Comedian Ari Shaffir’s onstage persona blows through the stop signs of polite conversation—sex, politics, and religion—while honking his horn and wearing a Klan robe for effect. A staple of L.A.’s Comedy Store who has blown up in popularity through his viral “The Amazing Racist” YouTube videos and exposure on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Shaffir is quick to delve into the finer points of being Jewish and dish on his sex life. While his filthy material and open endorsement of pot and psychedelic mushrooms may alienate mainstream audiences, he’s used social media to attract like-minded fans to his shows, which in turn makes his performances refreshingly open and authentic. He also hosts his own podcast, Skeptic Tank, wherein he seeks out guests with diverse backgrounds including a stuntman, a Holocaust survivor, and a Buddhist, and picks their brains.
Shaffir will be performing May 10-12 at Comedy Works in downtown Denver, where he will be recording all three sets on Saturday for his upcoming comedy album. Before he performs, The A.V. Club got a chance to talk with him about mushrooms, sex, Mother’s Day, and his edible pot scavenger hunt.
A.V. Club: Your career has really accelerated in the past year. How do you know when you’ve tipped from an up-and-coming comedian to full-on card carrying comedian?
Ari Shaffir: I think you’re a comedian as soon as you start. I don’t think there’s a moment where you become a full comic. But you can tell that it’s going okay because the people who used to ignore you now pretend to be friendly with you. People are like, “How are you?” “Good, uh, why are you talking to me all of a sudden?”
AVC: You host your own podcast Skeptic Tank and you’ve done 58 episodes so far. Which one taught you the most?
AS: That one with the prostitute was interesting. She was pretty open and honest about stuff. She was just telling all about being a prostitute. It was great. She was really open about the violence, all that stuff. She was like a high-class one. I want to get like a street walker, too. They all teach me something. I just sort of ask people what life situations are like and it’s just fun and interesting to me.
AVC: This Saturday at Comedy Works you’re going to be recording live for all three sets.
AS: Saturday I’m recording a CD. I’m excited about it. I have all of this material I just want to finish doing. I want to put it on something.
AVC: Your jokes are going to be recorded at their peak quality and then shelved forever probably, correct?
AS: Yes, just done with them. I finally get to the point where, I hate saying this word for comedy, but artistically it’s just like you want to move on and do the next thing. You don’t want to just lose all of that stuff forever. I compare it to like an artist making a painting, then he’ll burn it afterwards, just light it on fire. You don’t want to do that, you want to put it in a museum or something. So, as long as I can record it in some way, let people have it, the thing I’ve built, then I’m fine.
AVC: Are you anxious about building new material?
AS: I was at first. I had a good talk with Louis C.K., and he sort of taught me how he went through it. I was just like, “Fuck it. Let me try. Let me just try to do that,” and it’s hard at first. I’ve already started working on it because you have nothing. You have no material. Luckily I have the Comedy Store in L.A., where you can just work out, try things. You just build up little by little. But yeah, I’m a little anxious about it.
AVC: You usually seem pretty relaxed. Even on a tense moment on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, you were the chilled-out voice of reason. Does anything really get to you, or set you off?
AS: I try not to let it. I get to this place where I realize like I’m not going to let angry people choose how I feel, you know? So I just enjoy them being crazy. A lot of that is mushrooms, where you realize none of this shit really matters. You saw that [podcast], you could tell, Brian [Redban], someone taunted his pain-body. He’s just on edge. I’d rather just observe human nature. It’s like, “Wow, you look like a defensive person.” There’s no reason to get attached to any sort of stand or argument. I guess I’m pretty good at that, just letting shit go and changing my mind. I just like to observe things. Every once in a while I’ll get mad and I hate myself for doing that. I’m like, God damn it, why did I let them get me that way?
AVC: You mentioned mushrooms. You have your global trip Shroomfest coming up this summer, right?
AS: July 21, 22, and 23. Find mushrooms! Do it! You should do it! Why not?
AVC: You mentioned you’re putting together a manual or primer for that. Can you give us a preview?
AS: How to do it, what to fear, how to not worry when you barf? It’s like drinking, how to tell people like what to expect, being drunk. How to get them, how much to do, empty stomach or full stomach. Everything I could think of. I’ve just started talking to people and writing stuff down. Just a few pages worth. People don’t know how to do them, and they’re scared of them, It’s like the lightest drug ever. Nothing bad ever happens to anybody. Everyone is scared of it because it’s a hallucinogen, but it’s great for everybody. I say once a year.
Ralphie May says acid is color TV and mushrooms are black and white. I’m a little scared of acid sometimes.
AVC: Could you tell us about the hunt for the pot-edibles game at the Mall Of America?
AS: Me and my friend Joey Diaz would go to these UFCs, and they’re like 6 hours long from start to finish, so we would always take edibles with us. Those breath strips that hit really hard, those THC breath strips. They’re a good six-hour trip if you take a whole one. I started feeling bad for people who couldn’t watch those UFCs like I could, so I decided to have a scavenger hunt. I hid some around the stadium and people followed me on Twitter and they just looked and found them, and they’d get blasted while they watch the UFC like me. Then people started asking me to do it other places, so I was like, fuck it.
I tried to do it at Mall Of America. I hid them at a J. Crew, and after the first guy found them everyone else started coming and trying to rifle through all of the clothes, so they’re like “What’s going on? Why are all of these people coming to the underwear aisle and tearing shit up?” Then they called the cops because one of the employees was following me on Twitter and he goes “Oh, I think I know what it is.” Because I left all these clues directly to there. So then these cops had to come and talk to me, like “Can we talk to you for a second?” There was this like trail of evidence on Twitter that I left; it’s so dumb. But Rick Bronson, the owner of the club, really stepped up hard. They were trying to throw me out of the mall and not let me perform. But yeah, he really got me off the hook. So all of my friends were like, “See, you should be careful.” I’m like, see what? I didn’t get in any trouble! This just means I’m invincible! I should start doing it more. You can’t use an example of me getting off, getting in no trouble, as an example of why I shouldn’t do things.
AVC: On the website we described you as being part of the man-child demographic. Is that fair?
AS: For comics, it is. We’re all children. I’m 38 but I just had this discussion today. Ralphie May said he changes his sheets every week and he looked to me and started laughing, because of my reaction. He was like, “How often do you change your sheets?” I’m like, “I don’t know man, not that often, every five, six months maybe?” I’m like an overgrown child! I don’t know how to do anything! I lived with my parents until I was 25. In the old days you had to be on your own by 17, right? We’re all just children. That’s what my new material is about too. Not what I’m doing in Denver but the next one. How I’m supposed to be growing up but I don’t want any part of it.
AVC: A lot of your material is about sex, or self-sex. Does sex make good material because it’s fun, or because its a common denominator, or something else?
AS: Because it’s fun. I grew up so conservative. I grew up as an orthodox Jew. Then every once in a while I had these sexual experiences where that child in me just can’t believe it. If it’s something ridiculous that happened, those things make me laugh so hard, so I just want to share those, just sexual misconduct. Some lady in Dallas was like, “Do you ever get laid?”, some audience member, I was like, “Well, why?” “That’s all you talk about.” I was like, “First of all its not all I talk about, second of all you have giant fake tits, so don’t assume you’re better than me in any way.” What’s the difference? We all fuck. It’s like, who gives a shit, it’s just sex? It’s still sort of interesting me because it’s still taboo from who I was.
AVC: What would you say to the kids out there that might have Jew Jealousy? Like they might wish they were Jewish?
AS: Nobody wants to be Jewish. We are the most victim-y race of all time. We just take it. Whatever it is, we just take it. Nobody has Jewish jealousy. Maybe accountants. Accountants that aren’t Jewish. Nobody wants to be us, we’re the lamest! We don’t even want to be us. We invented the word self-hating.
AVC: You’re going to be traveling on Mother’s Day. What do you think your mom’s idea of a perfect gift would be?
AS: From me? Probably a grandchild. That ain’t going to happen. I’m like, “Mom, all your kids from me, they’re in heaven. I took care of them. They’re not going to come out.” Where am I going to be Mother’s Day? Oh, Kansas City. I’m bad with holidays and birthdays.
AVC: Well, you’re bad with the ones that exist, but you’re inventing your own, like Shroomfest.
AS: I should get my mom to do it. She told on me recently. She follows me online and stuff. It’s the worst part of the Internet, is that your parents can find all the horrible things you’re saying. We’re eating dinner—me, her, and my father. Both orthodox, really conservative-type Jews. She’s like, “Ari does mushrooms,” and my dad didn’t hear it at first and she reiterated. It’s like, “What are you telling on me, Mom? Why are you telling? Don’t tell. Just have the information.” Very annoying. It’s okay, I love them.