Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival

Jonathan Zeller

Eugene Mirman, whose eccentric comedy is beloved in Brooklyn and far beyond, spoke to about his upcoming comedy festival and to recommend favorite neighborhood haunts. To see Mirman (along with a slew of other esteemed comedians), check out the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at The Rock Shop, Union Hall and The Bell House September 16–19. The festival is celebrated for its irreverent twists on tried-and-true comedy festival traditions. For example, Mirman has been known to dispense awards (called the "Eugenies") before performers have even taken the stage and to offer $10,000 VIP packages whose benefits mainly consist of awkward interactions with participating comedians. Fortunately for the common comedy fan, tickets to individual shows cost only $10 to $15 each.

Try to summarize the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival to the uninitiated.
Eugene Mirman:
It's both a parody of a comedy festival and a comedy festival.

Your show, Invite Them Up—which will be revived at this year's fest—started at RiFiFi, which was a popular place to see cheap, funny shows in NYC before it closed in 2008. Where does RiFiFi's spirit live on today?
It lives in the hearts of the people of New York City who love smart jokes about literature and penises. Also, in a handful of shows scattered around the City, like Leo Allen's show Whiplash at UCB, Hot Tub with Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal at Littlefield, my show at Union Hall on Sunday nights, Max Silvestri and Gabe Liedman's show at Cameo and Hannibal Buress' show at Knitting Factory.

Yo La Tengo is on the bill for one of the shows at the festival, and you've toured with a fair number of rock bands. Why do alternative music and comedy mesh?
Well, the specific show they're on is a variety show that John Wesley Harding puts together called the Cabinet of Wonders. He does runs of it in the City, and we've toured around the country co-hosting it together. It features music, authors, comedians and occasionally poets (though poetry is a dangerous art form if done wrong). Music and comedy have gone together for decades, whether it's me and She and Him or The Temptations and Shelly Berman. But ultimately, I think it's a certain like-mindedness in spirit and aesthetic that brings together so many bands and comedians.

One of your festival's distinguishing features has been its preposterous VIP packages, whose names we can't publish on a family website. You've asked people to drop $10,000 for brief eye contact with you or an awkward five-minute conversation with a famous comedian in a locked room. How would you react if someone bought one of the packages?
I would love it if someone does. We have always made the packages ridiculous, but plausible, so that someone very eccentric could buy it and we could do what we promised. However, considering that you can buy tickets to [all of the shows together] for about $150 and I make brief eye contact with so many attendees already, no one has bought a pass yet.

Is there something about New York City that makes it an especially fitting host for an event like the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival?
We wanted to pick a city where there was a chance that Philip Glass would come to a show. It's obviously a long shot, but there's no way he'd come to Hadley, Massachusetts, the other place we'd considered.

The venues for your festival are in and around Park Slope—a very family-friendly area. During your show at Prospect Park this summer, little kids were running around right in front of the stage as you told jokes that clearly were not for children. Do you expect to see any kids at the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival?
Well, all the shows are 21-plus, so unless someone plans on getting their baby drunk, I don't expect to see kids. In general, though, I think parents know that if they bring their kids to a comedy show, they might hear swearing and whatnot. I actually really wanted to put on a dirty comedy show for families in the afternoon and promote it as a nasty family show. Maybe next year?

What are some of your favorite NYC restaurants, especially near the festival venues? Why?
Al di Là is wonderful. Blue Ribbon, Nana, Commonwealth (great bar), Get Fresh Table and Market, Stone Park and Rosewater are all great. And though it's not near my home, I really like Casa Mono.