Exclusive: Ten Questions with Funnyman Eugene Mirman


This month, comedian extraordinaire Eugene Mirman released his first book, The Will to Whatevs. Featuring chapters such as “The Fifty N’s of Nightlife” and “The Heart, the Penis, and Mrs. Vagina,” it provides an abbreviated guide to just about every aspect of modern life. Of course, it’s the kind of guide you’d need a severe head injury to actually follow, but as with most things in Mirman’s world, that’s pretty much the point. This year, he returns to his supporting role on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords , as well as joining the cast of Adult Swim’s new show Delocated . He’s also set to release his third live comedy album, and has some big-screen plans in the works. This week, he hits the tail end of his current book-release tour, after which he’s staying out on the road with John Wesley Harding for the duo’s Cabinet of Wonders.

After the jump, we catch up with Mirman amid all the chaos to see how he’s holding up, learn more about his All-Night Think Tank Party League, and discover his plan to reinvent the audiobook.

Question 1. So much of comedy is based on physicality, tone of voice, stage presence, etc. How do you compensate for those things when writing? Are you concerned people might read your words of wisdom in a way other than you intended?

Eugene Mirman: I used lots of dashes, commas, and parentheses to try to account for my tone (and delivery). I’m not too concerned that people will take my advice out of context. The stuff that sounds reasonable is, and the stuff that doesn’t sound reasonable is clearly dangerous. Even in the world of Law and Order I wouldn’t be convicted of anything if a very stupid person did something I suggested. And they convict all sorts of people on that show.

Question 2. Will there be an audiobook version of The Will to Whatevs? You point out on the cover that book isn’t for babies, because they can’t read, but what about everyone else who can’t read? Or, more importantly, those who simply won’t read (even this)?

EM: There might be an audiobook. I’d love to do it, except for the part where I’d sit in a studio for 24 hours straight reading. Maybe I’ll do two audio books — one sober and one drunk. I bet no one ever put out a drunk audiobook. Mostly because I don’t think Edgar Allan Poe ever had the chance.

Question 3. You were pretty thorough in covering the spectrum of possibilities in your book, which is fittingly subtitled “A Guide to Modern Life.” Have you thought about follow-ups, though? Perhaps guides to life in other times? Or a guide to post-modern life?

EM: My next book will be a pretentious treatise on Foucault or Benjamin Franklin or someone. It will be my version of acting in a serious movie to prove that I am more than just a comedian. It will be number one on the New York Times bestseller list and everyone will clap for me when I walk down the street. I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Question 4. There are a number of non-existent sources quoted in the book — mostly other works you’ve supposedly written. If you had to choose one of these to actually create right now, which would it be, and why?

EM: Please don’t make me look through my book and answer this question. Thanks!

Question 5. You have a section on your website called the All-Night Think Tank Party League, where you allow co-conspirators to post their videos, thoughts, and news. What does it take to become a member of the League, and what is the initiation process like?

EM: To become part of it, you need to be someone I know and like and admire, and who might want to post stuff. Then my webmaster makes them an account. Also, most of the people don’t have their own blogs anywhere else. Once it’s set up, I mail everyone a beautiful glass sword and a $100 gift certificate to Tower Records. Since Tower is closed, it’s easy to make a fake one, and most people find it a nice gesture and lose the certificate right away.

Question 6. 2009 is a pretty big year for you. Aside from the book release, you’re appearing on two TV shows, have a new album coming out, and continue to tour. How do you juggle it all? For that matter, do you juggle at all?

EM: I can juggle objects very poorly, but I can juggle projects okay. I enjoy working on lots of different stuff. But you make me sound very, very impressive. Thanks. I know I could have used only one very. Sorry to take advantage of your kind words.

Question 7. Out of everything you’re working on at the moment, what are you most excited about? Where else can we expect to see you in the near future?

EM: I’m very excited about doing a documentary about going back to Russia for the first time since I immigrated to America. Michael Showalter is going to direct it. We’re pitching it now to different film companies.

Question 8. Not many comedians make it to a third album release. Does this feel like a momentous occasion for you? How will this album be different from the other two?

EM: This album will have some guests doing stuff with me — Kumail Nanjiani and Larry Murphy. I didn’t know people don’t release three albums. I think a lot of people don’t release records because they don’t want to burn through their material. But I like recording an album, having it documented and then moving on to new material. Plus, the money is amazing. I could buy a sick horse with the money I make from records.

Question 9. You’ve been associated with a number of bands and musicians. How do you feel comedy and music interact with each other? Are there too many bands without a sense of humor out there? Or too many comedians without a sense of melody?

EM: I have no sense of melody, but a love of it. I don’t exactly know how comedy and music interact as art forms. I think most musicians have great senses of humor. Not that their music is funny necessarily, but lots of my favorite musicians seem like funny, charming people. I think Lou Reed is very funny. I saw him speak at SXSW for an hour, and he made jokes the whole time — though, amusingly enough, he didn’t laugh till 55 minutes into it.

Question 10. What advice would you give to all the kids out there dreaming of becoming the next Eugene Mirman (aside from telling them to legally change their names)?

EM: I would suggest figuring out what you want to do and working at it all the time, starting at a young age (right after your Bar Mitzvah). A majority of comedians I’ve known who have stuck with comedy for ten years or more have broken through and support themselves with comedy. Not everyone is necessarily funny, but they’re successful — they have jobs in entertainment. Though the truly unfunny ones do fail. But still, I’d say there’s a 75% success rate (of people who do comedy for ten years or more), which is higher than people would think. So I guess I suggest being somewhat funny + hard work + a decade.

BONUS!: Will you join us for lunch one day? We’re having pizza.

EM: Maybe. If you change it to lobster, then for sure. Pizza, then maybe.