Comedian Shane Mauss likes psychedelic drugs. A lot. He likes thinking about them, talking about them and -- at least once upon a time -- experimenting with them.
In fact, he wrote an hour-long stand-up set called This is Your Shane on Drugs. It's inspired not simply by recreational use, but medicinal treatments he's explored on his podcast, Here We Are with Shane Mauss. You can catch his A Good Trip Tour locally, when the 36-year-old comedian rolls through North Texas as headliner of the inaugural Denton Comedy Festival on July 28-30.
The fest's founder and organizer, R.J. Avery, calls Mauss' set a highlight of the first-time event, though some might find it controversial.
"I didn't seek him out for that reason -- I'm personally for using psychedelics responsibly to help people -- but his set is really cool," Avery says. "He respects the lines between that and 'let's get [expletive] up' in a funny and informative way."
The festival features five showcases, one during a Thursday night pre-show from 7-11 p.m. at Killer's Tacos and two per night beginning 7 p.m and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in the "Old Dirty Basement" at J&J's Pizza on the Square. Mauss headlines the final of the festival's showcases during its maiden three-day stint.
He's joined by featured comedians Paul Varghese, a Dallasite, UNT graduate and semi-finalist on season 2 of NBC's Last Comic Standing during the 10 p.m. showcase on Friday; Bob Biggerstaff, a native Texan and semi-finalist on the show's season 6 during the 7 p.m. show on Friday; and D-FW locals Thomas Nichols and Carey Denise during the 7 p.m. showcase on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Showcases are hosted by Dan Danzy and Clint Werth.
Mesquite-raised phenom, 11-year-old Saffron Herndon, was originally scheduled as a sixth headliner, but the fest announced late last month that she is "embarking on an amazing opportunity that could not be refused."
On top of the featured comedians, each showcase features 4 to 7 amateur locals, chosen through an application process. In all, over 40 comedians will step up to the mic over the weekend. Avery's first-year goal was to provide performers with payment, whether that be an actual check or, more realistically, through perks. It's helped that J&J's offered its basement space for free, but he is eager to build partnerships with future sponsors.
A purely self-funded passion project at this point, the DCF is what Avery envisions becoming the "Mecca of North Texas for independent comedians." He was inspired to organize the new festival, he says, by Denton's bootstraps culture, particularly that of its independent musicians.
"When you go to Denton, you'll run into people and after meeting them and talking to them, you'll be like 'Oh, shit, you did that?'" he says. "The city and the culture lends itself to that."
While the DCF certainly won't be the first of its kind in North Texas -- the Dallas Comedy Festival celebrated its 7th year in the spring and large-scale national touring events like Oddball Festival have rolled through in recent years -- Avery believes Denton has something special to offer.
When it comes to the town's noted music scene, Denton has a history of throwing backyard concerts and shows in people's homes with artists who play purely for the joy of it. That "vibe and the camaraderie," Avery says, lends itself to the wider culture, and he thinks it will translate to other creative endeavors.
"If you're not a trust fund kid, it's just not as easy [to make it in a creative field]. You start talking to all these musicians and they all have day jobs. That's why I love Denton," he says.
It's worth noting, too, that with beloved venue Rubber Gloves' untimely closing and the dramatic revamping of Hailey's, the town has experienced a bit of a creative existential crises. Avery, who says he's not really a comedian himself, sees himself in the position to rally the local creative community by bolstering amateurs through a grassroots movement.
"The past ten years there has been so much of The Voice or America's Got Talent -- which is fine, there's nothing wrong with people exposing themselves and making themselves vulnerable," he says. "But, the sad thing is you have people with great talent who just aren't practiced and they go on there and get shattered."
DCF provides an opportunity for locals to step up and give themselves a shot from the ground up. Most comedians, especially great ones, know that bombing a time or ten is a critical part of the process. Perhaps a few will suffer rough sets during the DCF, but they'll never know unless they try.
"That DIY mentality is what Denton is all about," he says. "There's a resurgence of people really seeing the value in it. No, you're not going to be famous or make a ton of money overnight, but you can do what you love and through that find success."
Not only that, creatives can also band together to help out the community. For the inaugural DCF, Avery's partnered with Denton-based Language of Laughter (LOL), a nonprofit organization founded by comedians to "draw talented acts into communities for the benefit of local education."
Tickets to Thursday's show are $5; individual passes for Friday and Saturday shows are available for $10 plus tax each. A three-day general admission pass is $13. The elaborate Festival Pass includes 4 wrist bands (each worth admission to one showcase), a room at a "super secret DCF Comedy Hotel," two large J&J's one-topping pizzas and a 12 pack of Schlitz (for those over 21) for $150 plus tax.