Comedy hero Eugene Mirman has always been the architect of his own design. Following an atypical childhood and education, Mirman continued his rejection of structure and cultural anticipations by becoming a standup success. Since finding a cult following in front of music audiences, he's created several comedy albums and a second Comedy Central special titled Eugene Mirman: An Evening in a Fake Underground Laboratory, while also procuring roles in Flight of the Conchords and Bob's Burgers. He's also made guest appearances with Neil deGrasse Tyson, the hardest working showman in astrophysics, on Startalk Radio.
Mirman is coming to The Belcourt Wednesday on the Pretty Good Friends tour as a featured act in the Wild West Comedy Festival. The Scene was able to steal him away for a brief phone interview about his upcoming gig in Nashville and his unorthodox foray into statesmanship.
Your Russian heritage is mentioned quite frequently. Do you feel that it's starting to get a little overplayed? Or is that an unavoidable component of who you are?
Uh, I think it's the sort of thing where it's like a thing becomes a footnote in your bio, so then it's just sort of mentioned. In terms of how it's played in my everyday life, I do speak to my parents in Russian. And, you know ... going to, like, Brighton Beach [International Market] and stuff like that. It sort of plays a role in my childhood growing up Russian during the Cold War in America. But it doesn't necessarily play a huge part now. It always makes me a bit of an outsider in a weird way.
So to paraphrase, it's just an interesting footnote that people sort of touch on every now and again?
Yeah ... I mean, it has a role in my life. But its role is sort of like ... I mean, one is that I speak Russian to my parents. And it sort of influenced me in terms of becoming a comic. In terms of genuinely sort of embracing the American Dream. That's like an element. But I don't eat soup in a particularly Russian way in the morning.
You mean you don't eat borscht every day or drink Stoli all the time?
No, but in the last month, I had it once. So is that of any help?
Yes, that's perfect. Switching gears for a moment, let's discuss your Uganda petition. How did this come about?
I don't know. I was reading about it, and I thought that it would be great to have our president tell the president of Uganda to "go fuck himself." And it turns out that when you make a petition, that lasts for several hours — certainly long enough for USA Today to report on it. So that's great news for me. But then apparently you can't have swears. But you can actually ask him to kill ... like, you can have the president ask someone to kill themselves, as long as they're another politician. That's within the scope of "government-possible" action.
So according to the rules for the petition, a swear word is too offensive, but asking someone to kill themselves is acceptable?
It's within the scope ... it's not something the president would probably do, but it's within the scope of what can be requested.
Well, for instance, you can request that the government would bomb a place. That would end even more people's lives. But that doesn't mean ... but you can't request that they ask Guns N' Roses to get back together. That's not a thing that the government would do.
To be fair, they're not miracle workers.
No, but the point is that's not within their scope. But if you were to ask them to bomb a country, they'd be like, "We probably won't, but that is within our scope." I've learned a lot about how government runs by asking Obama to tell the head of Uganda to go fuck himself.
That sounds like a very interesting educational lesson.
Exactly. Everyone's just one government petition away from understanding how government works.
You're coming to The Belcourt on the "Pretty Good Friends" tour with Daniel Kitson. What should audiences anticipate?
They should anticipate a very fun show. Daniel Kitson is by many accounts one of the best comics of our generation. It's his first time touring the U.S. He's done lots of sold-out shows in New York over the years. He's won the Edinburgh Fringe [Festival] awards and Melbourne, at sort of comedy festivals and sort of awards in the U.K. But he hasn't really toured, so I'm extremely excited that we're going on a tour. And Nashville, I did Nashville with Andrew Bird a few years ago. I just adored Nashville. So that was kind of the main city. I said wherever we go, we have to make sure that we stop in Nashville.
Any favorite parts of Nashville?
Uh, yeah. First of all, all of it. Second of all, I adored going honky-tonking. We went to The Catbird Seat, which was awesome. I had a delicious hot bird somewhere. And then just simply going to hear all of those amazing country musicians. And also getting to do a show at the Ryman. One of our days off was [in Nashville], so we got to spend a few days there. So I particularly loved it and hadn't been there before.
You've got a 40th birthday coming up. Any big plans?
I don't have any specific plans yet. I will probably go somewhere fun and beachy and New Englandy with friends. Or I will do something in New York. I'll probably have friends get together, and we'll all high-five. And make a list of wishes for our 80th birthday.
Throughout your comedy, you've shared that you felt you performed poorly in school in grades 6 through 12. Having been a keynote speaker for your alma mater Hampshire College in 2012, and having done a promotional video with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns for Hampshire's summer film program, is it past guilt that makes higher education such a big factor for you?
A lot of it was that I've always been terrible about doing the things I'm told to do, but the thing that was great about Hampshire was that you designed your own major, so I majored in comedy. So me advocating a place like Hampshire as a school ... you know ... there was sort of a perfect amount of roadblocks to overcome that were both really great and really helpful to me, and sort of mimicked a lot of what I would have to do to pursue comedy after. ...
I remember at some point, I think, friends of my parents asking me years ago if I wished I had done better in high school and junior high. I was sort of like, "Well, other than wishing that I could remember more information." I don't particularly wish I had better grades. It's not like I regret the grades I got. So it's true that I now love learning a lot more than I did then.
And you feel that, mentioning that, that you've gone on to inspire people to continue their education? Not necessarily jumping through the hoops of getting grades?
Well, I spoke at a college about giving advice to those people, and then I made a video for a summer program with Ken Burns. So I don't know if I'm ... I don't know that if you were to make a list of people insisting that college is great that you'd put me on that list. But I did like my experience, and I was happy to speak to the students of the college I went to.
Absolutely. I didn't know if there was something bigger at play there.
No, I ... I really like Hampshire. But I think that each person has to decide for themselves what they think will be best. If you're going to be a doctor, I think education is incredibly important. If you want to be a musician, I can tell you musicians who went to Berklee and it really, really helped them. And I can name comics who never went to college who were extremely successful. I think it largely depends on what you want to do with your life. And I think from there that I personally loved Hampshire. So it just depends on what you want to do.
One last question: You've referenced comic books a few times in your standup specials. Do you have a favorite superhero? If so, why?
I don't know that I have necessarily a favorite superhero, but I will say there are several series like Astro City and Fables that I really love. I don't know that I'd be like, "Batman is my favorite," but I do think that Batman is really pretty great. Even though he has no powers. He's like an immigrant.
Do you think that that ties in to your love of the American Dream that you've referenced?
Exactly, that's what I'm trying to get at. Batman is the American Dream, but a dark, dark version of it. I do love the Justice League, and a lot of those characters. I like comics a lot.
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