The future of music is chairs
Euguene Mirman’s art installation, internet complaints, and advice for comics
Most comedians start their career opening for other comedians. Eugene Mirman opted for touring with Modest Mouse and opening for bands like Gogol Bordello, The Shins, and Cake. He’s known for performing in rock clubs and theaters instead of comedy clubs. He started the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival as
Mirman carved his path in the entertainment industry along a nontraditional route—and he’s been making people laugh for close to twenty years. This year, he headlines Blue Whale Comedy Festival at Cain’s Ballroom on September 9.
Andrew Deacon: When you started performing comedy in Boston, which comedians did you come up with?
Eugene Mirman: Brendon Small and Jen Kirkman were comics in Boston. Brendon Small was a roommate of mine at the time. There was Patrick Borelli, who is now a writer at Fallon, and there were also a lot of great comics that would come through from New York.
Deacon: Where is the weirdest place you have performed comedy?
Mirman: I did a show in sort of a damp cave in Edinburgh for a month. It’s a common space there. A month after 9/11 I did some comedy club that is off the Las Vegas strip. I was supposed to do eight shows and I think I did two. It was just a terrible mismatching of audience to performer. I also remember Kurt Braunohler once put on a show in the back of a U-haul truck and it was very fun.
Deacon: When you put out your 2015 album I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome), you offered a chair version of the album. Can you describe what that means?
Mirman: I can 100% describe it. We made two chair versions. We refurbished a chair, installed speakers and an MP3 player that had the album loaded on it. The album was literally the chair, like it was built in. You would play the album through the chair itself. There was also the robe version, which had the album sown into it and headphones.
Deacon: Did anybody buy these?
Mirman: Yes. There were two chair versions made and they were both sold. I believe Mike Birbiglia has one.
Deacon: It’s like an art installation.
Mirman: It is literally an art installation. I was very excited … the time that it was happening was when people were sort of talking about how album sales were down and things were streaming, or going digital, and I was just obsessed with this idea of the future of music is chairs. That is how everyone will listen to it—in chairs and robes and sneakers—and I knew that was not true. It was still really fun to make.
Deacon: You’re known for addressing problems with customer service or a city’s practices in your standup. What was the first company you addressed this way?
Mirman: It was probably 1992 or 1993. I wrote a letter to MCI who had sent me some sort of very weird promotional thing. It was something that hundreds of thousands of people saw. Not that it was what made me in anyway reach a popular standard or something.
After [my letter to] Time Warner I was like, I probably won’t do that again. And I was like, well, maybe just this once about this parking ticket.
I don’t want to do it too much. I think it’s only when a company does something that I thought was really egregious.
This is probably a year or two ago, but I bought a dryer from Sears and they were supposed to deliver it and all the stuff went wrong. They were rude to an insane degree. One department put me in touch with another and that department with the original. Finally I was like, I’m going to joke about this on the internet. I wrote on Twitter, “If you want to have the experience of buying a dryer from Sears, just throw $1,000 into the ocean and call Eastern Europe to complain about it.” That did get the attention of Sears.
It’s frustrating because I don’t want to go on the internet every time like, “My shoes were delivered and it was the wrong size and I’m so mad.” Because I’m known for complaining about companies, I’m very hesitant to do it unless I think I will come off as very correct.
Deacon: Sometimes they don’t give you a choice.
Mirman: Yes, exactly.
Deacon: Are there any creative endeavors you pursue just for yourself, not something that feels like work?
Mirman: I think all of it is work … the goal is to make the work enjoyable. I think writing a movie that doesn’t connect with anyone just for yourself is some sort of weird myth.
The thing that makes me happiest is this album you described. I made a pretty odd album. I also put stand-up on it and intentionally didn’t sell it for that much more than a normal album digitally so that no one was penalized for also having to have 45 minutes of crying.
I think everything that I make I want people to connect with. I’m not trying to make anything sillier or weirder than that album. But I also want for people to enjoy it. There isn’t an art form that I’m hoping to do that would make me happy but no other people.
Deacon: A lot of comics at Blue Whale Comedy Festival are new and upcoming. What advice can you give them for pursuing comedy?
Mirman: Be very funny. Connect with the audience. Do it often and kill. Perform in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or wherever you’re from for maybe three to five years and then move to New York and LA and go be comics. Then they can move back. I live in Cape Cod right now. You don’t have to live in New York or LA forever, but you probably have to be there for 10 or 15 years to become a full-time comic. There are very few people who get on stage for 45 minutes, make people laugh, and aren’t a full-time comic. That’s pretty rare.
with Fran Hoepfner and local comedian Josh Lathe
Sat., Sept. 9 | 10:30 p.m. | Cain’s Ballroom