Just before the release of his mammoth seven-LP album, I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome), Eugene Mirman talked with QRO. In the conversation, the comedian discussed the album (which includes not just stand-up but lessons in Russian, voicemail messages, entering the Fuckscape, and more), releasing it as LPs, robes, even a chair, the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, doing comedy in music venues like Brooklyn’s Bell House (QRO venue review), doing StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, having stuff explained for him (and the audience), being Gene Belcher on FOX’s Bob’s Burgers, I’m Sorry being something an adult Gene Belcher would make, comedy at a music festival vs. music at a comedy festival, getting too smart, orgasms vs. crying, and much more…
QRO: Why did you decide to do a seven-LP album?
EM: I wanted to work on a sort of fun, weird project with friends, and kind of do something different, in terms of a comedy album, but also still have it have stand-up. I wanted to put up something that was sort of like, ‘Here’s stand-up…’ – the digital version cost the same as a regular album would, so I wanted to do a thing where it’s like, ‘Here’s a thing that’s stand-up, and here’s a bunch of other stuff that I wanted to make, that I thought would be fun, and weird.’
QRO: Was it difficult to get [label] Sub Pop on board with the whole thing?
EM: You know, it wasn’t, but mostly because I presented it, and then they said they wanted to do it. It took a little while to hear back, but I sort of described what I wanted to do. In terms of that kind of thing, there wasn’t any convincing.
I had also thought about it a lot, been thinking about doing it for years, so I think when I was like, ‘Here’s what I was thinking of doing, and here’s how I’d think it’d work, and look like…’ We knew also that it would be digital, that I wanted to do these other formats – I didn’t know that it’d definitely be vinyl, so it wasn’t inherently going to be incredibly expensive. As we got closer and knew what it would to be, I was like, ‘It’d be wonderful if there was a vinyl version.’ And then we cut the CD version, and so, as a result, instead of making CDs, you could make this one nice vinyl package.
QRO: With digital music these days, you can’t do what you used to do, but you can do very different things…
EM: Exactly. It’s very easy to put it out digitally. When I first conceived of it, it was CDs, because that’s partially what I grew up on so much. And then, by the time this was coming out, it really doesn’t make sense to make CDs, because people just put it in their computer, or not bother, so let’s make a beautiful vinyl set.
QRO: There are also chairs & robes…
EM: In fact, the chair has been sold. Someone bought the chair.
QRO: So there’s just one chair?
EM: Well, I think there’s two – we might have more made. And then robes, I think there’s between twenty and forty or something like that, and I know they’ve sold a bunch of the robes. There won’t be an endless supply of the robes.
‘Here’s a thing that’s stand-up, and here’s a bunch of other stuff that I wanted to make, that I thought would be fun, and weird.’
QRO: Which was harder to do in full: “Over 45 Minutes of Crying” or “195 Orgasms”?
EM: The orgasms were over a period of time; I’d come in record some, and I’d come back and record more, and then we’d kind of edit them. That was more actually involved listening & editing & organizing – that part was sort of hard. And then the crying was just this sort of huge, cathartic cry for a very long time. I don’t know – they’re both a little different, but they’re both, in a sense, the harder thing.
Both are conceptually silly, but the orgasms is much more shameful to have done, and to have exist in the world. But also it’s funny to say that there’s 195 individually titled orgasms. So I guess it’s worth the price of shame. [laughs]
QRO: Did you decide on 195, or was that just however many you ended up with?
EM: I think the original number that I had come up with 400, but then it became clear as we were recording them that 195 would be plenty.
QRO: And which of those two was harder for your producer & engineer to experience?
EM: Probably the orgasms, ‘cause there was more work. The crying, I had actually recorded. There wasn’t reorganizing of any time crying, while there was a lot of, ‘Oh, let’s do this, and put this here’ – we tried to make the orgasms something that if you theoretically were to sit down and listen to, you would have moments of laughing, and then moments of being like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is still happening’ and laughing again, if anything in that vein would work. Crying is similar, but we just let it go.
QRO: Did you get dehydrated during the crying?
EM: I had some water.
It’s funny to say that there’s 195 individually titled orgasms. So I guess it’s worth the price of shame.
QRO: What about your wife – how did she feel about you recording a “Fuckscape” or your orgasms?
EM: I felt like she has to listen to any of it – or all of it, together. I think she thinks it’s funny, but it’s not like she puts on the “Fuckscape” and is like, ‘This is very romantic.’ But others should, and they will find it romantic.
They don’t have 24-hour access to me…
QRO: Do you actually have a funny voicemail message and/or ringtone?
EM: On my phone? I don’t have a funny ringtone – I think right now my message is neutral, but occasionally I’ve had funny messages.
QRO: Have you had people ask you to do a funny voicemail for them, to record you?
EM: Yes. Which is one reason that I actually made a volume of that, because people ask, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe they’d enjoy it.’
QRO: Did you think at all that now people may ask you more now? Or now can you just direct them towards the album?
EM: I don’t know. I hadn’t considered that it would open a floodgate. But I guess we’ll find out together.
QRO: How did the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival come about?
EM: That came about – I used to do this show at Union Hall (QRO venue review) with Julie Smith, who I do a lot of events with, the festival, do a lot of shows, we’re doing a TV pilot right now – I think years ago now, maybe nine years ago or something, we were joking around after a show, it was me, her, and Mike Birbiglia (QRO photos at a Eugene Mirman & Friends show). I can’t remember why, there was something that had come to town, and I had said, “Oh, I’m going to do a Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival.” And then I was like, “I’m kidding; I’m not really going to do that.” And then we were like, “Oh, but it is pretty funny.”
So we decided to do it, and enjoyed it, Julie and I decided to do it, and then enjoyed it, and then kept doing it, basically.
QRO: So the comedy festival began as a joke?…
EM: Yeah, yeah, the comedy festival began as a joke. But then it was enjoyable, and we kept doing it. And now we’ve done it for like eight years.
QRO: The first year I went, I saw ‘The Drunk Show’ (QRO recap), yet it never came back. Why?
EM: ‘The Drunk Show’ was actually this show called ‘Talent Show’, we do a different theme each time, and they’ve actually come back every year after that. In general, I love doing their show – it’s one of the most fun, creative shows. We had it this year; we had a ‘Fake Emmys Show’.
The reason ‘The Drunk Show’, that theme, never happened was because it was a bit of an unwieldy theme. Though the show was this kind of incredible thing that was a real version of lots of types of drunk.
QRO: Other shows at the festival will have themes like “Comedians In Dark Glasses” (QRO recap). Is that just something you titled it after setting the line-up?
EM: No! We put the name on before, and then we put comedians who all have black frame glasses.
QRO: Reggie Watts didn’t have glasses…
EM: It’s true that he might have different color glasses, or maybe wasn’t wearing his black frame glasses… [laughs]
The comedy festival began as a joke. But then it was enjoyable, and we kept doing it.
QRO: The festival is mainly at Bell House, which is where the album release party [was]. What do you like about that venue?
EM: It’s just such a warm venue, and there’s great sight lines. It’s just a very pleasant place. The shows are always very fun. I love seeing stuff there, and in general I love doing shows there. Everyone who works there is really lovely. It’s sort of a home club, of sorts, that I really just love being at, and performing at.
QRO: You often perform at music venues like Bell House, as opposed to ‘regular’ comedy venues. Is there a difference between the crowds at the two types of venues?
EM: It depends. If people know who you are, and they’re coming to your show, then not as much. At comedy clubs, sometimes people are there just to see comedy, and they don’t know specifically what’s there.
Also, when you tour the country, often if you do a comedy club for the weekend, you’ll do five shows, or two shows in a night for several nights. And I would much rather do one show at a music space, maybe if I’m there for two nights, do two nights of stuff.
The album was recorded, actually, the stand-up portion, over three nights at a music venue in Seattle.
QRO: You will be playing Fun Fun Fun Fest (QRO preview) – do you do anything differently when playing a music festival?
EM: I do my act. I don’t have a ‘music festival act’. At music festivals, in general, when you do stuff like that, there’s specifically a comedy stage. So it’s a space that everyone on there is a comedian doing comedy.
Also, at Fun Fun Fun Fest, I think one night I’m doing StarTalk with Bill Nye, and then the next night stand-up, which I guess are both things that aren’t traditionally at music festivals, I don’t know? I think now maybe they are…
Even when I’m attacked, it’s often with a musician.
QRO: You seem to work with music a lot, performing at music venues, doing music festivals, all the music on I’m Sorry…
EM: I’m on a music label…
QRO: Yes, Sub Pop – getting mugged with Michael Stipe…
EM: Yes, even when I’m attacked, it’s often with a musician.
QRO: Sometimes your festival has a musician included (doing music). Which do you think is harder: being a musician at a comedy festival, or a comedian at a music festival?
EM: I think it depends if you ask if you ask a comedian or a musician.
It’s not hard being a comedian at a music festival; it’s maybe hard being a comedian opening for a musician. Because again, there’s a dedicated stage to comedy. What’s hard is when there isn’t a dedicated stage to the art form that you’re doing.
I know musicians sometimes find it hard. The thing about comedy is, it can fail. If I’m telling a joke, and no one laughs, that feels very bad. If you sing a song, and at the end, people clap, you can probably tell based on people’s reaction if they like it or not, but there’s rarely a visceral reaction that you are either not getting, or you’re getting some sort of anger. Personally, I think it’s harder to do comedy, because comedy can fail in a way music is unlikely to fail.
But I think both are probably hard for each person. Or not, depending on who you are and what’s fun. All these things involve often it being friends doing stuff together.
QRO: On the other end of things, how did you start working with Neil deGrasse Tyson for StarTalk?
EM: The woman who produces his show, StarTalk, as they were I think first starting it, came to a show at Union Hall and asked if I’d be interested in working on this thing, and then months later I came and met with him at the Museum of Natural History. And then from there, I started coming into the studio and recording episodes with him. And then I suggested that we try it live, and then we started doing live shows, first actually at our festival (QRO recap) – that’s the first place we did the live show – and now periodically, when we’re in New York, we do it at like the Beacon [Theatre – QRO venue review]
QRO: Were you nervous about doing that? It seems like such a step out of the ordinary, step out of the comfort zone…
EM: Once we did it, it was really fun. I don’t know – it’s hard to say. When it’s not scripted, and it’s throwing things out as it’s happening live, it’s always both very, very fun, and then stressful in the fact that you don’t know if it’s going to work or not.
In general, it’s one of the most fun shows I get to do, and I really love, love doing it. And I also get to meet amazing scientists, and learn a lot of science.
QRO: How is it being the ‘everyman’, who has to have stuff explained to him? Kind of the substitute for the audience…
EM: I think it’s fine, because the stuff being explained to me is the stuff I don’t know. It’s not like I know how to find planets in a ‘Goldilocks Zone’. So I love having that stuff explained.
And I love having it explained by some of the best explainers of science…
QRO: Do you ever worry that you’ll learn too much, and not be representative of the audience – that maybe there’ll be stuff you know that the audience doesn’t?
EM: No, because so many people in the audience are often either well informed or scientists, or students. I’m never afraid that I’m gonna ask something that’s more informed than the audience or the listener.
And either way, it would all be explained. If I happened to know what some piece of science was, Neil would generally go, “So what you’re asking is this…”, and then he’d explain it.
I’m not afraid of becoming accidentally too knowledgeable… [laughs] But I thank you for the question…
I’m not afraid of becoming accidentally too knowledgeable… But I thank you for the question…
QRO: And on the other, other end of things, how did you get cast for Bob’s Burgers?
EM: Well, Loren Bouchard, who created the show, cast everyone – we all kind of developed the show together.
I’ve known Loren for a long time, from Boston, when he worked on Home Movies and Dr. Katz. He cast Jon as the dad – we’ve all actually known each other. I’ve known Jon Benjamin; I met him also when he was doing Home Movies in Boston. And Kristen [Schaal – QRO photos at a Eugene Mirman & Friends show] & I have worked together for years.
Loren, I think he had an idea of a family, and he cast each of us. And then, over the period of a year-and-a-half or two, we actually worked on this eight-minute demo. And then, one day, after working on it for years – and I think with Loren getting feedback from FOX, and tweaking things – we were told that, in fact, it was picked up. Which was amazing – and now I think we’re just wrapping the sixth season of recording.
QRO: So Gene Belcher is really based on you. Why is it that he happens to have the same name as you – could you not remember your character’s name otherwise?…
EM: Loren wrote it. All the characters are slightly based on the personalities of the people who play them. Dan Mintz is sort of like Tina. We’re all kind of a version of our characters – or our characters are a version of us.
With being Gene, I think it has to with the fact that my name is Eugene. [laughs] I believe that it’s more than a coincidence.
QRO: I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome) seems like something Gene Belcher would make, albeit an adult Gene Belcher…
EM: Especially if you called him ‘Eugene Mirman’…
It is very much a record that an adult Gene Belcher would make, in a sense.
In terms of the character, I think we share a certain positivity and silliness, I guess? And a commitment to our art…
QRO: Were you at all like him when you were a kid?
EM: He’s probably a lot more confident and comfortable with who he is than I was as a kid. He’s probably the kid I would have wanted to be, a little.
It is very much a record that an adult Gene Belcher would make, in a sense.
QRO: For the festival, how hard is it to come up with the between-act material? It seems like you would have to come up with a lot, for each night. Is it always original, or do you reuse stuff?
EM: You mean when I host? When I had a regular show, it was a little easier to have more & more stuff, but yeah, basically it’s a combination of doing some different stuff and some same stuff.
In general, I try offhand to not repeat, but people are much less likely to have seen whatever is newest, than they are to see an older thing. So in general, I often perform newer stuff, even if it means doing a few of the same jokes on some nights.
A lot of it is, that’s basically my stand-up, and if I’m hosting, I’m doing it between acts, and if I’m not, I’ll just do it all in a row.
QRO: After you release an album of stand-up material, are you less likely to do it again, because you think, ‘Okay, people might have heard this’?
EM: Oh, yeah. Basically, completely. In fact, I rarely do, occasionally if there’s something that’s a really fun story to tell.
I released a Netflix special this summer [Eugene Mirman: Vegan on His Way to the Complain Store], and then this album now, so there’s a chance that I potentially do some of the stuff, a few of the things that aren’t from this album but are on the Netflix special, on this tour. But overall, I don’t, really – meaning I then try to write new stuff and do other stuff.
But I think most comics do that.
QRO: So that’s very different than music – if you’re a band and you release an album, you tour playing that album, but if you’re a comic and you release something, you tour doing something new…
EM: Yeah. In fact, this will be may the first – because the album is nine volumes and has all this other stuff on it, I’m actually gonna try to do some of the stuff, the non-stand-up stuff, live.
Like the musical stuff, I’m gonna try to do that live at shows. It’s not something comics normally do, but I think’ll be fun.