Interview: Eugene Mirman
KP Issue XXIX: 4 Finger Man (and a hot dog bun)
corn mo: You went to Hampshire College where students make their own curriculum.
eugene mirman: Hampshire is an interdisciplinary school filled with hippies and hipsters who vie for power. Every year the balance shifts. I was right in the middle of the horror. It is like a mild Vietnam War with Frisbee. The good news is you can design your own major and so I did comedy.
cm: What did that include?
em: I took classes in writing, history, the rise of mass culture, sociology, video, acting, etc. And in many classes I did stuff related to comedy. I did independent studies on the philosophy of humor, physiology of laugher, Lenny Bruce and his impact on social norms, etc. I also had a radio talk show, did improv, wrote a humor column for my school paper, co-created a humor organization on campus. It was a good time.
cm: What books did you read?
em: I read random books on comedy theories. I think lots of random philosophers and psychologists had bits and pieces on humor. I would sort of seek it out. I remember that someone thought that humor was the conflict between a conventional and unconventional reality. (i.e., going to a movie alone isn’t funny, but going with a wolf is!)
cm: What was your final?
em: I did a one-hour stand-up act that I wrote, performed, promoted, and produced. (Like many of Hollywood’s greats, I wore many hats.) Weirdly enough, I actually learned a lot about running shows and promoting and stuff. And it helped for when I got out of school.
To get material for final project, I ran a comedy show in the basement of my dorm. But there were few other comedians. So I would get people to tell funny stories, try stand-up. There was a guy from a half-way house that was very funny and sort of unstable who performed. Some guy who was an activist who dressed in a potato sack and campaigned for Jerry Brown would perform. And students.
cm: Did you learn about stand up formulas?
em: I did learn about joke formulas and such. More from doing it, than in a class. But it’s nothing that people wouldn’t learn from trying to write jokes and doing standup.
cm: Would you ever write a book about your studies?
em: I probably wouldn’t write a book about it, because I would have to revisit lots of forgotten information.
cm: You ever fuck a girl from Smith?
em: I never did. Also, at Hampshire, we called it “making lovelies.” And whenever we did, we would sit in our rooms crying, and the next day try to change the world through the system!
cm: Do you have a day job?
em: I don’t have a day job now. But I’ve had many and need them sometimes. I used to work at a powerful law firm as an assistant about a year ago. They treated people crappy and I was defeated. Then I got on the hit NBC drama "Third Watch" and quit that shit!
cm: How did you get into PowerPoint?
em: I have always wanted to do multimedia stuff. I’ve done various audio/video things throughout the years. I just never had a way of doing computer stuff until I got a laptop. PowerPoint is a great way to have words, pictures, sounds and videos together. Plus it’s sort of cheesy and awesome.
kittenpants: How did you get involved with the Tinkle crew?
em: Todd and I grew up in the same village near the Kuwait/Iraq border (on the Kuwait side, of course). David and I worked as missionaries in mostly underprivileged countries, converting people, partying and stuff. And Jon and I still haven’t met in Boston when he would tape Dr. Katz.
kp: Which one of them makes the best banana bread?
em: I really have no idea. I can tell you which one likes fucking the most. Anyway, I met David through our mutual friend, Louis Gossett, Jr. (The singer/songwriter, not the painter).
kp: Which one is the funniest?
em: I’m glad you asked! Everyone thinks it’s David, but it’s Todd! I’m just kidding. It’s H. Jon Benjamin. His career speaks for itself. Honestly though, the three of them are like Voltron. Each one with their own special powers, coming together to fight Japanese shit from space. Todd can transform into a flying, sarcastic lion that has appeared on Letterman! His words cut deep! And he will pounce! David, if provoked, can get so mad and specific that he transforms into a lion that is passionate and incredible at characters that turns America’s youth into laughing sycophants. Jon sadly is the only one who’s sort of the “Batman” of the bunch. No real powers, just childhood trauma that makes him spooky. Too bad, because I really like the guy.
kp: Who is the worst comedian you've ever seen?
em: Honestly, I forget their names. I saw someone recently that made me furious. It was just like high-energy sound effects with no point. He made fun of fat people in a totally dislikeable way. It was just so bad. People seemed to enjoy it though. Sometimes you see someone who has a ridiculous gimmick or something and that can be upsetting. Like I’ve seen people just be like, “My family is craaaazy. Can I have a show about it?” And the answer is, “No, you can’t.”
kp: Have you ever worn more than one pair of underpants at a time?
em: I don’t think so. I have worn two helmets though. The second is useless.
kp: Where did you learn to dance?
em: In the streets of Moscow. I was in a gang of Jewish kids that danced for honor.
cm: When did you move here from Russia?
em: When I was four and a half.
kp: Did you get a lot of "commie" remarks? Did you see the movie "Russkies"? Did it make you cry?
em: Yes. And yes. I was very hated a child (till about 11th grade) by other kids. At first I think it was that I was a weak immigrant, and then it was just kind of cool to hate me. I was like a foreign country, say Russia, that brought people together through their hatred of me. Anyway, it’s why I do comedy now and want approval from pretty girls.
cm: You ever hang out at Brighton Beach?
em: I have.
cm: Are those restaurants expensive?
em: There are some that are and some that aren’t, I think. There is one that if you look straight at it, it is $1000! (That is over four hundred pirogi!)
cm: What do you do for Showtime?
em: I licensed them a few shorts I made and then did a series of short film interstitials for them. Currently, I’m working on a demo for a potential interstitial series called Scotch and Soda. The idea of it is just me and a kid at a bar, I have a scotch and he has a soda, and he’s listening to me talk about stuff.
kp: What is the first record you ever bought?
em: Aerosmith or Dire Straits? I used to have a tape that had three songs: "Born In The USA," "Money For Nothing," and "California Girls." It was a ninety-minute tape. I would rewind it and listen to it over and over.
I also had a tape of Bylat Okudjava, a Russian folk singer that I really liked. He has a great song about a paper soldier that wants to go to war for mother Russia and ends up dying for nothing.
I then got some more mix tapes from my brother. He got me into rock and roll. I remember buying Appetite for Destruction. Maybe Eagles Greatest Hits Volume 2? The first is probably Aerosmith, Done With Mirrors or something.
It could have been Bill Cosby though. I owned all his albums in like 5th/6th grade.
kp: What is the first concert you ever attended?
em: Guns and Roses opening for Aerosmith at Great Woods. It was awesome! That’s some sweet ass rock and roll. The next one was probably Robyn Hitchcock.
kp: Why did it take me so long to interview you?
em: You wanted to wait until people had maybe heard of me.