Some dumb people think Massachusetts’ list of notable celebrities includes Ben Affleck, Dropkick Murphys, the Boston Red Sox, and nobody friggin’ else. Little do they know that the people who play for the Red Sox are not from Massachusetts; they’re only paid to play baseball on Boston’s behalf. Also, way, way more than like, 20 people who grew up in Massachusetts are famous and awesome.
We’ve also got Juliana Hatfield, Paul Revere, John Cena, Kimberly Strubell, Steve Carell, Kofi Kingston, Jack Kerouac, Eliza Dushku, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jen Kirkman, Gary Cherone, J Mascis, Lizzie Borden, Captain America, Donna Summer, Conan O’Brien, Benjamin Franklin, The Pink Ranger, and funnyman Eugene Mirman. Technically, Mirman was born in Moscow, but relocated to the Massachusetts town of Lexington before his fifth birthday.
Take that, Brezhnev!
While we imagine most readers are principally familiar with Mirman as the voice behind TV’s Gene Belcher, Mirman established himself as a stand-up luminary years prior to Bob’s Burgers’ break into primetime animation eminence. His knack for surrealistic-meets-slice-of-life joke smithery earned him more guest spots and cable specials than you can swing a rubber chicken at throughout the ‘00s. Aside from Bob’s, his recent endeavors include a regular co-host spot on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk podcast, plus his own Hold On Audible show. Mirman has also officiated marriages for, by his estimation, more than 30 people. Most of those marriages aren’t legally binding, but that’s still a shitload of marriages for a comedian.
Vanyaland called up Mirman to bug him before his set at the Paradise this Saturday (February 11). Turns out he’s even more Massachusetts-y than he used to be, having recently re-located to Falmouth after 16 years in New York City, in light of a successful breeding attempt with his wife.
Barry Thompson: How’s suburban life treating you?
Eugene Mirman: Um, it’s pretty good. Y’know, so much of my life was traveling anyway, and it sort of still is, but in terms of where I am, it’s nice to have a house as opposed to an apartment. Also with a baby, it’s not like we’re going out all the time, so it’s nice to have the space.
I keep reading Gene is supposed to be based on you, but your stand-up routine is far cleverer than anything Gene could ever come up with on his own. What’s up with that?
My Bob’s Burgers character is a bit of a savant, but he’s also 11 years old. He does have a suspicious amount of ‘80s pop culture knowledge. He’s closer to what I would be like if I was 11 years old right now, rather than what I was like when I was 11. He’s like, if I aged backwards right now.
Hm, what were you actually like when you were 11?
Awkward and terrified, but a little fun loving.
The world is a terrifying place when you’re 11.
Yes. Especially school.
What terrified you the most about school?
Probably a certain amount of Cold War animosity mixed with the popularity of lacrosse. I mean, what could be scarier to a little Russian immigrant than a cross between Rambo and lacrosse?
Have you dealt with audience members who showed up to your show expecting Gene and left disappointed when, obviously, your act is a good deal more sophisticated?
I don’t think so. It’d be weird to go see a 42-year-old and then be offended when you didn’t get the humor of an animated 11-year-old. If someone happens to find me through Bob’s Burgers, then they’ll still probably watch my Netflix special and decide whether they think they’d enjoy a live show. They might not like it, but if they don’t, it’s not because I’m not an 11-year-old.
At one point in your career, you were considered something of an “alt-comic.” To what extent do you think that’s still true?
I guess it’s the same thing with music — people like to categorize. It’s same way as when we were referring to Nirvana as alternative music. I mean, Nirvana is alternative music, but also wildly popular. I’m not saying I’m Nirvana, I’m just saying it’s a category that I’m not sure matters anymore.
Or if someone like maybe Louis C.K. is Nirvana, that makes you one of the better Soul Asylum records?
Yeah. Or maybe Uncle Tupelo. Um, so, there’s so many new platforms for the ways to do comedy, and the way that I’ve always basically looked at comedy, if the thing you’re doing on stage is funny, that’s all that matters. So If you’re telling a story or telling jokes or showing pictures or whatever you’re doing, if it’s making people laugh, it’s comedy. I think at one point if people saw that they considered it alternative comedy. Now people are like, “Ah, who cares what the distinction is?”
Hm, I know we don’t have tons of time. Do you feel like answering the Amanda Palmer question, or the Vladimir Putin question?
Um, I don’t know? Either one.
Okay, well, you graduated Lexington High School a few years ahead of Amanda Palmer. Did you encounter her, and if so, was she exactly the way we’d expect Amanda Palmer to be in high school?
Yeah, I knew Amanda Palmer in high school. I think that people often like… I don’t know, they make a big deal out of random stuff. Like, if they met someone in high school when that person was, like, 16, then make a big deal out of something they said. I dunno. We were all sort of weirdo kids.
So she seemed normal, in the sense that she was a weirdo kid but everyone else was also a weirdo kid?
Well, I just mean in my circle of friends. There were lots of people who played lacrosse. And those people thought that we were both weirdos, but she was always interested in music and art. I knew her through the arts and theater program and stuff, and we had friends in common.
Now you guys are wildly successful. And what are those lacrosse players doing?
They might be doing very well as well. I lot of them were wonderful young men with dreams they’ve hopefully fulfilled. So what’s the Putin question? What was he like in high school?
…Yes. Yes, that is the Putin question.
I imagine that he was goal-oriented. And probably successful. I imagine a 17-year-old Putin set himself some goals and accomplished them. I feel like if he read the letter he wrote at 17 to his older self, he’d say “Oh, fuck, I did it!”
He was clearly the yearbook’s most likely to succeed.
Or at least in the top three.
Well, that’s all I got. What can we expect from your show at the Paradise?
Y’know, some chitchat, certain anecdotes, some goofing around. Some paintings? Who knows?
Best to keep things open-ended.
It would be funny if I said, “There are two jokes about Trans Ams, each 30 minutes long. And that’s it.” That would be very specific, but not true.
EUGENE MIRMAN + APARNA NANCHERLA :: Saturday, February 11 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, sold out :: Featured photo by Brian Tamborello