To the untrained eye, Ari Shaffir looks like an overnight success. Hot off the heels of his latest one-hour special Paid Regular, which aired January 16 on Comedy Central, Shaffir has a new series, This Is Not Happening, premiering on the January 22. The taste-making network will also be distributing and showing reruns of Shaffir's first hour, Passive Aggressive. Despite the confluence of successes, Shaffir has been quietly plugging away at his act for years, generating web content like his video series "The Amazing Racist" and steadfastly recording the popular podcast The Skeptic Tank week after week. With all that, Shaffir will be in town at the end of the month to headline at the downtown Comedy Works, his favorite club. We recently caught up with Shaffir to discuss his new special, offending audiences and his love of psilocybin mushrooms.
Westword: Your special Paid Regular aired on Comedy Central a few days ago; will you be working on new material at your Comedy Works shows?
Ari Shaffir: Yeah, I've got probably 30 to 35 good new minutes and then twenty more that I'm having fun with that's not too worked out yet.
What are the challenges of filming a live comedy special? Do you think something gets lost in the recording process?
It always gets lost. That's the entire challenge. To capture the amazing experience of being at a live comedy show. There's no movie that's ever made an audience laugh as much as a good comedy show in a good room. And Denver is lucky enough to have one the best rooms in the country. If not the best room.
You've also got a new series, This Isn't Happening, premiering on January 22. How did that show come together?
We've actually been doing it as a live show for five years now. We started with stories of psychedelic drugs in February of 2010. We did it every month or so in L.A. and at festivals. We pick one topic and then have four or five comedians tell stories about that subject. It's my favorite show to watch in L.A.; the stories are so much fun to watch.
So, after a few years, Comedy Central asked if they could film some for the web. And we did that. And then we did some more for the web. And all the while we kept doing it as a live show. And then a year or so later they said they wanted to film some for TV so we said, "Fuck it" -- and here we are.
When did you start making The Amazing Racist videos? What has been the strangest feedback you've heard from that series?
I've had all sorts of death threats. I used to get them way back in the MySpace days. They're so damn entertaining.
What is your response to people who've been offended by your act?
No response. It's okay to be offended. I don't really care. It's fine to be affected however you're affected. Take that affectation and move on with your life. Laugh, cry, be mad, be bored. Whatever. Fine.
Keep reading for more from Ari Shaffir.
You recorded one of your albums at Comedy Works, right? How did your relationship with them start and what do you think of performing there?
I love that place. Probably my current favorite club to perform in. I'm excited to do it this year when I get to play around more now that I'm not working towards anything. So, that makes me happy. I've been coming here since the first time I opened on the road for Joe Rogan. It was the first place he asked me to go with him. And I couldn't even imagine having that much fun on stage. At the end of the week, Wende [Curtis, the owner] told me to come to her office to get paid and it totally surprised me. I was having such a good time, I didn't even care about any money. It almost seemed unreal. It was like getting paid to watch football.
So when I was looking for a place to record my first hour, and I saw the Comedy Works on the schedule, I knew instantly that'd be the best place for it. And it was. What sick crowds all the time. Perfect mix of laidback and intelligent, with just a little redneck idiot mixed-in to give it some danger.
You're a big psilocybin mushroom advocate. What are your plans for Shroomfest 2015?
I think I might be in Scotland. It's August 29 to 31 this year. People all over the world do it. And I've done it in Canada and America before. I imagine a field with some tall grass and some sheep in the background would be cool as fuck.
Have you ever performed standup while tripping?
Yeah, a few times. It's kind of scary but kind of calming, too. Depends on the stakes. If it matters, it can get a little overwhelming. But if it's just some throwaway in-town set, you can go off in a really fun way.
How do you think psychedelics have informed your comedic perspective?
They made me stop caring. That and depression right around the same time let me see my world in a clear and honest way. I'd recommend that combo to everyone. As long as you can clear the depression. Which a lot of people can't. So I guess I don't recommend it to everyone.
What's the best part about visiting Colorado?
I like the mountains, man. Obviously weed, but I have that in L.A. But I'm gonna do some skiing, too. I did last year and it was amazing. Why did I not always stay a few days late and go to the slopes? I was an idiot. Breckenridge is, like, not even two hours away on a weekday. And girls are oddly hot. I just discovered that there's more to Denver than LoDo. So the last couple years I've discovered a whole cool scene there that before I thought was just full of bro-dudes.
Are you still recording The Skeptic Tank podcast? How do you find the discipline to keep recording on top of your touring schedule and TV appearances?
Man, I have no idea. I'm the laziest motherfucker on the planet and I somehow put that out every Monday. No clue. I said I'd do it publicly and I guess that made fear failure more. Or something. It's been almost four years never missing a Monday. Jesus.
Do you have any other projects coming up on the horizon that you want to mention before we wrap up?
Yeah, I plan on crushing the rest of this chicken parm in the fridge. It's got those banana peppers in there. Just a great combo.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.