What Where When-sday – Eugene Mirman – 11/09/2022

Eugene Mirman talks opening for bands and Bob’s Burgers ahead of his show at Eastside Bowl

Another edition of What Where When-sday, keeping you up to date with the events happening in Nashville this week. Some of the highlights include Rayland Baxter this Friday at Brooklyn Bowl, The 1975 at Municipal Auditorium on Sunday, Charley Crockett at the Ryman on Monday and a whole lot more you can find at wnxp.org/events.

Our special guest this week is comedian Eugene Mirman, who’s performing on Saturday, November 12 at Eastside Bowl. He voices “Gene Belcher” on the animated series Bob’s Burgers, but is key player in the early stages of the alt-comedy scene in New York with three comedy specials, five albums, a decade-long comedy fest and his own comedy record label under Sub Pop. He’s opened for musicians like Modest Mouse, Andrew Bird, and, most recently, Dinosaur Jr. and Guided by Voices.

‘When I think of Nashville, naturally to me it’s a place with a lot of country music that I really love,” Mirman said. “So I’m pretty excited. I’ve been to Nashville before. I’ve done shows. I opened for Andrew Bird at the Ryman years ago and I’m just excited to come over with my family and spend extra time there. I’m really psyched to come to Nashville.”

When asked about what can fans expect at Eastside Bowl on Saturday, he said fun and silly stand-up and a few Bob’s Burgers songs, but singing will be him — a 48-year-old man — and not an 11-year-old child.

Listen above to this week’s breakdown of weekly events, and find my full interview with Eugene Mirman below.

A Q&A with Eugene Mirman:

Marquis Munson: Most people may know you for voicing Gene Belcher, but you have so much history in the comedy world I want to dive deep into. I want to start by asking you, how did you get into comedy?

Eugene Mirman: I loved stand-up comedy growing up and listened to it throughout the ’80s. At some point realized that’s like a job that some people could have. I signed up for an open mic that was a few days after my 18th birthday at a comedy club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did it there and throughout college and just kept doing it.

MM: Who are some of those stand-up comedians that you watched that you idolized and molded into your work today?

EM: I loved Emo Philips, Steve Martin, Bobcat Goldthwait. I had Robin Williams’ “An Evening at the Met.” I would watch like various young comedians’ specials on HBO. Jake Johannsen was a comic I loved, and I taped his HBO special and watched it a ton. I don’t know if stylistically, it’s the same as any of the people I watched. I started in college where I had to organize my own shows and do my own thing. So, I would just try something and if it worked, it became stand-up. I had a lot of things where I would have letters, read different bits, or use sort of music and try different stuff. I think my comedy was more shaped by trying things and whatever worked became my stand-up.

MM: As I mentioned, you have so much history throughout your comedy career, and you became one of the key players in the early stages of the alt-comedy scene in New York. You founded the decade-long Eugene Mirman Comedy Fest. You were working on booking your own shows. So, was that also the start of the comedy festival?

EM: By that point, me and my friend Julie Smith Clem had been doing a weekly show in Brooklyn, and I had been doing shows there for several years. I made a joke that I was going to start a festival with my name, and I can’t remember what led to the joke, but I was talking to her and Mike Birbiglia. At some point, her and I decided that we would do this one-off event, but it was fun and so we just kept doing it. We did it for a decade and because we were both moving, had kids, life was changing, and we weren’t in New York anymore, it was much harder to put on the festival in New York. We did it a few more times and then sort of moved on.

MM: You go from a comedy festival and now you have your own comedy record label. You’re teaming up with your current label, Sub Pop, and starting this comedy record label. How did that come together for you?

EM: That’s something I’ve always been interested in doing and thought about for a long time. Julie and I really wanted to do it and we’re in different places, but we really wanted to keep collaborating and putting out comics. So, this was a natural progression to keep working with people we love to keep doing things and putting stuff out. This was a project we’d always kind of dreamed of doing.

MM: You’ve had a chance to perform at music festivals like Bonnaroo and SXSW. But you’ve also opened up for artists like Modest Mouse, Andrew Bird at the Ryman, and you’re opening up for Dinosaur Jr. And Guided by Voices. When did you first get approached about opening for musicians?

EM: There was an agent that I had for a while, Robin Taylor, and she reached out after seeing me at a bunch of shows and was like, “Would you want to open for The Shins?” This was around 2002 or 2003. I did those shows and then she had asked if I need an agent, which I did, I needed a booking agent. She booked me for band shows. But also parallel to that, Yo La Tengo did a lot of Hanukkah shows where every year they would have an opening band and a surprise comic. So, a mix of a lot of different things in terms of doing stuff with bands. A friend of mine, Wesley Stace, started doing this variety show, “Cabinet of Wonders” and I was the comic frequently on that and he would also have authors and musicians. In New York, there was a world blending those things and then bringing it outside of New York.

MM: Do you find it challenging performing for people waiting to hear music, or is it all about finding an artist and a comic connection that just mesh well?

EM: Well, I think it’s both. At one point, a gig is a gig. So, if you have an opportunity to have a show and you can pay your rent, you do it. And then it may or may not work out. I think at some point as you go on, you try to have it be aligned. Opening for Andrew Bird, the audiences were amazing. They were so warm and friendly. I now do stuff where it’s either co-headlining or doing shows with friends. So, I think if the audience knows they’re going to see comedy and if the comedy is like 15, 20 minutes, nobody necessarily wants to see a long comedy set unless they’re there for comedy. But a short comedy I find works well or even for Andrew Bird, I’d probably do a half hour or something.

MM: Even a heavy metal band?

EM: I know people who have. I think it just depends on if the audience is into it. I think it depends on the band. If some giant metal band wanted me to open, I’d consider it. But in general, I do shows that are either with friends specifically or opening for somebody for a few shows like the Guided by Voices and Dinosaur Jr. shows are three shows in the Northeast. I think it’ll be fun, ones in my hometown. So, I’m doing probably 10 to 15 minutes, something where if you don’t like comedy, just wait a minute and it’ll get very loud quickly.

MM: If you could pick a band or an artist to open for you, who would it be?

EM: Well, it’s funny you say that because don’t have a band opening in Nashville. But Nashville’s Emma Swift is going to open for me in Carrboro, NC. So, Emma Swift.

MM: You’re a huge Guns N’ Roses fan so I thought you would say them.

EM: My first concert was Guns N’ Roses opening for Aerosmith. Guns N’ Roses would be an act that I would open for, and I would 100% bomb. I would do it [Laughs].

MM: It’s worth it for the story.

EM:  I would try not to. There’s a version where you do your best and it works out, who knows. But yes, if they were like, ‘Would you open for us?” I would absolutely do it and we’ll see what happens.

MM: Has there been a story where you’re opening for this musician, and you bomb?

EM: You know, it’s funny I did the Modest Mouse shows, and I did twelve or so in Florida. The funny part was a bunch of them were amazing and fun. There was one that was maybe disastrous. But disastrous is just like you’re talking to people, they’re talking at you, nobody can hear anything and then your set is done. It’s just sort of unpleasant, it’s not like somebody threw anything, you know what I mean. It’s just difficult and unpleasant. But the surprising part was most of the shows were really fun and most of it worked out pretty well.

MM: It’s like if a musician messes up a note during a show. It’s on to the next one.

EM: The great thing about music is you can just play loudly, and chatter isn’t a big deal. If you’re a comic or an acoustic musician, you can’t have people standing in front of you talking. You can’t focus, you can’t concentrate, especially if they’re talking at you. So those are the things that are hard. It’s hard if it’s drunk people trying to have a conversation among themselves right in front of you and you’re trying to speak and remember things. That’s generally where it’s hard. Now I kind of know those things and I pick audiences that I think will be the best match because it’s not like I want to bum people out [Laughs].

MM: I can talk to you about Bob’s Burgers all day. Easily one of my favorite animated shows of all time. Great voice work, amazing relatability with the characters. When did you find out you got the role of Gene and is there something in him that you see in yourself?

EM: Loren Bouchard, who created Bob’s Burgers, he cast all of us specifically for our roles. We spent about two years or so developing the show and going into the studio recording and rerecording and doing what’s written and improvising. Then they would edited together and re-edited. At the end there was this eight-minute demo and from there we made the show. From the beginning, I was Gene. But we never knew, and what seemed improbable and unlikely was it becoming a TV show. We worked on it for years and that happens a lot where you work on something for years, but generally it’s like, “Oh, that didn’t work out, that went away.” But in this instance, it was like, “Oh my God, we got picked up.” I think it was for some small number of episodes and then it was waiting to see if there would be another thirteen, then it started going. It was a very slow process, but it was very exciting, in terms of having the show and working towards it. I think there’s a lot we bring of ourselves to the characters. I think that there’s like an amount that Gene has this joy, I think he’s more of what I would be like now as a kid than I was as a kid. It’s like I think he has a warm obliviousness to a degree though he’s like sensitive. I think we have a lot in common.