Eugene Mirman - 2007

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Eugene Mirman is a hilarious comedian man with two CDs to his name and an assortment of funny videos and gags on his web site www.eugenemirman.com. He allowed me to interview him for 30 minutes one fine January night as he prepared for his weekly comedy showcase "Invite Them Up," and here are the results. As always, my questions are in bold, his answers are in skinny.

Also, it turns out that www.markprindle.com Official Interview Transcriber Jim Laakso is friends with a guy named Brian Spinks who used to room with Mr. Mirman! So you can imagine the hilarity that might have ensued had I used this information in an interesting way.

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Hello?

Eugene?

Yes.

Interview guy.

Yes. Thatís what I thought.

Are you available?

Yeah, I am. I made it, just seconds ago, to a quiet place.

Excellent. So you do this show every Wednesday?

I do, yes.

What is this show?

Itís called ďInvite Them Up.Ē I do it with Bobby Tisdale and Holly Schlesinger. Itís different comics doing different stuff each week -- I guess doing new stuff each week, mostly.

So how do you come up with enough material to do it every week?

Some of it is sort of throwaway, and some of it ends up becoming part of my act. Some things are re-honed, so Iíll try something and then fix it up and do it again the following week. It's not meant to be like a challenge. Or, it is meant to be challenging, but itís not.... Itís just a fun way to develop new material; thatís its point. And then other people do whatever they want.

Whatís your current favorite recent new joke of yours? I know a lot of your humor is in the delivery, but if you can think of any....

UmÖ I forgetÖ?

Thatís a good one!

I have a video where I fake run away; I like that a lot.

I like the one - I just watched it the other night - of you giving all the reasons why you canít go fight in the war.

Yes. I remember that video, from when we were about to go to war.

Oh, itís that old?

Yes. Yeah, I made it a long time ago and I debuted it first here, at Invite Them Up. Probably around the time when we first started the show, since itís almost five years old and the war is of similar age.

Have you known since you were a kid that this is what you wanted to do?

I think since probably a teenager or something. I watched tons of stand-ups on HBO or A&E, wherever I could find it really. I had lots of cassettes and records of comedy.

Were you a joker at the time, a class clown?

I wasnít really a class clown, I was just more of an extraordinary outcast.

Really?

Oh yeah, I was horribly disliked. I mean, Iím a Russian kid who grew up during the Cold War, which is probably what itís like to be Muslim now, I would imagine.

Oh. OK. So do you know this person Brian Spinks?

Yeah, of course. I went to college with him.

Really?

Yeah, and -

OK. Well, I donít know him from Adam. What did you say?

Yes, and I used to live with him, so I do know him.

Well, he said that maybe I should ask you about the similarities between comedy and math. Does that mean anything to you?

Yes, it does. It means a lot to me. (chuckles)

Oh, great! Tell me about it.

Thatís so funny. Yeah, well, itís partially because a lot of Russians in my family are very good at math. Math is sort of just a very common thing, probably both for immigrants and also Russians. Specifically math and sciences and stuff. And I do think that comedy often uses a lot of the same goals of logic that math does; itís just that in the end the goal with comedy is to create a surprise, whereas with math itís probably to create a mathematical solution. But with comedy, itís a twist of sorts. So I feel like both heavily play into logic. Itís just that one fucks with logic and one does not fuck with logic.

Okay. When you do the videos, do you ever bother with a script or is it all made up at the moment?

I do both. I have no reason not to, so I write out a bunch of things that I think might be funny. Iíll try them, Iíll pause it, Iíll think. If I come up with anything or something I do gives me an idea, Iíll do that. So itís sort of an organic process. But I certainly try to think of funny things. But then sometimes I also think of them on the spot. Thatís why itís all jump cuts.

And when did you move from Boston?

2000. I believe six years ago.

How often do you get to work? How many shows a week?

Oh, I guess, severalÖ I donít know. It depends. Right now I have two that I do weekly, and sometimes Iíll do some others. But Iím also just working on stuff every day as well. Like Iím writing a book now, and Iím making shorts for a new series. Iím also working on a cartoon. I just have a bunch of random projects, basically. So in a sense Iím working all the time. But in terms of shows, maybe two or three, four, depending.

What is the book about?

Itís a book of advice slash sort of a self-help book. A parody of that. Iím not actually a doctor of psychology, so I wouldnít give people advice. Well, I would still give them advice; it just might not be accurate.

Can you give an example of a great piece of advice from the book?

MmmÖnothing off hand.

Yeah.

Well, Iíll give you an example of good advice: I guess I would say that ďdo not drop the babyĒ is good advice.

Thatís pretty good.

Yeah.

I know you had a comedy major in college, right? Is that what I read?

Itís true. Thatís totally true.

Were you at all concerned that you wouldnít be able to use that for anything? Like, it wouldnít work out?

No. I considered that I could fail or I could only succeed in certain degrees, but, I mean, when someone majors in English or History, do they any more or less consider that they might not work in those fields?

Yeah, thatís true.

So to me, basically, I was like, "Iím going to spend four years studying something. Why not study something I really am curious about from different angles?" I still learned many of the same tools that people learn from going to a liberal arts school; I just chose to enjoy my experience, which I think is pretty reasonable. But also Iím not particularly good at anything else. I mean, I have some organizational skills, but meaning like, you know, it wasnít like there was some point at which I was like, ďI should really think about becoming a dentist.Ē Because I would make a shitty dentist.

I saw something - it was either in a recent interview or it was something I saw on your MySpace site where you were saying that one of the most important things is to make sure that the audience gets what youíre trying to do, so it doesnít totally go over their head.

In a sense, yes.

How would you describe what youíre trying to do?

I meant that in terms of a specific thing, and what I mean is if you have found your audience, or an audience that potentially would get you -- because there are some people who would never potentially enjoy or understand something I did, and thatís not really who Iím trying to reach. Iím more trying to figure out how I can convey what I actually do want to the people who may get it. Do you know what I mean? So I donít know the answer to ďwhat am I trying to do,Ē but Iím probably trying to do something funny.

Where did I first hear about you.... Was your first album on an Onion top list or something?

I donít think so. My first album was on Suicide Squeeze.

No, no, I mean, did the Onion have it on their list of top comedy albums or something?

Oh, yes, yes. Thatís true.

Thatís what it was, thatís what it was. So I bought it because of that, and what really appealed to me about it is that you donít come across like a comedian; you come across like a funny friend, like someone I would hang out with in college that would just crack me up all the time and then go on to some shitty job.

Yes.

You really donít sound likeÖ you donít go out there and go, (in over-the-top comedian voice) ďSo! I wasÖ blah blah blah blah."

Right.

Even a lot of newer comedians still do that.

Yes.

So is that something that you intended?

Yes and no. I think I feel uncomfortable with something thatís too forced, but also a lot of that stuff is jokes that I say in the same manner. I mean, stand-up comedy is the illusion that youíre having a conversation, or that youíre just talking. However conversational a comedian is, itís most likely that theyíve planned out what theyíre going to say, either word-for-word or within a certain reason. Yeah, I mean, I have a very conversational style. I think that to me itís much more comfortable. And some of it is also genuinely conversational and completely worked out. But some of it is also just, I donít know, itís probably my demeanor or character. Iíve always also tried to be as much myself onstage as I am myself when Iím sort of funny in real life.

When you do shows with comedians, do you find a lot of times or ever that they donít act in real life like they do onstage?

Sure. Some people are doing characters, or some people are exaggerating. I mean, everybodyís kind of exaggerating. At the very least, everyoneís playing an exaggerated version of themselves. Sometimes itís very different.

Yeah. Who are some of your favorites that are current right now?

As far as stand ups?

Yeah.

Patton Oswalt, Demetri Martin, Zach Galifianakis. Thereís also a lot of people like Jon Glaser and Jon Benjamin who do pretty amazing things. Itís not quite stand-up, but itís still extremely funny. Todd Barry is very funny.

Yeah, now, is he like that offstage?

Who, Todd Barry?

Is he that laid back offstage?

In a sense. I donít know if ďlaid backĒ is how I would describe it, but Todd is similar to himself onstage enough. But him onstage is still an amped-up version of him.

OK. What do you think aboutÖ are you into any political comedians, either past or present?

Well I like the Daily Show a lot, and I think that David Cross is doing this -- is that what you mean, or no?

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah, sure. Yeah. I think that David Cross is very funny. But a lot of people knew who he is already. Either in terms ofÖ Like, the Daily Show is very funny, so is the Colbert Report. And then Lenny Bruce is very funny. Heís dead, of course. He wasnít really political as much as social, but still. I donít know if IímÖ I mean, Iím more interested in just whether I think itís funny rather than if it is or is not political.

Yeah, thatís true.

I think David is very funny. He does a lot of stuff thatís political. But thereís lots of stuff thatís just social or neither.

Who are doing things that are completely, to you, new and clever? Like not normal stand-up?

I think that, to me, Jon Benjamin and Jon GlaserÖ

And they work together?

Often, but not always.

What do they do? Can you describe what they do?

Countless different things. Thereís that thing they do on the Invite Them Up compilation. Comedy Central put out a compilation of the show that I do every Wednesday, and they have a bit on it called Fuggedabuddies, which is, I donít know, Iím trying to describeÖ itís two guys pretending to be a comedy team. They donít ever break the bit, but thatís what it is. And so they just do countlessÖ Glaser does another thing on it where he pretends his dad used to be in ZZ Top. So he just reads old letters that his dad wrote when he was a member of ZZ Top. Just stuff like that thatís kind of hard to describe, but itís an insane happening.

Do you like Neil Hamburger at all?

Say that again?

Neil Hamburger?

Yeah. I think that, in terms of the stand-ups that I see, I see a lot of people do lots of different characters -- like that character, and Iíve seen him do very funny stuff. But itís also sort of just a bit. Which is totally fine. But I prefer the stuff like Louis CK, where -- in a sense, what I really love is someone whoís just an amazing stand-up. Like, have you ever heard of Daniel Kitson?

No.

Heís a British comedian whoís really amazing, and when you see him talk, itís genuinely like -- his stand-up is full of emotion, and it makes you think, and itís just really incredible. But I feel like what I get really excited about is someone who has transformed stand-up into like an art or a philosophy. And itís incredibly funny, obviously. I donít really mean itís like a lecture; I mean that itís insanely funny but also really poignant.

Do you have any idea why humor is so important in your life? It is to me, too, but I wouldnítÖ

Well, to me, itís something that Iím pretty good at that I can survive off of, I guess. And also I love it. I just enjoy it. Why do I enjoy it? Iím not sure, exactly. I mean, why do I like making things? I donít know.

Oh, what were the other things you said you were working on besides the book?

Iím doing a voice for a cartoon. And Iím making a bunch of shorts for something called ďSuper Deluxe.Ē Thatís where I'm doing a sci-fi comedy talk show, and itís like three-minute shorts. Itís called ďSpace Talk From Dimension Eugene.Ē Thatís pretty exciting. Itís on there right now. Itís like a three-minute sci-fi talk show.

And where can it be seen?

Superdeluxe.com

Oh, OK. Yeah, I see itÖ So you already actually have a publisher, Harper Collins.

Yes.

And youíre a voice on "Lucy," the Adult Swim show?

Yes.

How did all this stuff come together? Do you have an agent who tries to get you this stuff, or do people just hear your CDs and call you, orÖ?

Different things just happen different ways. Like the book deal -- I for a long time had a column/blog for the Village Voice, and an agent contacted me asking me if I had any book ideas. So I did, and I wrote a proposal Ė it took me like a year, half a year, whatever it was Ė I wrote a proposal and we pitched it to different publishers. Harper Collins decided to buy the book.

When is it due?

Iím sorry?

When is the book due to them?

Oh, I have to finish it in the next few months probably. But "Lucy," which is the new show for Adult Swim, is being done by one of the producers for Dr. Katz -- the old producer for Dr. Katz and Home Movies. And heís an old friend of mine. A lot of the people like Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser and Todd Barry are all doing the show. So itís people I know who asked me to be on that show. I play a nun. Iím the voice of the nun.

Do you do your regular voice, or do you do it crazy?

I do a mildly crazy voice, yeah.

OK, now if someone reads the interview here and they havenít heard you, I would send them to the video section on your site. Do you have a favorite video thatís on your site that you think really puts across your kind of humor?

Yes, I think both the special agent video and the sexpert video get across my sense of humor. I think a lot of them do, but I think that those are maybe in there for people to understand that Iím making lots of weird crap.

OK. Oh, there's "Backdraftier" - I love that one! This is a tough question, but do you have a dream goal as far as your career, what you would really like to do most? Or do you just kind of go with it, and whatever happens happens?

I think right now itís just different kinds of projects. I really wanted to do a book and Iím doing that. Iíve been pretty excited about my science fiction talk show thing for Super Deluxe. Iíd like to do a comedy special for TV. I mean, no, I donít want to be like a movie star.

OK, thatís what Iím asking, that kind of thing.

Yeah, I donít really want a sitcom or to be a movie star. However, I want to work on a lot of different projects, and if one of them involves being a movie star or having a sitcom -- like Iím going to be on a new sitcom on HBO.

Whatís that?

The showís called ďFlight of the Concords.Ē Do you know who Flight of the Concords are?

No.

Theyíre a New Zealand folk-comedy duo. They have a new show, and the premise is that theyíre a band from New Zealand that has moved to New York, and I play their landlord.

Oh, OK. Jeez. Youíre a busy man.

I am. Iím very busy.

And how did this all get started? First you did your stand-up shows, which led to a record dealÖ

Yeah, I guess, but Iíve done comedy for ten, eleven, twelve years, so it all happened slowly over time. You meet people, you work with people you enjoy. With this, literally, the landlord for the HBO show, my characterís name is Eugene --the part was made for me specifically. I still had to audition for it. But I landed it!

Ha! You had to audition to be your own self?! OK!

Yeah, itís funny. There have been other times where I heard that they were looking -- I think there was some point where Comedy Central was looking for someone to be a Eugene Mirman type, and I never heard about the audition until maybe a month later, and then I did it but I wasn't enough of a Eugene Mirman type. So there are times where theyíre looking, apparently, for someone like me, but not me. So I donít know. But the question was how do I get work?

Well, no, I think youíve at this pointÖ

No, no, I know.

Wait, this Invite Them Up thing is three CDs and a DVD?

Yes.

Oh my God. Iíll go ahead and buy that, then.

Sure. Itíll be a lot of weird stuff, but you might enjoy a lot of it.

OK. Are you happy with it?

I am. Iím happy with it. Its original goal was to be shorter, so I think itís a slightly cumbersome thing, but it has a lot of amazing things, a lot of comedy that wouldnít be available otherwise. So in that sense I think it's exciting, but I think also itís big in this way that I think some people find difficult. But a lot of people who like comedy really love it. It has a lot of stuff on it that you wouldnít really be able to hear in any other way.

OK. And Iím looking at ďCustomers who bought this item also boughtÖĒ and I see that Demetri Martin also has a CD.

Yes, he does.

Should I get that? Is it indicative of his live show pretty much?

Yes. It is. Have you heard Demetri before?

No, you know, I havenít watched the Daily Show in a long time, soÖ

Yes, Demetri is a great stand-up.

Most of the stand-ups who Iíve heard recently have beenÖ this guy who owns Stand Up! Records, do you know that label?

I do, yeah.

Yeah, he sent me like everything he put out, so Iím hearing all this Doug Stanhope and Maria BamfordÖ

Yeah, theyíre great.

Yeah, they are. Almost everyone on his label cracks me up. And then I got that Brian Posehn, because I love the Mr. Show.

Yes.

Letís see what elseÖ Basically whenever I hear someone whoís new and interesting I try to pick it up. So what I didnít realize here is that Invite Them Up is something you and Bobby founded.

Yes.

I didnít realize that. How long ago?

Now around five years, but, yeah, four-and-a-half, five.

Damn. And where is it every week?

Rififi.

Rififi.

Yeah, in the East Village, on 11th Street.

What time does it start?

It starts at nine, but people might want to get here early. I also do another show every week with Michael Showalter and this woman Julie Smith. She produces it, in Park Slope at Union Hall.

Now hereís a question that really follows everything else that weíve just been talking about. Do you FEEL Russian? I know you grew up with Russian parents, but you sound so American, and you donít reallyÖ

Well I came here when I was four.

Yeah.

Yes and no. I speak it every day to my parents. You know what I mean? So I speak Russian fluently.

You said that people, growing up, treated you likeÖ

Yeah. Itís more like the sort of thing where like, do I feel particularly Jewish? Not really. But if there was a war, would people try to destroy me? Possibly. You know what I mean? So if people interpret you as someoneÖ I mean, I also was a weird kid, so it just sort of started out with like, ďOh, heís Russian,Ē and then it was like, ďActually, heís just weird.Ē I feel half and half. One of the other projects Ė I donít mean to make it sound like Iím incredibly busyó

You are, though.

Iím also in the process of doing a documentary about going back to Russia for the first time.

Oh, wow.

Yeah. Iím going to try to do a show in Moscow. Itís probably going to be in like a year or something, but Iíve begun the preliminary stages of working on that.

Do you have an actual record deal with Sub Pop, or did they just hire you for one record?

Basically, their deals in the beginning, in general, are one-offs. So yeah, itís just a one-off deal. I probably will do another record with them, but it would be up to them and up to me.

What do you hear as the differences between your first and your second album? Do you feel that youíve developed as a comic in any particular way between those two, or is it just more of what you like to do best?

I think itís just different degrees of what Iím doing during them, for whatever reason. My first record had more of the stuff that Iíd been doing up until that point, and I think my second record has a handful of political things just because of probably what was around me at the time. But itís all still sort of from my point of view. No matter how political it is, itís still like me having an experience of debating someone on a music network, you know what I mean?

Yeah. For some reason, the joke on the first album that cracked me up so much, itís not even that new a joke, I think Iíve heard other people make similar jokes, but they just werenít anywhere near as funny as yoursÖ it was the one about the guy in the bathroom on the cellphone.

Yeah.

I donít know what it was. Itís just your phrasingÖ "Yeah! I'm in the bathroom!" ďI know! I am too!Ē That kind of thingÖ you do it very well.

Thank you.

Each day, as far as a work goal, do you say, ďOK, every day I have to spend two hours workingĒ or "four hours working" or do you just...?

Well, itís not quite like that. I still work best under pressure when I have to get something done. I also have so many random things I can do in terms ofÖ from preparing for a show, to working on the book, to planning an event or something. So, yeah, generally, I try to work. I think that one of its problems is itís hard to put down, or itís hard to go, ďOK, I wonít do anything for a few days.Ē So thereís no weekend, in a sense, because Iím always working on something. And sort of disorganized as I am, I try to be basically on top of things.

Is it ever a problem of being in the right mood, or can you write good humor even when youíre pissed off or depressed or something?

It just depends if thereís something I have to do, you know what I mean?

Yeah, but even if you have to do somethingÖ

Well, right. But the point beingÖ Is it harder to perform when Iím mad or something? Yeah, probably. It just depends on the situation or what the thing is. But I donít ever have a situation where I have to write ten jokes by 5:00pm, you know what I mean? It certainly happens that Iím not in the mood to write jokes, and then I just wonít write jokes. But if I have to answer an interview or something and I want it to be funny, generally I have to focus on it enough to make it funny. But can I sit down and be funny for hours? I donít know. I feel like to a certain degree I have to be in the right mood, but Iíve also structured things in such a way that I can take time off.

Yeah. And what are you into doing in your time off? What are your interests?

My interests areÖ the History Channel and superheroes. And music and probably some other stuff. A small amount of video games. I used to play more, but I havenít in a while, But I just got a Wii.

Uh oh.

I got a jukebox recently, and thatís the most exciting thing.

A full size one?

Yeah, at an auction. They thought it was broken, so I got it for incredibly cheap, but now, in my spare time, I keep looking for 7Ēs.

What kind of stuff on the History Channel?

Oh, just anything to do with the past. I just really like it.

Do you know why? Are you looking for how it affects the current, the present?

Often they do that for you. But, I donít know; I just like history stuff and often enjoy history things. I like random information. Like I saw something about how in World War II, to throw off the Germans, the British had built inflatable tanks and planes, so if they had aerial reconnaissance it would look like there was an army being built where there was no army being built.

Wow!

See?

Yeah!

I donít know what to say about that fact. I wonít use that fact to write the perfect joke, but I think itís just really neat and I love learning stuff like that.

Yeah. Well, you gave me your half hour so I can let you go now. Unless thereís something else you want to say.

Well, no, I think thatís a lot of it. I donít know. I mean, Iím sure thereís other things. If thereís anything else you want to ask, this would be the perfect time.

Oh jeez. I guess I was gonna say ďwhatís next?Ē but I guess we already know whatís next.

Yes. A bunch of little projects.

OK. All right. Well, continue the good luck with everything.

Thank you very much. And when will this be online?

As soon as I get it transcribed.

Awesome.

All right, thanks again.

Thank you, sure.

Reader Comments

Steve
I was just re-listening to some Eugene the other day and revisited this interview as a result (this interview was my first introduction to him - thanks!). He mentioned at the beginning of the interview that he uses "Invite them Up" as a tool for developing and honing new material. However, my absolute favorite Mirman moment comes in one of those "Invite Them Up" recordings - the bit also appeared later on his 2nd album, but it didn't have quite the comedic perfection of the "trial run". I'm referring to the joke about Planned Parenthood, and how if you pay an extra $30 they will put you unconscious so you won't remember your abortion (I won't give up the rest of the bit). On the Invite Them Up CDs, he absolutely nails that joke, I still laugh out loud every time I hear it. So much so, that the subsequent "final" version on his album just disappoints me a little. Eugene's great though, can't wait for more albums of his.

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