What do you think of when you hear the name Eugene Mirman?
The stand-up comic has a host of specials/albums, but has also found mainstream success by voicing Gene Belcher on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers and Cecil Tunt on FX’s Archer. He’s also the guy behind The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival which ran for ten years, as well as characters on Flight of the Conchords TV series, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and even the main (non-masked) character on Delocated. He’s always making something funny in some format that may or may not make sense to everyone else. That includes a seven record set called “I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome)” which included stand-up comedy, recordings of orgasm sounds, and even an entire record of just the performer (earnestly?) sobbing uncontrollably.
So what you think of when you hear the name Eugene Mirman is entirely subjective to what part of his career has touched you, or if you know him well enough to know that you’ll never know him at all.
What you may have missed in all of this is Mirman hubbub is his excellent Audible audio series, Hold On, where the comedian interrupts extended stand-up or storytelling to ask the storytellers about the facts and sub-plots behind the bigger narratives at hand. The show has just released a third season, available through Audible, Amazon Prime and with back episodes on iTunes. We sat down with Mirman to discuss what the busiest man in comedy is doing right now.
Paste: Let’s start with the easy question: What has 2017 done to your brain? And how does being an absurdist comedian become political?
In general, the way my comedy is political has always been about addressing things that are at the core of an issue by making fun of the peripheral. For example, I have a bit about being hounded by a homophobic phone company who wanted me to sign up for their homophobic phone service. In that sense, I have stuff I’m working on—the world is so saturated in it right now, that I don’t know where to go from here. I blocked Donald Trump on Twitter because the news of what he has said will reach me, but I don’t need to be upset moment to moment.
Paste: What else have you done for your mental health?
I live on Cape Cod, which is pleasant. You engage the world through comedy, but 2017 is just saturation of garbage and Trump jokes. He’s a monsoon of garbage. Let’s clarify. At some point you also have to fight the monsoon while living. For example, I just took my son to a doctor’s checkup, and that was nice.
Paste: Do you ever get bored?
Everyone gets bored.
Paste: You seem to turn your boredom into products though. I saw that as one of the people who owns your comedy box set, which includes extended recordings of you crying and attempting various orgasm noises.
I love the idea of people listening to parts of that at random times. Never just the straight five hours of it. But yeah, I sit down to work but I also get bored. It’s not when I’m trying to come up with titles for orgasm sounds.
Paste: The musician Mike Patton has these albums where he just sat alone in a hotel room with a four track recorder making sounds with his mouth and calling the tracks things like “GI JOE MELTING,” and I’ve often referred to you as the Mike Patton of comedy because of your ability to use just…. every thought and free minute you have. You use every part of the emotional buffalo.
That’s great. Largely, I work on things like that album for several years while working with friends. The things I do become collaborations, including the comedy festival I made for ten years with Julie Smith. This was the last year but I also named our last show something like “This Is Probably The Last Show Of Our Last Festival, But Who Knows, The Eagles Got Back Together and I Only Moved To Massachusetts, Anniversary Show Pt 2.” So the answer is that it is probably the last one. Most of our friends moved away and it is a lot of work and we both have children now. We’re not like Motley Crue who signed a legal agreement to never get back together. In 25 years? Maybe. That said, we did film a documentary/special about this last festival that we’ll be releasing and we are very proud of it.
Paste: How is Cape Cod treating you?
We like it a lot. We’re also in Boston and splitting our time. My family is there and we see people more. My son is 15 months old and he doesn’t know what’s happening. He has more access to crepes here. I assume that’s what he’s thinking about. He mostly likes to throw things on the ground. He’s very good at it actually.
Paste: You’ve done two seasons of Hold On and a third season just released.
If you have Audible or Amazon Prime, you can listen right now. You can hear a story about Neil deGrasse Tyson in college almost becoming a male stripper. So that, just, throwing that out there. After Audible, some of these will start coming to iTunes, but there’s still more of season two that needs to hit iTunes first. A lot of it is people I know and love. People like Jon Benjamin, Kumail, Kristen and Birbiglia. It’s a pretty fun thing to do.
Paste: You get to do that thing a lot of people love to do to comedians, by asking “How much of this is true?”
On the Sean Patton episode he answers right off the bat: “A fair amount.” It is usually a true story with some narrative restructuring. Look, people ask me if I really have a son. Yeah. I have a son. What would be the point? Some things, sure, would sound far fetched. But why would you make up the story that you were once in Kansas City?
Paste: I’m just going to go ahead and say: a multi-year bit where Eugene Mirman commits to the idea of raising an imaginary son is kinda the most Eugene Mirman thing I could come up with?
Right. I guess that’s true. One of the things with my most elaborate bits is that I hold things up on stage, which helps prove that I actually did the thing I said I did. People see it and it is easier to work with that. And then it is funny because you are actually reaching out to do things like, say, taking out an ad after getting rates for said ads.
Paste: Who do you wish you could have on Hold On to cross-examine?
Steve Martin? I guess? You know, the thing about it is that the people on the show are telling stories and I can usually just ask people questions if I have questions? No one here is doing stories that are usually part of their stand-up. I couldn’t ask questions of someone from my childhood about where they grew up, because… I was also there. I don’t know. I already get to do that when I talk to people.
Paste: You guest on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk. What is that experience like?
It’s wonderful. I met Buzz Aldrin. What I adore about Neil is that at live shows there is often an audience Q&A and a little girl asked—this was in 2012—about whether the Mayans were correct and the world was going to end. Rather than being “Uh, don’t worry about that, no,” Neil went through the process and logic of the Mayans and how they built their calendar and the flaws in their reasoning in a very fundamental way. I just love the way he will reframe things and give detailed answers. Climate change or whatever—he really breaks things down in a clear, understandable way. And gracious.
Paste: What’s something you learned from the show that blew your mind?
There was one show that the guests were from SETI, and they talked about how we will receive a signal from an alien world in the next 30 years, based on the Drake Equation, based on the probability that we would find Goldilocks planets. That number has since been adjusted, but even thinking about radio signals from other civilizations being realistic… that’s incredible. The audience and I are often equally out of our element here, even though sometimes many of them are much more into science than I am. The point of me being there is to ask questions and ask for clarification or to ask about something they all know from their third year of grad school that no one else gets.
Paste: Of all the shows you’ve been on that are dead now, what do you wish could come back for one final episode?
Delocated actually got one, so I think Flight of the Conchords would be great. Lucy The Daughter Of The Devil has a lot of the same people on Bob’s Burgers so I still get to work with those folks. So yeah, let’s do a Flight of the Conchords.
Paste: I have a feeling people would be in for that.
Hold On is available on Audible and other digital platforms.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.