by Jeff Cleary
Eugene Mirman has a recurring role on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and has also appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Comedy Central Presents, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He is currently traveling with the Stand Uppity Tour, starring himself, Marc Maron, and Andy Kindler, as 3 comedians who will make you “feel better about yourself and superior to others.” Eugene spoke to us from New York ahead of his performance at Mezzanine in San Francisco on Tuesday.
You were born in Russia, grew up in Massachusetts, and live in Brooklyn- if someone in a street gang asked you where you “claim,” what would you say?
EM: I would say all three of those. Because it’s the accurate answer.
When did you start doing comedy?
EM: The first time I ever did stand-up was just after high school. Then I did it throughout college, in Western Mass. I actually created my own major. I went to Hampshire College where you could design your own major, so I did comedy. And then I moved to Boston after college, and started pursuing comedy as a career.
Was the Boston comedy scene really good then?
EM: It was. At the time I was there, it was great. I think it goes through cycles. Really, I got into comedy the year people say it crashed, like meaning… ’92. But yeah, the Boston scene has always been great. A lot of amazing people have come from there, or been through. I mean, David Cross, Steven Wright, Louis CK, a lot of people who write for Conan, Marc Maron, Janeane (Garofalo). It’s got a super-rich history, but I was there with Brendon Small, we started out together, and Patrick Borelli, and a lot of great people.
Now that you’re more established, is there anything you miss from those old “open-mic” days?
EM: I still do sorta-similar things, like I run a show in New York…
“Invite Them Up?”
EM: Well, I used to do “Invite Them Up.” We wrapped that up a few months ago. But I do a show with Michael Showalter every Sunday. In Boston, I never really did open-mics, per se, but I performed at the Comedy Studio regularly. It was amateur, partially, but there were also professional comedians. Dr. Katz was taped in Boston, so often when people would come to record Dr. Katz, they would end up doing a set at this club. So I met Ron Lynch, Louis CK, Jon Benjamin, and Todd Barry. But, essentially I still do a weekly show where I try new stuff every week, and it’s a lot of fun. In that sense, I do a similar thing still. Do I miss being less-confident? A little, but not overly.
Your last CD was on Sub Pop. How is it being a comic on a rock label?
EM: It’s great. Sub Pop also has a handful of comedy albums. I love Sub Pop. In general, my career is much more like a band’s career, so it’s very fitting.
Speaking of which, you’re performing at the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington, you’ve performed at South by SouthWest in Austin, and you live in Brooklyn- are you an indie-rock connoisseur?
EM: I really do like indie-rock. It’s funny, cuz I couldn’t tell where you were going; because the first two are music festivals and the third is a city. But yes, I do like indie-rock. I don’t know if I’d describe myself as a connoisseur, I also like lots of classic rock. I play a lot of the places that bands I’m a big fan of play.
Are there any bands you have to see when you’re up in Washington for the festival?
EM: Actually, I’m really excited to see R.E.M. I saw them at SxSW and they were great. There are a bunch of bands… The Heavenly States. I just performed in Fargo and they did a show right after us and they were great. I’m honestly forgetting which bands are playing there, but I’m coming up Saturday to see stuff and it’s because I remember looking at it and being really excited about a bunch of the bands. It’s a great line-up.
In your short films, you do a great job of mixing social commentary and absurdity, like when you’re parodying the Oscars or Congressional hearings. Does society annoy you, or do you just love making fun of it?
EM: I’m not annoyed. Some things I think are silly and I guess it is a comment on it, but I don’t go through it all grumpy. But I do think there are things that are stupid and should be made fun of. Comedy can be used as a way to correct things, or comment on stuff, or point things out… but I also think it’s a powerful way to comment, and a lot of fun.
Is it easy for you?
EM: I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but I enjoy it.
That reminds me of a great quote from Lenny Bruce where he essentially said, being a comic, if he woke up tomorrow and everything in society was perfect, he would be out of a job. Do you ever worry about things getting better?
EM: No. I mean, do you worry that things will be perfect? Is that a possibility? I mean, there are plenty of things that are silly and weird in the world. My career doesn’t require political instability and hunger. So, I would be fine with huge social ills being solved, and I’m sure I’d still find ways to make fun of people’s interpersonal relationships.
Let’s talk about the New York comedy scene. One of your good friends, Demetri Martin told me your personality wouldn’t change at all if you walked around wearing a cape. Do you know what he’s talking about?
EM: (laughs) I do know what he’s talking about. I think what he means is, I’m his only friend that if he put a cape on me it wouldn’t change how he perceived me. I guess what he’s saying is I could pull off a cape, or that I’m a silly person, which I think is really funny.
Some of the San Francisco comics like to joke about which SF comics they’d like to see get into a fist-fight. Who in the New York comedy scene would you like to see fight?
EM: I don’t think I want to see anybody fight, but if I had to answer, how about… Woody Allen and… Kristen Schaal?
How’s the Stand Uppity Tour going?
EM: It’s going great. It’s actually been super-fun so far.
I won’t ask you which of your co-comics you like more, but let me put it this way: if both Marc Maron and Andy Kindler needed a kidney transplant and you could only donate to one, who would get the kidney?
EM: Oh, I don’t know… Especially since they’re both so neurotic that whichever I say, I’m never going to hear the end of it. So I’m going to say… neither.
So you’d let them both… ?
EM: I wouldn’t let them both die but… You know what it is, I’d try to find a second kidney.
I think that’s the correct answer.
EM: But no, you don’t understand, it’s not because I want to save their lives, it’s because I’d never hear the end of it from the one that lived (or died). It would be overwhelming to hear them talk to me about it.
All three of you comics are admittedly liberal-leaning, but you’re performing in a lot of “so-called” red-states like Idaho and North Dakota. Have the crowds been receptive?
EM: Mostly, as you can imagine, old angry women come to our shows, and it’s a disaster. No, it’s great, because, as you know, this isn’t really a “Red State/Blue State” country. It’s all a lie of the media. I mean… are there 23 year old kids who like comedy in every city? Yeah. So it’s been fine. We haven’t been met with that. And the truth is, it would be fine. I know lots of people who are conservative, and it’s not like they’re crazy neo-cons. There are lots of people who have valid points of view that are different from mine. So the shows have been good.
So, is there a chance any of the Stand Uppity comics are going to “Dennis Miller-out” when you get older and turn into a grumpy Republican?
EM: Probably not grumpy, but possibly. If the question is, “Will any of us turn into unfunny conservatives?”, then no. But, “Will we turn into moderate, or conservative, funny people?” Maybe. It just depends. Will I ever want to ban abortion or gay rights? No. Will I think the country is fiscally irresponsible after watching it for 50 years? Maybe. Will I ever try to pass a law that prevents Chinese people from working? No, probably not. But I might be like, “We need a strong military.” Some people who are conservative survived the Cold War and World War II and they have lived through threats that we haven’t really seen. I’m sorry if my answer is extraordinarily wise.
It is. You’re going to be performing with the Stand Uppity show at Mezzanine on the 20th. You seem to perform in San Francisco a lot- what do you do here when you’re not on stage?
EM: I go to nice Chinese restaurants, and visit a bunch of friends. I have a lot of friends out there.
Did you ever live in San Francisco?
EM: No, but I have visited there a lot and I have a bunch of friends out there.
Good luck on the tour and we’ll see you on the 20th.