Just for Laughs Interview: Eugene Mirman

Filed under: Interviews

Ever since the release of his acclaimed album The Absurd Nightclub of Eugene Mirman in 2004, the Russian-born, Massachusetts-raised comedian has built a loyal following of fans who appreciate his unique sense of humor. Whether debating the best way to avoid a bear attack or the fact that God may be a 12-year old boy with Asperger's, Mirman rightfully earned his place on Village Voice's list of one of the 10 Best Comedians of the Last Decade. Comedy fans will also recognize him from his reoccurring appearances on Flight of the Conchords, and the voice of Gene on Bob's Burgers. Since 2006, he has been the host of Eugene Mirman and Pretty Good Friends, a weekly comedy show in Brooklyn which recruits various performers for an evening of stand-up, stories and skits.

This month, Mirman is taking the show on the road with an appearance at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival beginning Monday, July 25. The comedian took a few minutes to speak with Showbiz Monkeys about his upcoming visit.

Amanda Stefaniuk: How has Pretty Good Friends evolved over these past 5 years?

Eugene Mirman: It's still sort of an informal show, but it went from this smaller thing to a bunch of bigger collaborations with touring and stuff. We've sometimes had sketch groups or duos or sometimes I do something with somebody else. It's just sort of loosely formatted I guess.

AS: And do you have an overlying theme for the show?

EM: It's literally pretty good friends - people who've known each other from years of comedy and who enjoy being together. And who complement each other. We probably wouldn't put three extremely similar comics on the same show, but a lot of times, there's a certain comedy aesthetic that's similar. But I'm not like, 'I need one guy who'll talk about race, and one guy who'll talk about trains.' It's nothing like that.

AS: Do you know who will be performing with you in Montreal?

EM: In a sense, I do. There's about 20-30 people who'll be on the various shows, but I don't know who's on what show yet. It has to be arranged. There certainly might be drop-ins, but mostly I don't have a schedule because Montreal is such a large event that people can't be booked in two places at once. For instance, Marc (Maron) and Andy (Kindler) are there, and might show up.

AS: Do you find any difference between Canadian and American audiences?

EM: Canadian audiences are 80% less full. (laughs) No, not specifically. I think a lot of audiences are similar in terms of finding the thing that they think they'd like. If someone comes to my show in Montreal, they're likely to be a similar audience to who would come in my show in Ann Arbor, Michigan or San Francisco.

AS: You've recently created your own annual comedy festival in New York. Was that because you didn't like how some other festivals were run?

EM: No, I couldn't care less about that. I did it to be funny. I'm a comedian. I do think festivals do a lot of things that are really silly, and we make fun of those things. But that doesn't mean that I'm upset by it, as much as making fun of it.

For years, various festivals have had shows that are like 'gay comics' or 'women comics', or like 'uptown comedy' which generally means black, even though New York is the only place where that could be uptown. So our first year, we had a show called 'One of Each' which was a show with one of each kind of minority. So it's a parody, but I couldn't care less how people ghettoize themselves.

AS: And last year, you had a show called 'An Evening of Comedy From 1986' (in which Mirman programmed a Teddy Ruxpin to deliver a dirty set). Was there any reason why you chose that year?

EM: 1986 was the height of comedy. The thing about that show, which made it so exciting, is that we got Emo Phillips to come and do it. The goal for that show was not to make fun of 1986. And like the whole festival that we do, it's basically a celebration of comedy and making fun of stuff. It's sort of both at the same time. While we had some things that made fun of some eighties comedy, we also had some stuff that completely celebrated it.

AS: Are you planning another one for this year?

EM: We're working on that festival right now. We're in fact, adding a day of science. We're going to be the first comedy festival that formally has a science portion.

AS: You recently took out an ad in some New York papers detailing your Time Warner Cable troubles. Are there any new developments with that?

EM: Everything's fine. The new development is that's everything fine. The CEO heard about it, and it was a big topic of discussion at Time Warner. So that's the most that I could ever hope to have accomplished.

AS: Your book, (2009's) The Will to Whatevs, was terrific. Are there any plans for another one?

EM: I would love to write another book. I just have to think of another book to write. And then sell it to someone.

AS: Bob's Burgers is great, and with such a talented cast (which includes H. Jon Benjamin and Kristen Schall). Do you do much improvising?

EM: The writers write a really, really funny script that we perform a bunch of times, and then we're allowed to improvise based off of that. So whatever the structure of the story or scene is, we'll do a bunch of takes where we do random, silly stuff that sometimes gets in.

AS: Do you have much input into your character's songs?

EM: That's all (creator) Loren (Bouchard). I'm so musically incapable, that often he's really coaching me, and often because I'm doing some really wrong thing, that sometimes makes it. Loren is always guiding me through it because I'm completely incapable of performing.

AS: Do you have any favourite hang outs in Montreal?

EM: I don't know if I have a favourite place. Other than the festival itself. So many of my friends from either NY or L.A. are going to be up there, it's just going to be a very fun time to catch up with people.

But I'm looking forward to Montreal. I used to go all the time. Even when I lived in Boston, before I moved to New York, I used to go representing a club or a newspaper or something, and it was a super fun time.

I do remember once going to some bar, and playing the bartender a game of backgammon for a drink. Like if I won, I got a free drink and if I lost I had to pay him.

AS: Did you win?

EM: I did win, which for a person who barely had 5 Canadian dollars was very exciting.

Tags: Just for Laughs, Montreal, comedy festival, Eugene Mirman, Pretty Good Friends, Bob's Burgers, Flight of the Conchords, NYC, stand-up, JFL2011

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