The Mauss that roared

By SEAN L. MCCARTHY  |  March 30, 2007

“It was pretty amazing,” says Mauss. “At one point I was in a fancy restaurant having a meeting with Mosaic, who represent Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, and Sacha Baron Cohen — and they’re interested in me?”

After Mauss won his festival award, TV producer Dan Pasternack and executives from Super Deluxe — the new online comedy site from Turner Broadcasting — treated Mauss to a celebratory dinner. “He has the material and the timing of a seasoned pro, as well as that rarest of all attributes . . . a unique and distinctive comedic voice,” Pasternack said. “I love what he’s doing and I think he has a big future in comedy.”

For someone who seems so, well, off-balance and vaguely inebriated both on and off stage, Mauss exhibits a keen sense of focus on what it takes to make a joke funny, as well as what it’ll take to ensure that his career doesn’t peak with Conan. His slurring, ambling speech (with more than a hint of Midwestern flatness) stands out, and suggests a 180-degree departure from the slick, observational stand-ups who followed the Jerry Seinfeld mold. Instead of noticing the humor in others, Mauss pokes fun at himself, his sex life, and his drunken adventures. It appealed to one of Conan’s booking agents, who called on Mauss, a week after Aspen, when a band had to pull out of the March 21 show. He auditioned over the phone. Five minutes later, he had the gig.

That’s all the more remarkable given that, when Mauss moved to Boston from his native LaCrosse, Wisconsin, three years ago, he had never told a joke onstage. The oldest of three kids, Mauss describes himself as a quiet, reserved type who began jotting down jokes when he was 16. He didn’t play sports or get involved in school activities or even really pay much attention in class. “No,” he laughs. “I smoked a lot of weed.”

His conservative Christian parents (his father is a countertop maker; his mother, a manager of a health clinic) didn’t condone his behavior. Mauss guessed they probably wouldn’t approve of his jokes either, which they heard for the first time last week on Conan. Performing the next night before a crowd of 20 at the Comedy Studio, he riffed, “My family was calling me all day. ‘Congratulations! You really disappointed us!’ ”

Mauss bypassed college and headed to Boston because a friend of his was moving here to work at MIT. “In my head, I was like, well, I have to get to a coast. You go to New York, and you become a stand-up comic. It’s just that easy,” he said. “I figured [Boston was] close enough to New York.”

His jokes, however, weren’t yet close enough to funny, as he learned his first time onstage at the Comedy Studio. “I forgot what I was going to say,” he said. His notes couldn’t save him, either. “I reached into my pocket. There was nothing there.” Club owner Rick Jenkins told Mauss to take a class if he was serious about comedy, so he enrolled in Rich Gustus’s program at Brookline Adult & Community Education. Mauss also started showing up at the Emerald Isle in Dorchester to practice. “I’d get one laugh every week,” Mauss recalled. Not great at all. But, by the time he finished the class, he had learned to put all of those one-laughers together for a full set of gut-busters.

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