Because it’s funny

Laugh track: Comedian Eugene Mirman got his start opening for indie-rock bands, and he often performs at music venues. His humor largely stems from his own off-kilter interactions with the world around him. Photo by Seth Olenick

When Eugene Mirman takes the stage at The Grey Eagle on Thursday, Feb. 6, he should feel right at home. The comfortably worn and intimate rock club isn’t known for hosting comedians, but Mirman is used to taking his stand-up to non-traditional venues, particularly those that specialize in music.

These days, Mirman is familiar — in voice, at least — to a few million Americans. He played Gene Belcher, the quirky middle child on the Fox animated series Bob’s Burgers. And he is revered by quite a few others for his role on the beloved Flight of the Conchords, portraying the landlord of musical duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. But Mirman’s early breaks came opening for indie-rock outfits like Modest Mouse and Yo La Tengo, ingratiating his style to diverse audiences and forcing him to become quite adaptable.

“It’s slightly different now than when I first started out,” he says. “It’s a lot more work to open up for a band, but it’s also very fun if it works out well. When I did it, say, 10 or 12 years ago, that was partially because it was great exposure and a really fun experience, and a very different sort of thing than when I did it say a year and a half ago with Andrew Bird. I thought that would be really fun, and I thought his audience would click with the kind of stand-up I do. They’re either going to like it or not, and I mostly did the Andrew Bird tour because I thought that they would. And it went well.”

Mirman’s more connected to independent music than most comedians. He released his first album on Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze, and all of his subsequent releases — save for one Comedy Central special — have come via indie-rock institution Sub Pop. Anchored on such an influential platform while also extending his imprint to network and cable television, Mirman is perfectly situated for a hip comic looking to reach new fans.

“My booking agent is a music booking agent who now books a handful of comedians, but mostly books bands,” he explains. “That’s been really helpful, but also what’s funny is it’s not like there are tons of stand-up labels. I grew up listening to comedy records, and it’s not like if you go and you find a Bill Cosby record that it’s specifically on some comedy label. It’s on Warner Brothers or A&M.”

But Mirman is relatable beyond his musical connections. His humor largely stems from his own off-kilter interactions with the world around him. In that Comedy Central special, released as the 2013 album An Evening of Comedy in a Fake, Underground Laboratory, he recalls dislocating his shoulder in London. When his doctor gives him morphine, Mirman asks him to throw on some Velvet Underground. “They didn’t have any,” he chuckles. “They were just playing The Jesus and Mary Chain — way too discordant for a hospital.”

Elsewhere, his interactions escalate in their absurdity. Mirman details a problem he had with Time Warner Cable, where the company repeatedly scheduled appointments to get his service set up only to delay the appointment for another two weeks. In response, Mirman took out ads in various New York media outlets, taking the cable company to task with viciously barbed sarcasm. In the special, he reads from his letter, delivering his words with endearing self-satisfaction — “Why would a company check with someone to see if they are home on a Wednesday afternoon? Of course they are.” Like much of his comedy, the bit seems too absurd to be true, but it’s actually grounded in Mirman’s very real life.

“That is a real conflict that I had with Time Warner,” he explains. “I took out real ads, and you can Google and find their response to my real ads. So a lot of what I’m talking about that escalates is stuff that I do that actually escalate in real life. One, because it’s effective, and two, because it’s funny. Or one, because it’s funny, and two, because it’s effective. That’s probably the more accurate order.”

These days, Mirman lets the audience participate in his unorthodox interplay. Keying on the fake self-help columns that eventually led to his 2009 book, The Will to Whatevs, he accepts notecards from the crowd soliciting advice. “Where should my ashes be placed after I die?” reads one card collected during his most recent album. “Inside the mouth of a fat kid,” Merman quickly replies.

“It brings a certain fun and spontaneity and interaction,” he says. “My comedy isn’t overwhelmingly improvised, so it’s really fun to bring that element to it.”

who: Eugene Mirman with Derrick Brown
where: The Grey Eagle,
when: Thursday, Feb. 6, at 9 p.m. $18 advance/$20 day of show

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