Shane Mauss’s new special, Mating Season, finishes with the very beginning of his live performance. (It’s him firing a t-shirt gun into the audience in lieu of a warm-up act.) With this in mind, it feels fair to start with the end of his special, when it becomes clear that Mauss’s meandering hour of stand up is intended as a themed meditation on the primitive nature of humans. It’s hard not to appreciate the attempt at cohesion and a greater story, but the material doesn’t quite live up to framework.
As the title suggests, Mauss’s focus is on the animal kingdom; more specifically, viewing human relationships through the prism of evolutionary biology and psychology. He’s got jokes about peacocks, homosexuality and monkeys wearing coconut hats, all told amicably in his comforting Wisconsin drawl. But in his enthusiasm for the study of natural selection, Mauss doesn’t dive quite deep enough into the science or the comedy. His observation that women are the “gatekeepers” in sex isn’t novel; his joke about the simplicity of a man’s contribution in reproduction feels just as obvious.
Mauss is a charming young talent, and his interest in exploring science in stand up is promising. “I started telling dick jokes for a living so I wouldn’t have to go to college,” he confesses toward the end. “Ironic twist to that story—I now take college courses just so I can write more sophisticated dick jokes.” But in this special, it’s his detours away from the theme that are the most memorable, like a great story about an audience member who responded to a mildly obscene gesture in the best way possible. A tale of sexual incompetence is intended to make the audience uncomfortable (which it does), and an account of a drunken police chase ends with a graphic incident and an unexpected gag about a creative use for a donut.
Under the banner of scientific exploration, however, a lot of the jokes feel like old-fashioned “Aren’t men and women different?” material. They’re not bad, per se, nor could they be considered offensive (though an ironic bit about God telling Adam that “bitches be complicated” lacks grace). It’s more that the jokes feel well-worn and lacking enough new observations or perspectives. That the material probably does well enough in clubs doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worthy of a special. Even the live audience at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre seems somewhat tepid, as if they’re waiting for the show to build to something it never quite achieves.
Mauss is likely a rising star, and this special, despite its flaws, is bursting with potential. At times, Mating Season feels like more a friend telling a series of amusing stories, and by the end, the whole audience is on his side. Hopefully his next hour will live up to this one’s promise.