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Photograph: courtesy the artist

Eugene Mirman: ‘I want to guest host Anderson Cooper 360!’

The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival returns this week: Prepare yourself for a bouncy castle therapy session

We caught up with Eugene Mirman just before his self-titled festival hits Union Hall and the Bell House in Brooklyn, to talk about touring with rock stars, Bob’s Burgers and mining asteroids. It was a pretty involved chat, to be honest.
You’ve got an amazing line up of shows this year, but what else can people expect to see?
This year we’re going to have a clown CPA giving free tax advice and a bouncy castle with a therapist in it, so you can go in and bounce, then also just talk about your problems. We had an awkward party bus one year, where you would go on and there was just a person who was sitting and crying.  We hired an actress to sit and cry, and every other song was Harry Chapin. What’s really funny about the bus is that it was genuinely awkward—people would come up to me and they’d be like, “I was on the bus, it’s like a little odd, there’s some one crying…” So that was something that I loved.
You’re also doing two StarTalk shows, one with Bill Nye, one with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Did the Internet explode when you announced those shows?
Well, we do those shows periodically, so it exploded in the way that it explodes anytime we do one of those shows. But yes, people were excited.
What attracted you to StarTalk?
It’s one of the most fun things. I was just in Seattle and we did two StarTalks with Bill Nye—one involved a person who was working on how to mine asteroids in space, which is where we keep all our asteroids. Then there was a scientist who had discovered several planets—it was just incredibly interesting but also a really fun and funny show. I know that for Neil, it’s definitely important to try to reach people who maybe weren’t necessarily otherwise interested in science.
Do you ever have to hold back on making jokes if you can tell they’re getting really passionate about something? Even if you’ve got a really good joke?
Well, yes. The way the show works is, because it’s improvised, there’s a certain give and take, so definitely you don’t randomly push through a joke—you hold off when someone’s making a point. I mean, it’s a conversation—it’s not like one person saying science and another person angrily insisting on jokes. It’s a beautiful dance of minds.
Although that could be fun to watch as well.
It could! I will suggest to Nat Geo that I sit in the corner in their science room, yelling jokes whenever they come to me.
You have a very enviable TV resume, having appeared on Flight of the Concords, Conan, Colbert, Aqua Team Hunger Force and many more. What are the standouts for you?
Bob’s Burgers, because it’s a show that we record altogether. A lot of cartoons you go in and you just do your voice and you leave…I mean, obviously we leave, no one sleeps at the studio. But with Bob’s Burgers, we all go in together and we all record together. We play a family on TV but we also have all known each other for years, so it’s very fun. We have a very familial.
The show just won an Emmy recently. Congratulations!
We did! That was very, very exciting.
How closely was Gene based on you? Was he written specifically for you?
Yeah, all the characters were written for all of us. We also helped develop them—for the first pilot, we spent maybe a year and a half tweaking this eight-minute demo and getting feedback and going back and forth. I don’t know how much Gene’s like me as an actual kid—in a sense, Gene might be more well adjusted than I was as a child. That’s a really weird way to phrase it, but he has a happy-go-luckiness and I might have had a slight bemused dourness. But we have a lot of personality traits in common.
Do you have any input in writing Gene’s songs?
If I could sing, I would. I would say that’s the one place that I do not improvise. I’m very dysrhythmic, so I wouldn’t be like, “I have an idea!” Because my idea would not [be good]. In fact, I am somewhat coached, where I repeat after [show creator] Loren [Bouchard], because I have too much of a tone deafness.
Some of Gene’s songs actually involve singing, though, like the “Electric Love” song.
I think I barely sing in that, that’s Kevin Kline. Kevin Kline is very good at singing. So if the question is, could Kevin Klein improvise? Probably.
Are there any other current TV shows that you’d like to come knocking?
There’s lots of shows that I like, though I don’t know that I feel like I definitely should have been on, like, Breaking Bad. I don’t have a specific show, I think it would be that someone wanted me. I’m avoiding the opportunity to name shows I like because I don’t want anyone to feel any pressure. So I’ll say Anderson Cooper 360.
I’ll make sure to put that as a pull quote.
Yes! “He for some reason didn’t say Louie or Girls, he insisted that he wants to guest host Anderson Cooper.”
You’ve opened for a really eclectic group of performers over the years—not just other comics, but bands like Modest Mouse, Cake, Gogol Bordello…was touring with rock bands wilder than touring with comics?
No…in general, I think when people think of rock and roll, they think of, like, before 1989.
Mötley Crüe era?
Yeah, so touring with even the wildest bands, or like the ones that are wildest on stage, people go out and have fun, but there isn’t like a drug-filled sex room. There’s more like a place where there’s crudités, and people are like catching up or discussing their families. I think that time of rock and roll is much more of the past—most people who grow up and are now musicians are regular people who have a nice time, but not like a crazy time. It’s the same with comedy—I know tons of comics who were doing comedy in the 80s, and that in general was just a significantly wilder time, when there were clubs that would pay people in drugs. I never was a part of that world. I was part of a world where, when I started, comedy had just died, so it wasn’t clear if you could ever make money from it. That’s a different era.

What do you like to do in New York when you’re not working?
Well, first of all I love interviews. That’s the thing I love most about New York, staying home and doing interviews. Because I’m a monster! But I also love exploring various ethnic neighborhoods and restaurants. There’s a place called Spicy And Tasty in Queens that’s really excellent.
If pressed, how would you describe the food at Spicy And Tasty?

I would describe it as spicy and tasty. You know, I could be wrong about the name of it, but I feel like that’s what it’s called.
It that just a name you’ve given it in your head?
I think that’s what it’s called, but if not, then it’s accurate!

Attend the festival!

Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival
  • Comedy
  • Stand-up

This annual Kings County event, conceptualized by the titular Brooklyn comic, continues to be a fall highlight of the local comedy scene. This year's happenings include a recording of StarTalk Live with Neil deGrasse Tyson and showcases with titles such as "Five Comics to Watch Get on Variety's Ten Comics to Watch List" and the already-sold-out "You Never Know Who Will Stop By."

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