The Arty Semite

Eugene Mirman Brings Comedy Fest to Boston and Brooklyn

By Matt Robinson

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While many comedians make other people laugh while fretting about their ability to do so, Eugene Mirman has always had a unique perspective on comedy.

“I wanted to be a professional comedian,” the Russian-born, Brooklyn-based comedian explains, “whatever that entailed.”

To hear him tell it, this attitude may not actually be so rare. In fact, Mirman has a great number of stand-up friends who truly seem to be in it for the laughs. For the past few years, Mirman has been assembling some of his comic comrades in an eponymous festival. The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival will run in Boston May 1-4 and in Brooklyn September 18-21. Both festivals will feature such stars as Nick Thune, John Hodgman, Daniel Kitson (with whom Mirman is touring May 4-9 as part of the ongoing “Pretty Good Friends” show), H. Jon Benjamin (who also appears with Mirman as a character voice in the hit Fox cartoon “Bob’s Burgers”) and even Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“It started as a joke,” Mirman admits when asked what gave him the idea to put his name on a festival. “And then was fun to do so we just started doing it.”

While some may see the Mirman festival as some sort of “alternative,” the host does not claim to want to revolutionize the ways comedy festivals are produced. He simply wants to have an opportunity to perform and spend time with his friends.

“It’s just the same thing as having a friend in any other field,” he says, noting that the main criteria for who participates is often who is available at the time. “You just enjoy being with the people!”

As he grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, a town that is typically not known for its burgeoning comedy scene, it may seem odd that Mirman was able to find his way to the greener pastures of comedy. However, he reasons, as people who become doctors do not necessarily come from “doctor towns,” comedy was something he loved and wanted to pursue no matter where he was.

“It was not the place,” he recalls. “It was more the era. I watched so much standup on TV and listened to so many records. It was something I loved and it occurred to me that it was something I could try. You kinda’ find your own way to do what you want to do.”

As he moved from place to place, he found other like-minded wanderers and began performing and touring with them. While many of these friends also extended their reach to other stages and other media, their common love of laughter has kept them together and sustained them on the challenging road of the independent comic. This festival is one way Mirman is trying to support his colleagues while also allowing and encouraging all of them to have more fun.

“It’s as things come to me,” he says, of how he comes up with material and ideas. “You just experience stuff.”

So whether it is performing at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, Bumbershoot, and South by Southwest, appearing with such musical mavens as Modest Mouse, Yo La Tengo, Gogol Bordello, Andrew Bird, and Cake, producing CDs (his own album, “The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman,” was voted one of the Best Albums of 2004 by both The A.V. Club and Time Out New York and his latest comedic combo pack, “Eugene Mirman: An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory,” features a pilot for an idea for his own eponymous series), voicing a cartoon character or just hanging out with friends, Mirman is up for the gag.

“I just do whatever it is,” he says.

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