4:39 pm Sep. 14, 2012
Eugene Mirman spent part of his day yesterday walking around Park Slope wearing thick, chunky glasses, and muttering to himself.
“I’m wearing video glasses!”
“Do you have any idea that I’m watching you?”
“Hi! I’m a master spy!”
Later in the day Mirman hosted the opening night of the fifth annual version of his very own comedy festival—a collection of comedians (basically Mirman’s friends and former collaborators) performing through the weekend at the Bell House and Union Hall.
For nearly two decades, Mirman has navigated the comedy circuit. Taking a rather grassroots approach to building his brand, he has put out three comedy DVDs, starting with the 2004 release of The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman, and hosted a series of weekly comedy shows around the city. Typical for comedians, Mirman’s professional life has been a years-long trudge to success.
He’s achieved notoriety—brandishing a somewhat alternative, underground fan-base—by playing small parts on “Flight of the Conchords” and “Delocated,” and voicing the role of Gene Belcher on Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers,” now in its second season.
Still, even in zany glasses muttering wild phrases he’d remained incognito in Park Slope (he played a video of his stroll during the festival.) But with that face he’s got—like Rodney Dangerfield’s, gooey and elastic, tailor-made for a big grin—and more significantly with the success he's attained, he can’t expect to go routinely unnoticed for too much longer. Before introducing the first act, Mirman even related a recent encounter with a fan that took him rather by surprise.
“It was Bobby Tisdale’s bachelor party,” Mirman said, “and we went to a strip club where people take off their clothes, dance for you, and push their breasts together, and they go like this…”
Mirmin pursed his lips and mimed squishing two breasts together.
“And that’s perfectly normal!” he said. “Then, this girl comes up to me and goes, ‘OMG! You’re Eugene Mirman!’” Despite the awkwardness of being recognized, Mirman explained, he and his friends continued to enjoy the show. Later, the stripper came back over to Mirman and said, “You don’t know how many times I’ve manually pleasured myself to the idea of interviewing you.”
“What do I say to that!?” Mirman exclaimed, laughing, admitting that his interviewing know-how doesn’t extend that far.
The first act up was “Saturday Night Live” writer John Mulaney, whose Twitter tag reads: “I’m a nice, 30 year old comic.” And nice is the first thing you think when you see him, with his boyish, all-American looks, his neatly coiffed hair, and his preppy threads. He even skipped a bit onto the stage. He spent most of the act talking about his family. Notably how child-rearing has changed since he was a kid.
“Every adult was more trustworthy than I was,” Mulaney said, “Any adult could have taken me by the ear up to my door and said ‘Excuse me, your kid bit my dick!’ and my dad would be like ‘Is that true young man? Did you bite this grown-up’s dick?’ And no one would ever inquire why a dick would be near his 'biters.'”
Todd Barry was up next, and spent his set reading from an Esquire article, written by a woman named Lisa (last name undisclosed for fear that the audience would “Facebook her”) on what women want from men. The key is Barry’s voice. It’s soothing, but in serial-killer kind of way, his smooth, breathy timbre masking malice for sure. In a bit about how a sensitive bachelor ought to outfit his bathroom to impress the ladies, Barry read:
“Stack fresh towels, thick and white, fluffy, more than I need.”
“She needs more towels than she needs.” Barry interjected.
Jon Glaser managed to do his entire act from offstage. Upon introduction, someone walked onto the stage and handed Mirman an envelope and a 6-foot-long Subway sandwich. Inside the envelope was a letter from Glaser. He wasn’t going to make it tonight, Mirman read, he had a cold.
Mirman then continued reading from Glaser’s five-page letter, a long-winded apology to the audience that riffed on Jay-Z’s declaration to never use the term “bitches” in his songs and directed Mirman to find someone who was “either a Jew or an asshole” in the audience and then tell them so. Mirman found someone and yelled.
“Look at this guy he's either Jewish or a complete asshole!" he said, as instructed, reading from the letter.
Glaser, at this moment, peaked through the curtain and walked on stage with a Breathe Right strip across on his nose, promising some “Glingers,” (Glaser’s signature zingers), marching in jokey, labored steps across the stage, and then pointing out the same audience member and yelling:
“Oh boy, Look at this guy … this guy’s either Jewish or a complete asshole"
Then he said his time was up and left the stage.
If the audience, despite the “Jew!” and “Asshole!” hollers, still wanted something more provocative at this point, they didn’t have to wait long.
“I’m kinda polarizing but I do think we live in divided times,” said Sarah Silverman. “Maybe liberals are a little more open-minded and progressive and conservatives more closed minded and faggotish … they say they don’t want big government in their backyard when what they really want to say is…”
Then she rattled off the N-word about 10 times, so quickly that it sounded more like “nicker, nicker, nicker, nicker.”
“I need more rape jokes!” she later lamented. “Who’s going to complain about a rape joke!?” she asked, “I’d say rape victims but they don’t’ even report rape. They’re traditionally not complainers.”
The show took back its lighthearted tone with the headliner, Jim Gaffigan, who filled his set with jokes about bath gels, loofahs, and how having five kids is no longer in fashion.
“Big families are like waterbed stores,” he said. “It used to be everywhere now they are just weird”.
But weirdness was the watchword of the evening, summed up perfectly in Mirman’s video of his Park Slope spying. Clearly five years on, Mirman’s festival and his colleagues are no less weird, just a little more recognizable and a lot more famous.
The Fifth Annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival continues with performances at the Bell House and Union Hall through September 16. For more information visit Mirman's website.
An earlier version of this article misquoted Mirman's stripper joke, and has been amended.
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