In Conversation: Eugene Mirman Will Keep You Warm

The stand-up comedian (and the voice of Gene on Bob’s Burgers) tells us why his new box set is ninety-three discs shorter than he intended.
Art & CultureIn Conversation
In Conversation: Eugene Mirman Will Keep You Warm

The stand-up comedian (and the voice of Gene on Bob’s Burgers) tells us why his new box set is ninety-three discs shorter than he intended.

Words: Jason P. Woodbury

photo by Shawn Brackbill

October 28, 2015

Eugene Mirman // photo by Shawn Brackbill

Anyone can make a vinyl box set.

That’s why Eugene Mirman had to augment the release of I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome)his massive nine-volume, seven-LP comedy collection—with a specially tailored robe edition, as well as a chair version of the album. Yep—a sharp-looking, mid-century-inspired chair outfitted with an MP3 player and speakers.

Mirman’s taste for absurdity is matched only by his weird sweetness. As the voice of Gene Belcher on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, Mirman is responsible for delivering Gene’s gender-bending lines (Eric Thurm writing on the topic of the sex positivity of Bob’s Burgers for Pitchfork, referred to Gene as possibly having “gender apathy”) with a guilelessness that would trip up lesser comics. No matter how weird I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome) gets—and with a forty-five-minute recording of Mirman crying, a guided meditation, ringtones, sound effects, an introduction to the Russian language, and a “Fuckscape” (“an erotic soundscape for lovebirds and adventurous friends”) you bet your ass it gets weird—Mirman maintains the absurd but kind feel that’s evident in his stand-up act. Which, if you’re wondering, is also represented on the box set in the form of a live set recorded at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle.

We called Mirman up to discuss his mammoth new project, the remix royalties he’s banking on, and the time he and Michael Stipe got mugged by the Mexican police.

I’ve spent the weekend listening to this insane new thing you’ve created.

Thank you slash I’m sorry?

No apologies necessary—I enjoyed it. You conceived this originally as a 100-disc CD box set?

Yes. It was always sort of a joke idea, because I was never going to make a 100-disc box set. But at some point over the period of a few years of talking about it with friends, I think it occurred to me that ten or twenty discs is quite silly nonetheless. I’d been making lists of ideas of what the discs could contain and had a big range of all sorts of things, and eventually it started to take form.

What was your attraction to creating something that’s by its nature unwieldy and outrageous?

“Anything can be comedy as long as it’s funny.”

I think it was making something unwieldy and outrageous. [Laughs.] I think it was also the idea that anything can be comedy as long as it’s funny. I didn’t want to put out something that was totally conceptual. The crying, I don’t think that’s something people need to fully listen to, though there’s forty minutes of it and they might enjoy it. I didn’t want the set to be all that sort of thing, but I wanted something a little like that, which is why I have one disc of crying and a disc of 195 orgasms. But it’s also fun to read through the titles and skip around. And if you make a mix and put in ten orgasms, I bet it will be funny to listen to it. Hopefully DJs will blend it into dance-club sets.

That’s probably the most likely outcome. You should prepare to receive those royalties.

Yes! I can’t wait till I’m in a hit song going like, [moans sexually].

Ultimately, this isn’t coming out in CD format.

It isn’t. I conceived it as a CD set because I’m forty-one and grew up on cassettes, records, and then CDs eventually, and largely had everything on CD. But at this point people just transfer CDs onto their computer, so it just felt like there’s no reason to make a CD version. People totally enjoy vinyl and can easily enjoy the album as a robe—and digitally—so those are its formats.

About the robe edition of the record: how soft is the robe?

It’s very soft. It’s a very nice robe, with the album cover embroidered on back.

And an MP3 player built in?

Yes, sewn into a special pocket with a wire that leads up the robe.

Has Sub Pop sold any robe editions of the album?

I believe so. There’s only forty or so of them, and I believe they will sell [all of] them.

How about the chair edition of the album?

I believe so far there are two being made. I know that several people have told me they want to buy it. It’ll have speakers built into it; it’s like a neat refurbished chair.

Was that an idea you brought to the table?

Yes. I had for a long time wanted to make an album that was a chair, which I guess is a really dumb thing to say, but it’s 100% true. The thing that’s awesome about Sub Pop is that they were like, “Yes, let’s do it and here’s how.” Tony Kiewel, who I work with at Sub Pop, found a person who could build this thing.

“I had for a long time wanted to make an album that was a chair, which I guess is a really dumb thing to say, but it’s 100% true.”

Can you tell me about the person you picture buying the chair version of your album?

I think that they would be someone for whom spending $1,200 on a piece of art is sort of reasonable. I imagine they’re between thirty-two and fifty-one years old, possibly in entertainment, or else a defense attorney who only works for people who are innocent. A small business owner, maybe, or a successful restaurateur who’s doing reasonably well.

The Russian phrases, the disc of crying, the orgasm sounds, they’re all perfectly demented, but I think the guided meditation is probably my favorite component of this, aside from the disc of actual stand-up comedy. How did you prepare for that? Did you listen to new-age meditations and read material?

I did. I listened to lots and lots of new-age meditations, yeah.

Did you find them effective?

I think a lot of them are totally relaxing. In fact, the meditation I made, though it is ridiculous, it’s also relaxing. I don’t yell in it and there aren’t jarring sounds. Like anything, there’s a range. I think some are helpful and effective and some are silly [but] I largely found them relaxing and still wanted to make fun of them. While still being relaxing.

You say hilarious and weird things, but there’s a real current of positivity that runs through the entire set. I don’t think I’m reaching here, but I feel like that’s an element of your comedy that’s important to you. You say absurd things, but there’s gentleness and acceptance in what you do.

I think there’s an intentional warmth. All comedy makes fun of things, but I think there are ways of doing it that still have warmth. I think it’s fair to say, especially with the meditation, that it’s teasing a thing while also being warm and positive. I like the fact that it’s relaxing and soothing, and positive and silly. That it’s all those things together.

You want it to achieve its aim on all those levels.

That is what I hope. And I hope people have sex to “Fuckscape” even though it’s really weird.

Somebody is going to do it.

For sure! Even if it’s just by accident. They’re listening to something and it just goes to the next thing and that thing is “Fuckscape.” They’ll have a choice: to stop and change it or to keep having sex.

“All comedy makes fun of things, but I think there are ways of doing it that still have warmth.”

Do you have a favorite sound effect? I really enjoy “Jihadist After Seeing About a Boy.” You create a strangely complex world with that small joke.

That is one I really, really like. I really like a lot of the ones that have a silliness and earnestness, but also ones that are just totally ridiculous.

You include a very excellent story about getting mugged by Mexican police with Michael Stipe, which naturally leads me to wonder what your favorite R.E.M. album is.

There’s the first one, which I really love, Murmur. Though I also really like Automatic for the People. I also love Accelerate. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but it has a lot of great songs on it. It’s hard to say—I want to say Murmur, but then I’d want to say Lifes Rich Pageant and Fables of the Reconstruction. It’d be funny to just say Eponymous, the greatest hits collection.

The stand-up set is a really nice main course, surrounded by all this strangeness.

It’s important for me that it be clear that the strangeness isn’t in place of a stand-up record, but comes along with it.

This is like the expanded edition.

Right, and there’s no version that isn’t the expanded edition. The whole thing is one album.

This is one giant statement from Eugene Mirman.

It’s my Use Your Illusion, parts three through ten. FL