Interview with comedian Eugene Mirman

With his uniquely offbeat, irreverent, and absurd humor comedian Eugene Mirman has pushed his way to the forefront in of a growing alternative movement in the comedy world.  He was the co-host of the intimate comedy series Invite Them Up in the East Village and made a name for himself with his ironic Internet videos featuring sex advice and anti-gay propaganda done in character.  He has also appeared on television shows such as: Late Night With Conan O’Brien, HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Cartoon Network’s Home Movies, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force as well as recording six comedy albums. September 16 marks the opening of his eponymous comedy festival which runs through the 19th at Brooklyn’s Bell House, Union Hall, and the Rock Shop and features a plethora of fantastic comedians, musicians, and writers in daily themed shows such as: “An Evening of Comedy From 1986” and “A Night of Gay or Foreign Comedy.”

What inspired you to get into comedy, when did you first realize you were funny?

I grew up watching a lot of standup comedy during the 80s and always really loved it. I think sometime around my senior year of high school it occurred to me that it was a profession that I could try. Then I did it for 15 years. Now I’m on TV!

You were born in Russia before immigrating to America when you were young.  Most Americans learned about Russia from James Bond or Ronald Regan which might not give us a great image, what can you tell us about your native country?

Both of those sources are fairly accurate. Other than that I can tell you that most Russians can vomit acid and melt when they touch Coca-Cola.

The first time I saw you perform was at one of your Cabinet of Wonders shows with author/musician John Wesley Harding in the village?  It was as entertaining as it was eclectic with musicians, writers, and comedians.  How did you get together with John and what prompted the collaboration?

I met Wes at Tinkle (a show David Cross, Jon Benjamin and Todd Barry hosted in the Lower East Side for several years). I asked him to perform a few times at a weekly comedy show I was doing. He then asked me to perform at a recording of a live album taping he was doing. We both had a great time on each other’s shows and when Wes started doing Cabinet of Wonders I became a regular on it. We traveled together, often co-hosting the show. Really, it’s because we both like each other and have a lot of fun together. Also, it’s a great cover for all the bank heists we pull all over the country.

As someone that’s regularly referred to as an “alternative comedian” what is your opinion of the term?

I think it helps give some people a vague idea of the type of comedy they might see, but I don’t care about it either way. I certainly don’t think it’s offensive or anti-semitic. But maybe I would feel different if the expression was “alternative Jew Comedian.”

What’s the worst on-stage experience you ever had?

A woman in her mid-50s once shit in a plastic bag and set it on fire and threw it at a waiter who was somewhat rude to her. I thought it was inappropriate.

You managed to use the Internet and some terrific absurdist videos to make a name for yourself early on in your career.  As technology continues to develop what other means are you looking at in order to get your voice out to the public?

Meaning what new technology do I plan to use as it is invented? I hope one day I can purchase a helmet that will allow me to tell jokes into people’s brains while they sleep. Other than that, I guess I plan on becoming the greatest Tweeter the world has ever seen!!!!!

You’ve lived in Brooklyn for quite a while. What are your favorite things about the borough?

I like that you can go and get any type of food from anyone’s house that you can sneak into undetected. And Prospect Park.

If they decide one day to put up a life size statue of you in your hometown, what quote would you want below your name?

Probably something like, “Ha ha! You thought I was a commie fag and I totally am not! Thank you!”

This week marks the opening of The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival which features some terrific comics such as: Slovin and Allen, David Cross, Reggie Watts, and Mike Birbiglia as well as other musicians, writers, and more.  The festival has been a big success with its untraditional approach and themed events, what made you want to start your own festival?

It came out of me making a joke that I was going to do a festival one day after my Union Hall show to Mike Birbiglia and Julie Smith (who produces the festival and books the weekly show). And then I said that I obviously wasn’t going to do that, because it’s ridiculous. Then Mike and Julie suggested I do it because it’s ridiculous. Then Julie, Caroline Craighead (who also helps with the weekly show as well) and I started doing the festival.

As a standup comic myself I know the world of comedy is tough on young comics, what’s your advice about succeeding? (or how do I one day get a spot on a Eugene Mirman show?)

Well, mostly I suggest to do it for 10 or 15 years and it should work out – if you listen to audiences and figure out what works for you. In terms of getting on the festival, I would just suggest becoming very good at comedy and we’ll probably hear about you. However, we have a lot of themed shows, so sometimes there are comics I’d love to include, but can’t, because they don’t fit a theme. Anyway, just do comedy for a long time and run out of other real options for careers and you’ll most likely do well.

Catch Eugene Mirman and many others as part of The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival running September 16 – 19. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://www.eugenemirmancomedyfestival.com/

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About Tim Needles

Tim Needles is an artist, photographer, humorist, and writer from Long Island, NY. His writing and art work has been seen in multiple exhibitions and publications around New York as well as the Photographer’s Forum, French Photo, the New York Times, and LI Pulse magazine. He is also an educator and currently teaches art and film at Smithtown, NY and as an Education Leader for Adobe. He was recently the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Award in Washington DC and serves as the director of Strictly Students, a non-for-profit group for media and education. His work can be seen on his website: www.timneedles.com
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