Profile in Comedy: Eugene Mirman
Eugene Mirman is one of the most inventive comedians of his generation. He has appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Comedy Central's Premium Blend, Carson Daly, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Home Movies, Third Watch, and HBO's Flight of the Conchords. He has released two comedy CDs: The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman and En Garde, Society!
When did you first realize that you were uniquely funny?
About an hour and a half ago. As a kid I might have been more weird than funny, or maybe people didn't get that I was kidding around.
Who do you think were your influences?
I listened to tons of stand-up as a kid. I loved Emo Philips. I listened to lots of Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, and Woody Allen also. Later I listened to Lenny Bruce, Coyle and Sharpe, Daniel Kharms. But I also really loved music, like Lou Reed, Robyn Hitchcock, and Jethro Tull, and I think the sensibilities of musicians and artists influenced me, as well as comic books and generally nerdy pop culture.
Do you remember your first original joke?
The first joke I ever wrote and did as part of my stand-up was, “What profession has the highest suicide rate? Most people think its dentists. But it's kamikaze pilots.”
When did you realize that comedy was something that you had to do for a living?
At the end of high school when I realized it was a profession someone could do.
What was your first job in comedy writing or performance?
I got paid $10 at a comedy club when I was nineteen. After college I worked on a newspaper that I started with some friends in Boston called the Weekly Week, so that was my first real-ish comedy job.
What is the biggest difficulty you've encountered being a comedy writer?
Probably getting the first initial work and then in general the stress of being a freelancer and not knowing where you'll get money from month to month.
Are the lines between sketch and stand-up getting blurred?
I know lots of people who have been doing characters or more elaborate bits as stand-up for many, many years. I don't know if it's becoming blurred, but I do think it's more commonplace.
How has the Internet helped your career?
The Internet is a great way to get exposure and a great medium to get your work out there. The first big exposure for my career was my website traveling around virally and being passed from person to person. I used to get recognized more for my site than appearances on television and realized how powerful of a medium it was. Also, like radio, print, and television, you can get paid to do stuff online. It's not a means to an end, it is an end.
Are there jokes that you do just for you?
I'll sometimes have a joke that's part of a bigger bit that only some people will laugh at that I think is really funny. But I don't really have a lot of stuff that I do that is for me at the exclusion of the audience. I'll try things that I think are funny and don't always work. And then I'll try to figure out how to convey what I think is so funny about it to an audience, but if I can't get the joke to work after a while I'll generally drop it. Sometimes I'll revisit it a year later.
What are the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others?
I've only really written for myself, so I don't know. I imagine you have to understand their voice and rhythm and what their strengths are.
What do you find exciting about comedy right now?
A lot of people are doing very funny, very innovative things. Shows like Mr. Show, 30 Rock, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show are genuinely great television. There's a lot of fantastic stand-up comedians doing very creative work. In general, it feels like there's a renaissance of sorts.
Where do you think the future of comedy is headed?
Comedy is always headed to a great place and a terrible place. I think there has been a rebirth of a lot of great comedy over the last ten years, but at the same time there's lots of terrible stuff out there.
As audiences become more specific and more segmented, is your job becoming easier or more difficult?
Easier probably. You can find your own niche, and with growing technology, it's becoming easier to produce work and get it to audiences in ways you couldn't twenty years ago.
What is the best thing about being a comedy writer?
You get to stay up late drinking and making jokes. That's also true for someone who is unemployed.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming comedy writers?
My advice is probably like anyone else's — to write a lot. Do it for at least ten years. Everyone has to be talented, but more important is working hard consistently for a long time.