The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival
Mirman and A-list comics spoof festival fare.
Tue Sep 15 2009
Ten thousand dollars buys a jacket covered in racial slurs, which, if worn, guarantees admittance to all festival shows. That’s just one element of a VIP package called the Titanium Douchebag, which itself is just one telling aspect of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, happening Thursday 17 through Sunday 20 at the Bell House and Union Hall. Its unifying philosophy, as determined by Mirman and coproducers Julie Smith and Caroline Craighead: If an idea is fun and sufficiently silly, it’s worth doing.
To wit: The festival began as a joke among Mirman, Smith and comic Mike Birbiglia-—the narcissism inherent in naming such an event after oneself being a natural extension of the joke. In reaction to standard comedy-festival fare, Mirman and crew poke holes in all the usual rituals: Last year, the puckish EMCF handed out best-of awards—on the festival’s opening night—and sent up the practice of specialized, i.e., segregated, showcases with a night called One of Each, featuring one comic of each minority group.
This year, the shenanigans continue, as do the simply sensational lineups behind them. A showcase for up-and-comers is called I’ll Be Famous in Five Years (or a Copywriter/Audience Coordinator), although two among its roster-—Kumail Nanjiani, a writer-performer on Comedy Central’s Michael & Michael Have Issues, and Hannibal Buress, who was just hired as a writer on SNL—might get there sooner. And comics Marc Maron and Michael Showalter share stories about going dry in a show called Ten Drink Minimum.
But the reason to get most excited is the show without an overt joke. We Are Gathered Here stars Brit stand-up Daniel Kitson; though not a household name here, he’s quite famous among stand-up aficionados, in the U.K. generally and with the critics, whose requests for interviews Kitson regularly denies.
A stand-up since the age of 16, Kitson’s a bit of a chameleon; he writes and performs theatrical one-man shows and delivers his own idiosyncratic brand of comedic storytelling full of carefully crafted jokes, delivered deftly and with elegant timing. Even when you expect a Brit’s standard affinity for and facility with language, Kitson dazzles. He burrows into life’s innocuous moments, dissecting them with precise yet mellifluous prose, and then extrapolates some sort of take-home lesson.
Kitson does hop the pond occasionally, including a run of Tales for the Wobbly Hearted in 2006 at 59E59. Mirman, who’s organized stateside gigs for Kitson in the past, describes his interest in Kitson thus: “He’s very universal. He merges stand-up and philosophy and anecdotes and stories, and there’s a humanity you see in it all.” Unsure his collection of superlatives has done it, Mirman adds, “He has a beard.”
Beyond catching the elusive Kitson, there are a few festival requirements. First, there’s the Opening Night party, with a lineup that includes Kristen Schaal, Pete Holmes, Jon Benjamin, Mirman himself, a VIP room made out of cardboard and an entire roasted pig. Next, a welcome reunion of Mirman and Bobby Tisdale’s long-running Invite Them Up promises both John Hodgman’s stoic, erudite persona dishing fabricated facts, and Reggie Watts’s menagerie of characters backed by flurries of virtuosic beat-boxing. Lastly, there’s something called the Comedians of Law & Order—another ridiculous conceit that features a stellar lineup (A.D. Miles, Zak Orth and Jim Gaffigan). As Mirman says, “It’s silly and it’s a festival.”