Eugene Mirman At The Columbus
(5.13) Eugene Mirman is allowed into guitar stores. I did not know that for sure until a recent phone interview I inflicted upon the poor man. Comedian Eugene Mirman played Eugene the landlord on “Flight of the Conchords,” currently voices Gene Belcher on “Bob’s Burgers,” and plays Russian hitman Yvgeny Mirminsky on Adult Swim’s “Delocated.” Mirman — who prefers characters named Eugene — will soon be performing in Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera “Eugene Onegin” at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter, Florida. (Maybe not . . . a gal can dream.) You may also know Mirman from “Archer” and “Inside Amy Schumer” and your assignment before Saturday night is to watch his excellent comedy special “Vegan on His Way to the Complain Store” on Netflix. (He last performed here at the Columbus Theatre in December of 2013, and what a fantastic show that was.)
Mirman is also a frequent co-host on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s science show StarTalk. (And he’s one of the good guys, having just hosted the 4th annual fundraiser for Grist.org an environmental advocacy organization.)
During our phone conversation Mr. Mirman discussed Hampshire College, “Bob’s Burgers,” and audience participation . . . all in response to a jumbled list of questions, clearly the product of a compromised temporal lobe. I claim no training, expertise, or natural talent as an interviewer.
Hello Mr. Mirman. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I have no training, expertise, or natural talent as an interviewer. How do you pick your opening acts? Poet Derrick Brown frequently opens for me [The very amusing Brown opened here at the 2013 show.] Some people have local people or whatever, but I generally like to travel with someone I know and sort of know what they’ll be doing vaguely. So I saw him perform years ago in New York, actually met him through Amber Tamblyn and David Cross — he officiated at their wedding — and he was so amazing, and I saw him perform in New York, and I thought he would do great at a comedy show, and so I asked him to open a few shows . . . he was wonderful and someone I loved seeing and watching. He opened for my album the last time I recorded an album.
And this time I have Maeve Higgins. She is super funny. She’s from Ireland, she lives in New York now, and I love her very much. Generally my opening act is someone I really really like.
The last time I saw you perform you pulled a couple from the audience and married them. Over 50% of marriages end in divorce — are you keeping any statistics? How successful my half-fake half-real marriages are? No. I try to bring people up who have been together for a long time. I did a Netflix special where I did this bit, and the people I brought up were lovely but also only together for a year, so I don’t know. Because 50% of marriages end in divorce but people often get married before they’re 26 or 27, but as you get older the divorce rate drops very quickly. If you get married at 35 you are much less likely to get divorced. I try to marry people in their 30’s . . . when I fake-marry people who are drunk in an audience.
You were born in Moscow and then your parents moved to New York? Only for an evening and then they moved to Boston. I grew up outside Boston and Lexington.
Were they performers or artists? No, they are very lovely, and they are very funny, and I think they very much appreciate comedy and art and film and stuff. No, they’re mathematicians and programmers and that sort of thing like so many immigrants of that era.
I have this idea that maybe their plans for you might not have been a life in comedy. You know it’s funny. I went to Hampshire College where you can design your own major . . . and I majored in comedy . . and that was all with their blessing, so they’ve always been extremely supportive, but I do feel like they got a lot of flack from friends who were probably like, Why would you let your son major in comedy when clearly the real civilian money is in dentistry or programming? But I think that as a lot of immigrants do, they really wanted my brother and I to be able to pursue what we wanted, and have the life we wanted, even if that was a life of being a failure at art, or not, you never know. It was very uncharted territory for them, and for me, because with comedy there really isn’t a path, you keep trying until you either succeed or do something else.
I was intrigued by the Hampshire thing because back in 1970 when I was applying to colleges I got the Hampshire application and it was about 50 pages of essay questions and that did me in right there. By the time I applied it was, Why don’t you write one essay and then we’ll look at your other stuff. And then they were like . . . We can’t tell if you’re very clever or very broken, so if you could write just one more essay? So then I wrote a second essay and they wrote back, Alright we think actually you’re . . . it’s gonna be good.” I was very on the cusp of getting in.
Did your parents know what kind of a school that was when they sent you off? Well I was kind of a horrible student in high school, so I think they were really just obsessed with me getting some sort of education. So I think they knew what it was. I mean I think they had an idea, but it’s an accredited university so as far as they were concerned it’s a solid place, that’s well regarded even though it’s sort of weird and hippyish and you can just pursue the things you want. But then when you get there you realize it’s a very sort of hard, very self-motivated, self-driven school, and you can major in what you want, but they guide you through a process that’s pretty intensive. So in a sense, at first you kind of think this is going to be fun, but then there’s much more work than I originally thought . . . there’s a reason it’s accredited because there’s a ton of requirements.
It probably wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. A lot of people dropped out while I was there. I think the graduation rate is a bit higher now than when I was there. I finished my science requirement my third year right before I graduated, but now I think you have to do all your requirements in the beginning.
I used to be a science teacher so I love that you are all hooked up with Neil deGrasse Tyson. How did you meet him? How did that come about? I used to have a weekly show at Union Hall in Brooklyn, in Park Slope, for a long time and the producer of “StarTalk” — this is about eight or nine years ago — came to that show a couple of times, and at one show asked if I wanted to come and meet Neil and work on this thing they were starting up called “StarTalk.” And a couple of months later I went to the Hayden Planetarium and met Neil, and I kind of thought it would be for about 20 or 30 minutes, but it was for about 2 or 3 hours. And at the end of the meeting he brought out this microphone to record, okay let’s try it, and we just sat and bantered for 20 minutes on his couch. And then a little while later I came to the studio because, I think they used to broadcast on CBS radio because it was a live radio show in the early days, so then I started coming into the studio to do the on-air show. And from there I suggested we try it live with a few more comedians and scientists, and so now we do this sort of version of it where it’s live . . . we do it at the Beacon Theater. Sometimes I travel with Bill Nye to do it.
Clearly you are into music, do you play the guitar? No. I wish I could play guitar and sing. Those are the two things I wish I could do that I can’t. It’s also maybe some combination of tone and rhythm. Like when I record songs for “Bob’s Burgers,” Loren Bouchard, who created the show, will literally sing one line, and then I’ll repeat it, and then he’ll sing the second line, and I’ll repeat it. I can find that one line, but the second line is very very hard.
Wasn’t there something in your Netflix special about going to a guitar store? Yeah, because I go because I have a theremin, yeah there was. I have a theremin and I do random bits using audio stuff for musical instruments. So it’s not that I can’t go inside a guitar store, it’s that I can’t play guitar. And the truth is, I started doing a handful of “Bob’s Burgers” songs live from the show with friends that are sort of simple and really fun to do. I am totally trying to get over my fear . . . and it works in that context . . . exactly, I can sing exactly as well as an 11-year-old cartoon character.
But you sometimes open for bands. Doing stand-up comedy. Clearly you like music. Oh I love music.
Have you ever been invited to open for a band you didn’t like? Um no I don’t think that’s actually ever happened. Um you know. I think I feel like anyone who’s approached me has been in bands I like. It’s generally almost always someone you know. Like a handful of times I’ve been asked to open for bands that I know of, but don’t personally know. A lot of comedy and music is that you find people that you really enjoy being with, and working with, and you sort of end up touring. It’s like I travel with friends that I like to do comedy with because that makes it just a lot more fun. Otherwise you’re sort of on the road a lot.
Do you still live on the east coast, in Brooklyn? I still live on the east coast but now actually on Cape Cod.
Because you have a young family now and I was wondering how you were navigating life in Brooklyn with a child. I navigated it by going to Cape Cod. I’m from Lexington and my wife is from Amherst so our families are New England and Boston, so for us it’s much easier to be on Cape Cod, and eventually we’ll probably be in Boston. But we’re on the Cape now and love it.
Do you record “Bob’s Burgers” on the west coast? In a submarine at Woods Hole.
. . . I drive to Boston and record there . . . so it’s actually that I record at the same time as New York and LA, so we’re all together doing scenes together as a family, or whatever characters.
So you’re acting against the real people. Yeah that way we can all improvise and that way it feels very natural. And the truth is, right now I am in Los Angeles, and tomorrow I’m recording “Bob’s Burgers” in Los Angles. Sometimes I record in New York and LA if I’m traveling for work, but generally I try to record in Boston now.
One thing I did notice from the Netflix special, you interrupt yourself from time to time asking for questions from the audience. Do you really want questions from the audience? When I do that, yes. What no comic wants is people yelling random stuff when they’re drunk. If you go, does anyone have a question? But I’ve actually created — and I think I’ll do this in Providence — a slightly easier version, where I’ll ask people to write questions down on note cards. That way I have a pile of questions that I can just answer from people in the audience. People enjoy hearing their question, and then it’s much easier to form a question, as opposed to just yelling out a weird short thing.
I’m more comfortable with that system actually.
There you go. So I’m going to do that, I’m going to hand out note cards for questions. Generally I ask for life advice because that’s the easiest, the most coherent. Because sometimes people will ask a trivia question, but I don’t know all there is to know about Ford motor cars . . .
That was my next question.
***And, following an exchange of pleasantries, the interview drew to an end.***
So there you have it. Lots and lots about Hampshire College and not one question about “Delocated”!!! Mr. Mirman could not have been nicer, but he speaks really really fast and this has been hell to transcribe! I tried to get it all down correctly.
Mirman’s latest comedy special is available on Netflix. He’s had two comedy specials on Comedy Central. He also released his fifth comedy album ‘I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome)’ as a monumental 9-volume, 7-LP comedy album available now on Sub Pop Records.
Irish comedian Maeve Higgins opens.