Not many people might want to talk openly about their use of psychedelic drugs, but stand-up comedian Adam Strauss does. In fact, he wrote a play about it.
After reading a study about how psychedelic mushrooms may be able to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, Strauss decided to try it out. “The Mushroom Cure,” a one-man show performed by Strauss himself, details his time experimenting with shrooms in the hopes of allaying his OCD.
“Literally I’ve been on more than a dozen medications, I’ve seen specialists, and nothing was helping,” Strauss said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “So when I read this study that psychedelic mushrooms seemed to have a lot of efficacy with OCD, I figured, what do I have to lose?”
“I genuinely didn’t know if I was going to survive or not. But there was also a sense that if I did, I needed to talk about this,” Strauss continued.
Initially, Strauss discussed his search for relief through psychedelics through stand-up comedy. He soon realized that stand-up was not the right outlet to convey his experience, as it was not pure comedy, but rather, a more complex and theatrical story. He performed it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, and then in New York during a six-month residency in a small comedy club — but without any solidified script.
It wasn’t until Strauss teamed up with director Jonathan Libman that he finally produced a script. Still, he won’t hesitate to depart from it while performing.
Strauss’s play, though dealing with the serious topic of OCD, is still significantly comedic, as he finds that suffering and comedy can fit together quite effectively. “I think the humor can come from the horror of the experience,” Strauss said.
Furthermore, he isn’t concerned about audiences assuming that he is trivializing the severity of mental health, as he feels that the sincerity of this deeply personal experience is apparent in his performance.
“I don’t just strive to tell people what I went through; I actually try to show it to them and relive it on stage. So, ideally, if I do that well, they are really experiencing my suffering in a visceral way,” Strauss said.
The comedy of the performance then comes into play as a coping mechanism for the audience — a relief to the seriousness — reflecting the value of stand-up comedy to Strauss in his hardest days of struggling through his OCD.
“The Mushroom Cure” has now played in multiple cities, coming first to San Francisco’s The Marsh, before making it to The Marsh’s Berkeley location, where it began its run March 30. The Marsh’s artistic director, Stephanie Weisman, made an exception to the typical process of picking shows when it came to Strauss’.
Usually, Weisman needs to see any show in person before booking it, as she doesn’t feel that reading a script or seeing a video can properly do a concept justice. However, she booked Strauss’ show from a video, noting her immediate interest in it.
“I just really loved what it was about. I thought it was so interesting and engaging, so poignant and funny,” Weisman said in interview with The Daily Californian. “So I booked it without seeing it and I’m very happy that I did.”
The show consists of just Strauss, but both he and Weisman remarked upon the collaborative work that was vital to wholly fleshing out this story for the stage. “(Strauss) is not playing off actors on stage, but he’s playing off different characters — it’s not just him. So he has to get the characterizations and vocalizations down pat, and the way you do that is collaborators — working with the director and vocal and physical acting coaches,” Weisman explained.
Strauss first sought out a director after realizing he needed an outside perspective to help him figure out the best way to go about telling his story. He found Libman through a friend’s recommendation, and the two developed a working relationship that was effective for handling such an individual story.
Of course, “The Mushroom Cure” is extremely personal and specific, but Strauss and Weisman hope that audience members will be able to resonate with the broader themes of the show.
“What I personally hope is that people come and they learn something. It opens their minds. Everyone can see that they’re not alone,” Weisman said. “That’s my joy in doing this.”
Strauss knows that not everyone coming to the show has struggled with OCD, but he believes people will be able to see their own personal struggles reflected in his story. “I think this show illuminates how that struggle played out for me, and maybe that can help others gain some insight into their own suffering and they can get a little bit of freedom. That would be a beautiful thing if someone got that from the show,” Strauss said.
“The Mushroom Cure” will run at The Marsh until April 28.