Eugene Mirman | The Cosmic Comic

Eugene Mirman is a standup comedian who has established himself as one of the most respected figures in alternative and indie comedy. Currently Brooklyn based, but born in Soviet Russia, having immigrated to the United States at four years old, he first gained attention for his role as the landlord on popular HBO comedy Flight of the Conchords. He is also known for being co-host of the popular Startalk Radio podcast, with renowned astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He can also be heard voicing 11-year-old house music enthusiast and hamburger mascot, Gene Belcher, on FOX’s animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers. In addition to that exhausting resume, his newest hour-long standup special An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory is currently airing on The Comedy Network in Canada. Kellen Powell caught up with Eugene to discuss his thoughts on music, interviews, and who should be learning about time travel…

Do you like being interviewed? 
Umm... Yeah. It’s fine. I don’t know if I have a strong opinion on it. If I absolutely didn’t like it I would probably avoid doing it, but no, I don’t mind. 

Your character, Gene, on Bob’s Burgers is a hilariously weird kid. He basically has the same name as you. Were you at all like Gene growing up? Were you a weird kid? 
Yeah. I generally was a weird kid, and its funny because I think at some point doing the show I realized, “Oh my God I literally had a tiny Casio keyboard growing up that could sample like my character on the show.”  I’ve since tried to find it on eBay but sadly can’t. 

I had an odd way about me, but partially just because I thought it was funny. Meaning, I think I just had a different sense of humour. It was in line with my friends but not the general world of high school and junior high. 

You’ve since gone back to your high school to do two commencement speeches though. Is your comedy well known to the students and faculty?
I did one commencement speech for my high school and then I did one for my college.

For high school, the students are the ones that ask you to do it. I think in both instances, actually. I did it three or four years ago and I think some students certainly were familiar with me. I think there were also a lot of people who didn’t know exactly. When I was introduced they just said, “From the class of 1992” and then my name. I think a lot of the parents could have just as easily been like, “Oh he’s the world’s most popular book manufacturer.” But I think they enjoyed the speech a lot. 

You were a bad student in school, but now you’re the co-host on an educational podcast, Startalk Radio, with a world-renowned astrophysicist. When did you start to like learning? 
Learning is great. I love learning, and even when I was kid I would talk to people about stuff and I would learn that way. I was just terrible at learning through school. 

Even today it’s very hard to do things that don’t interest me. So in that sense the educational things I do, like Startalk, are some of my favorite things to do. But you’re talking about one of the world’s most articulate voices of science just explaining certain things for a few hours. It’s one thing to have someone explain a lot of interesting science to you and then it’s another thing to have to go to science class every day in tenth grade.

Would it have been beneficial for you growing up if schools had a similar model? 
I don’t think I would ever be like, “School should just be a bunch of kids sittin’ around learning about time travel until they can’t do anything correctly.” [Pauses] But, I should be learning about time travel.

I don’t know what we’re going to do to fix education. I could broadly say something like “make it interesting” but that’s probably the least helpful thing I could do. 

You’ve mentioned in the past doing a lot of shows, touring with or opening for bands like The Shins. You also have multiple references to music and musicians in your act. How do you see the relationship between music and comedy? 
[Laughs]  Yes, I’ve mentioned music. 

I think they’re very similar worlds. Definitely when I moved to New York and was “starting out” here I toured a lot more with bands. John Wesley Harding has a variety show that I do in the city and we sometimes tour. I just did a tour last March with Andrew Bird and that was really fun. Other than those sorts of things I don’t do nearly as much with bands as I used to.

But, I do mostly perform in theatres and rock clubs. I never quite did [perform at] regular comedy clubs that much and I think that’s partially because this way is just more fun. When you play a rock club, anyone who’s there is there to see comedy very much on purpose. Unless you’re opening for a band—then you’re taking a risk.

Because music audiences can be resistant to seeing comedy? 
Well, for example, the tour with Andrew Bird was great and his audience was wonderful. Some happened to be fans, and some were nice people who were curious. 

But I think if somebody was like, “Hey, White Snake really wants you to tour with them.” I would be like, “That sounds like a bad idea. It sounds like their fans might not really like what I do.” Even if in another context maybe they would, but not opening for them. 

Is there anything interviewers don’t normally ask that you wish they would? 
I don’t know. I think you’d have to think of a question and I’d have to be like, “You know, nobody’s ever asked me that.” I don’t start an interview thinking, “I hope they ask me about my brother because he’s really great!” So I don’t know.

What’s your brother like? 
[Laughs] I have two brothers. They’re both wonderful. The one who grew up at the same time as me does software marketing and he’s a great person.  


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