If there’s really such a thing as alternative stand-up comedy, then New York City comic Eugene Mirman is pretty damn close to the forefront of that scene. It’s not that he blows paint from his ass between bits or babbles nonsensically to form a stream of hip faux jokes just cool enough to draw smirks from the audience.
It’s more that he’s got the uncanny ability to vary his live shows with a few simple devices without stumbling down a road littered with gimmicks.
He showed this versatility on his first album, 2004’s The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman, on which, among other things, he plays a phone call he made to a creditor he owed $521 and then read a letter he wrote to Fleet Bank, which, unbeknownst to him, had sold the debt to said creditor.
On En Garde, Society!, Mirman — a highly intelligent but unpretentious guy — carries on much in the same way, peppering his well-paced set with novel respites from traditional jokes.
At one point, the Russian-born comic reads letters he wrote to “nouns and pronouns. Here’s one: “Dear, Arthritis: You’re very weird.” And another: “Dear, Christian Right: You’re very crazy and scare the shit out of me. Why don’t you go back to Russia, circa 1860. That’s right, you remind me of totalitarianism. Snap.”
He also shows the amused crowd a copy of the New Testament — one published to look like a teen magazine — and then simply makes fun of it, saying things like “You know how the King James version of the Bible leaves out beauty tips? This Bible puts it back in.”
Mirman also recounts how when he was young and had no money, he would give coupons to his parents as gifts. Toward the end of his set, he does the same with the audience. “This coupon guarantees two minutes of ass party,” he says, adding enthusiastically, “Your rules!” As he gives another one to a crowd member, he reads, “This coupon entitles the holder to have Eugene cum on his back.”
These comic maneuvers are hilarious but in no way overshadow Mirman’s more conventional jokes. He tells stories (one about his grandmother getting hit by a train), makes observations (Irish, Scottish and English people all sound like pirates) and picks on Republicans — namely an unnamed comic from The Right Stuff, a group of conservative comedians.
Up until now, Mirman was probably best known as co-producer of NYC’s East Village show Invite Them Up, for which Comedy Central released a three-CD album late last year. But with the release of En Garde (Sub Pop) and a tour of mostly large rock venues to follow — not to mention a spin on the Comedians of Comedy tour under his belt — chances are we’ll soon be hearing a lot more from young Eugene.