up a little?
No, I don’t think in those terms at all. When people tell me to do a clean show, I’m like, “Guys, I don’t even understand your thoughts anymore.” What, you can’t say a curse word? Nobody thinks that way! That’s Arkansas, 1983 standards. Who cares anymore?
 
You’ve been pretty vocal about your love of magic mushrooms. Have you ever attempted to do a show while tripping balls?
Yes, of course!
 
That sounds extremely difficult.
Sort of…you have material to fall back on. But if you’re willing to let go, you can go to far out places. Your sense of timing gets fucked up, though, so you’re like, have I paused for two minutes, or two seconds?
 
Comedy’s all about judging the room, though—don’t mushrooms mess up your perception of that?
[Laughs] Yeah, you wouldn’t want to tape a special on mushrooms. We did a storyteller show in Montreal called Shroomfest, which takes place on a full moon, where all the stories are mushroom stories, the comics are on mushrooms and the audience can show up on mushrooms. Dan Soder said he kept looking at this light bulb on his right—he couldn’t stop focusing on that fucking light bulb! “What’s that doing there?!” You couldn’t tell from watching him, though.
 
When did you first decide to try it?
I was performing at a blues festival in Ottawa and I took mushrooms at what I thought would be the right time for them to hit me when I came offstage, but the host went ten minutes long, so halfway through my set I was like, “Whoaaarrghh…” But it was great! I finished my set, wandered around, it was so good!
 
If you could give people one piece of advice for their first time on shrooms, what would it be?
You’re going to be fine. Any thoughts you have of, you’re going to die on this, that’s just not true, you’re going to be fine, so no matter what, just enjoy yourself. People worry about mushrooms being this seminal moment in their lives, and they could be, but mostly you’re just going to laugh about shit. That’s 99% of the trip.
 
Do you think people should check out a comedy show on shrooms? Do comedy and massive introspection go together?
There was someone thrown out of my show at the Comedy Cellar and the bouncer was like, “Was that one of your fans? He was on something…” I was like, if he was on heroin, no, but if he was on mushrooms, yeah, it’s possible. I don’t know if it’s the way to watch a comedy show, even if it’s about mushrooms. I went to see the Tim Burton Alice In Wonderland movie on mushrooms.
 
That’s a confusingly terrible movie even without mushrooms.
Yeah, I figured it was the right way to see it. But I waited too long—by the time I went it was the last week of it being in theaters and the theater was empty. It was a midnight showing and I was the only one in there! I wanted to turn around and say to the guy running the projector, hey man, if you want to go home, I don’t want to keep you. I could just leave, I really don’t have to do this…

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