While the term “alternative comedy” has been diluted by a world that sticks it to everyone left of Dane Cook, it is really the only way to describe Eugene Mirman. Perhaps best known as the voice of Gene, the middle child in the Belcher clan on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, Mirman has been a force of comedy for years. Emigrating from Russia at the age of four, he has made his mark with stand-up albums; Comedy Central specials; guest appearances on television and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast StarTalk Radio; and Invite Them Up, his reoccurring live show in Brooklyn co-hosted with Bobby Tisdale.
For I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome), his latest album out via Subpop on October 30th, Mirman has eschewed the standard formula of an hour of new material. Instead, he’s compiled nine volumes that range in subject matter from an introduction to spoken Russian to a disc of “digital drugs” (binaural tones said to elicit the sensation of various illegal substances). The collection is absolutely insane and stands as one of the most innovative, incredible, and, yes, hilarious offerings to hit the comedy community in some time. As described in the press release announcing the album:
In addition to Mirman’s brilliant stand-up performance at Seattle’s Columbia City Theater in June 2014, the collection includes more than 500 tracks featuring: a guided meditation for various body parts; an erotic new age ‘Fuckscape’ for sexing to; a comprehensive sound effects library, voiced by Mirman, including everything from ‘rain’ to ‘zoo with nothing to lose’; an aural pharmacy of ‘digital drugs’ from marijuana to apple cider vinegar; over 45 real minutes of real crying; an introduction to possibly useful Russian phrases; ringtones and outgoing voicemail messages for your personal use; and 195 consecutive orgasms. It is, as comedian Daniel Kitson writes in the set’s liner notes, ‘a parade of excellence punctuated with benevolent explosions of the purist, uncut, nonsense.’
Speaking by phone, Mirman discussed some of the factors that went into making his mammoth album, as well as the role of improvisation on Bob’s Burgers, painting for Whole Foods, and what he would do on an acid trip with John Boehner.
Your album I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome) totals nine discs and 273 minutes. Were there any ideas for other discs that didn’t make the final cut?
Yeah, I had a little bit more. Some of it was clear — like, I knew I was going to cry for 45 minutes, so I knew that that would be a disc. We did other stuff. We recorded a lot of songs, actually, weird story-song things, and I was just like, “I don’t know if this works. It might be too weird.” I might at some point put them somewhere or do something with them. And then there were random things; I wanted to do something like “Whispering Secrets to My Dick”, and I think we recorded a few minutes of stuff, and it was a little funny, but there was no way we could do 12 or 15 minutes of it. We recorded a lot more sound effects and a lot of other stuff and just took what we liked the most. We’d slowly record a bunch of stuff, edit it, listen to it, and then revisit it and revisit it and revisit it. What’s crazy is the number of times we organized and reorganized the orgasms. In hindsight, it may be crazy, but it was really funny that I was like, “Oh, that one’s too similar to this other one.”
That must have been a very serious editing process.
It was a moderately serious editing process. We wanted to really include what we thought was funny, and I was happy to cut anything. It was very collaborative.
Like the orgasms disc, the 198 tracks that make up your Comprehensive Sound Effects Library are an even split between straightforward interpretations of things like a doorbell and a horse and more specific sounds like “Abortion Doctor Enjoying a Candy Bar” and “Two Apples on a Rainy Sunday in the Fall Watching Failure to Launch”. Was your plan always to feature both kinds of sound effects, or did they come together in the studio?
Largely, I would record stuff and then Matt [Savage] and Christian [Cundari], who were listening on headphones to everything, I’d try to make them laugh. A lot of it would be doing something earnest and then doing something ridiculous. It’s not unlike anything you record with friends. When we do Bob’s Burgers, we always try to make each other laugh. With the orgasms, I came up with lots and lots of silly titles. Until the first time we recorded, it didn’t occur to me that it would be really funny to title all of them. Like, “Oh, this will add a real good dimension to an otherwise ludicrous thing.”
It looks glorious in an iTunes library.
[laughs] That is great to hear.
Speaking of Bob’s Burgers, listening to your stand-up disc, it becomes readily apparent how similar your sense of humor is to Gene’s. Are the writers just that good at knowing whom they’re writing for, or do you get the chance to play around a little when you’re recording episodes?
You know, it’s really both. The writers really write to us, but we also were cast before the show existed, so a lot of our personality is also in our characters. Loren Bouchard, who created Bob’s Burgers, cast each of us and then developed each character to each of our personalities and strengths. So the writers are really great at writing for us. I think in the second episode, there’s this improv that got in where I have a long argument with Bob, who’s my dad, that Salman Rushdie wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I think that kind of thing — this odd sensibility of me as a grown-up but also as a kid who’s confused about random stuff he’s heard — it all makes it in a little.
As a total aside, the episode where Gene fashions himself as a miniature Bob is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and I secretly hope it’s one of your favorite moments too.
It is! It actually is one of my favorite episodes, especially that scene in the bathroom, which was very largely improvised with all of us jumping in.
Going back to your stand-up disc, a lot of your bits involve observations or messing with popular franchises and websites like Guitar Center, Kinkos, Whole Foods, Christian Mingle, and LinkedIn. Are you always on the lookout for places and sites that seem like they might lead to good material?
I think they find their way to me. The Christian Mingle/Believe.com thing I signed up for as a joke, and then they sold my information and I kept getting all of these emails. For Guitar Center, that was really more just a story that happened at Guitar Center. The Facebook thing was just me constantly seeing things about how you could pay to reach Mark Zuckerberg, which I found amazing. And when Whole Foods was opening, my area was blanketed with information about how they were coming and how they were so locally friendly and about how they were going to be displaying artwork from local artists. It’s totally enough for Whole Foods to go, “We’re going to source from local farms.” You don’t really have to be like, “We’re going to put up local paintings.” Also, they totally don’t put up local paintings. I mean, they do have events for local artists, but there were all these articles about how they were going to display local artwork, and I just thought it was really funny and something that I wanted to participate in. To that point, all of these are things that somehow came into my life. Like the LinkedIn thing. I get a ton of emails to join LinkedIn, from people I know or don’t know in random professional circles. Though in a sense I’d love to find more things like it, it’s largely just something that happens enough to me that I’m like, “OK, now I’m going to look into this and make fun of it.”
On a very different note from Whole Foods, you have a disc of so-called digital drugs. Before recording those tracks, did you listen to a lot of stuff on sites like I-Doser? Did you find the digital drugs to have any effect on you?
I did listen to a bunch of stuff before I made the record, but I don’t in my free time listen to “I-Cocaine” or whatever. Somebody had mentioned it or I saw an article — I’m not sure exactly when I first heard about digital drugs — but then I googled it and found this Channel 9 news report from Ohio about how digital drugs are creeping into your child’s life and they’re going to destroy you. I just imagined kids writhing on the ground listening to ostensibly the same thing I made. It’s a level of totally unnecessary fear-mongering, especially because there are legitimate dangers that could come into your child’s life, and I bet digital drugs is probably underneath soccer on that list. I would first fear soccer, and then I would fear digital drugs.
I just thought it was really funny because it has this idea that it could replace traditional drugs. People could think, “I’m listening to this, and it has the same effect as marijuana.” I think people think that could actually be plausible, but with something like amoxicillin, I don’t think anyone thinks a digital version could have the same effect as antibiotics. Still, our rule was that every track would have a binaural tone — whatever we did would have the sound in it that people insist is a thing that alters your brain waves. So each digital drug is actually a digital drug. None of the tracks are just about digital drugs; they all have the actual thing.
I listened to that disc while trying to get a glimpse of the “blood moon” in the San Francisco fog, and I’m not sure I tripped out, but it was definitely a good soundtrack for it.
Yeah, I think that’s good. I mean, people are welcome to try and alter their minds, but I think that mostly it’s just a fun, weird thing. I guess that’s my whole album.
Another album that people can try out for themselves is of course your “fuckscape” disc. Is your ultimate goal to hear back from someone that has indeed actually fucked to it?
I don’t know if that’s my ultimate goal, but I’m comfortable with that happening. I’m also fine with not hearing about it. They’re welcome to keep it private. I don’t know if I want to say in an interview that they’re welcome to let me know. What I mean is, don’t tell me, but think it to yourself. For a lot of this stuff, I just want people to enjoy it in whatever way they want to. I imagine a lot of people sitting around, friends sitting around listening to different stuff at different times, just hanging out and having it be this odd, shared experience.
Your disc of crying is something to behold. Was that all recorded during one 45-minute crying jag? At what point did you just suddenly get the clarity in your sorrow to think, “I should record this and put it on my comedy album”?
No, I intended to record 45 minutes of crying. Part of it was that when I first thought of this record, I thought it would be really funny to have a sticker on the record that said, “Featuring over 45 minutes of crying!” as if that was a thing people had always wanted and I was finally like, “Here it is! The original demos!” So I was a little bit obsessed, and then part of me was like, look, if you’re going to make the joke, you have to have 45 minutes of crying. It’s a little funny to write that on a sticker, but it’s much, much funnier if there is a whole disc with over 45 minutes of crying. So I sat down and recorded it. It’s very hard, it turns out, to cry for a very long time.
I would imagine, yeah.
Well you kinda just do it, you know, if the goal is to sound essentially sincere and like you’re crying. I don’t think I used a tear stick. I just cried it up.
It felt genuine.
Yeah. I mean, it was me trying to cry.
I also like how it’s four tracks. The first one is very short. The next one is a minute and some change, and there are two tracks where one is 17 minutes and the other is 25 minutes. I’d like to think you put a lot of thought into how you were going to break those tracks up.
I did, actually. I wanted to make sure that they could get played on college radio. Twenty-five minutes: somebody could just put it on, and they wouldn’t have to worry. They’d probably fulfill their new music requirement.
As someone with no knowledge of the Russian language, can I trust that your Introduction to Spoken Russian disc is an authentic learning tool if I ever need to tell someone “I probably won’t go to the forest with you” or “please hold my bag of shit”?
Yes, with the caveat that obviously I came here when I was a kid and so my grammar and conjugation might be off, but I at no point say anything that isn’t real Russian. I’m not fake teaching you how to say “hold my bag of shit.” That would be a ludicrous thing. Everything in there — though I can’t vouch for it being the best way to say it — is authentically accurate. I can vouch that people will pretty much understand what you’re trying to say, if not know why you’re trying to say it.
You have a joke about sending a Facebook message to John Boehner and suggesting you two do LSD together. If he agreed, what do you imagine the two of you might do for your trip?
[laughs] It’s funny — I think my album comes out the day he retires, so it’s just in time for that to actually be possible. He might know how to ride a horse much better than I do, but for one, I would really not want to take LSD. I guess in that sense it was a bit of a bluff on my part, where I was hoping he would go, “How about just maybe instead we have a cocktail?” I would, however, happily ride around on horseback with him. That’s not any kind of real commitment to anything. Maybe we’d go to Utah — Utah’s very nice. I’d explore Moab with him on horseback.
Now that you’ve produced this mammoth thing that’s about to come out, how much of your comedic stock reserves did you burn through to put this together? Will it be a while before you’re ready to put out another album, and do you feel like it has to equal what you’ve done with I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome)?
Yes, in terms of using up my comedic reserves, but largely what I used up is my stand-up, which happens every time. I might try to do some of this album live, which isn’t a thing comedians generally do, but I might try to do some of the musical stuff live, because Matt and Christian are going to join me on my tour. I don’t know what my next record will be. I mean, it might be stand-up. I might also do one-off projects that are versions of some of that type of stuff. I think part of me just wanted to put out a record that proved that anything could be comedy. For the next thing, for all I know, I might make a bunch of weird children’s songs.