Interview: Eugene Mirman on Asperger’s Syndrome, Advice from Former Teachers, and the Mirman Weirdos


Comedian Eugene Mirman makes even the most productive person look unproductive. In the last several months, he’s released his first self-help book The Will To Whatevs, reprised his role as “Eugene” during the second season of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, organized and hosted the second annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival (held last month in Brooklyn) and tomorrow releases his third album, God Is a Twelve-Year Old Boy With Asperger’s, his second for Sub Pop. The album captures a live set Mirman from last November at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater, where he dished on crappy airlines, high school reunions, why America is certainly better than abortions, and what he does when he finds iPods. (He’ll call Apple and vigorously try to track you down to return it. Or has he refers to it, “the nicest thing anyone has done since the underground railroad.”)

Sound of the City caught up with Mirman last week in Brooklyn and discussed all of these things in a very serious manner. On most Sunday evenings, Mirman hosts “Tearing the Veil of Maya,” a “night of wonderful, informal comedy” at Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn. You should go sometime, just don’t be a Mirman Weirdo.

This year, you’ve released a book, reprised your role on Flight of the Conchords, organized your second comedy festival, and are now releasing this CD. This is all very hip-hop of you. You know, because you branch out into everything.

I think a more accurate way to describe it is, is that hip-hop is becoming more like me. Finally, it’s what I’ve dreamed of. But the truth is, all this stuff, it’s always what I’ve done. When I was in Boston, and when I was in college, I would organize various events or shows. Do weird things and put out little magazines or write articles.

Seeing your show, even years ago, I guess it doesn’t surprise me that you could do all this in just six months.

Right. But, ultimately I think its fun to do a variety of things. I think when people start out, they say “well, what do you want to do? Do you want to be on Saturday Night Live? And you’re like, “No, I’m not really a sketch actor, that wouldn’t really be a thing for me.” And they’re like, “But what else is there?” It’s as if they think if you’re not doing that, then why are you even bothering. You want to be funny about ideas or something? I’d say, “No, I’d like to write a book.” They’d say “Okay, go do your hippie comedy stuff.”

People love to write about bands and musicians and download their music and see their shows and everyone loves bands. But I feel like recently, comedians have been getting a fair amount of love too.

It goes in waves. Back in 1989, there would be a comedy show everywhere; including right here, right now. But I feel like stand up is being more popular again, but it’s hard to tell. I feel like in the ’80s, there was all this comedy. There was such a demand for it and it became insincere and crappy. There are certainly terrible things but there are people that are great and there are lots of informal shows, these days.

When you signed to Sub Pop, did they take you to a secret little vault and let you pick out one Nirvana thing and three Mudhoney things that no one else can touch?

[laughs] Exactly. They were like, “We have this one thing, it’s worth about $250,000, you can just have it.” I said, “Thank you so much.” No, but when I do go there, I go to their little warehouse and take a sweatshirt-which I need a new one, because I keep losing it-and a bunch of new CDs. I bet if I wanted a seven-inch that they had several of, I could get.

Like more than four.

Yeah. “I was wondering if I could get some old demos. Nirvana demos, I promise I won’t release them.” But Mark Arm runs the warehouse.

For real?

Yeah, for real. He loves to, that’s why he does it. Like the way Drew Carey must love The Price is Right to host it. Except Mark is a musician and knows about that stuff.

Is this your most political album to date? The title is very charged.

Yeah, it’s so powerful. You know, I’m not sure. I’m going to say no, and then I might say yes. There are a handful of things. I’d been covering the election, so there are a handful of stories and jokes, but a lot of my things aren’t political. I’m a bystander at a political event and as a result there are things I notice. They have political undertones, and it’s more like, “Can you believe this weirdo” and the weirdo happens to be Republican. But not always. But the title is based on a twelve year old boy that was at a reading. And I guess there would be people that might be offended or something, but those people should be religious and not people that work with people with Asperger’s. I actually have a lot of friends that work with people with Asperger’s and they seemed to enjoy it. So, I’ve tested it on them but I haven’t tested it on kids whose emotions can’t be read.

When I was growing up, I never heard of Asperger’s. We just referred to those people as weird.

Yeah, outcasts. And then someone was like, “They have an illness, they can’t tell when you’re smiling, it means you’re done talking.” I spent six years in special ed-from sixth to twelfth grade-and I think I was diagnosed with, “He’s not a good student.” I found out that a friend of mine, when we were in third grade, our teacher came up to her and told her to stop being friends with me because I was a loser. And as proof, showed her my standardized test scores. Which is amazing.

That’s not nice.

It’s a bad thing for a teacher to do, but I feel like in the ’80s, it was literally like “That kid’s a loser, I should help this other kid out.”

Speaking of, you mention on the album that during the book tour that there were Mirman weirdos that came out. Were there anymore?

In San Francisco, it was super awkward. It was a Q&A, and someone asked who were my influences and I named a few comedians. And then a guy goes “What about Chevy Chase?” I said “He’s fine.” And then he tells me a five-minute story and the rest of the audience about how his son once gave a ride to the airport to Chevy Chase. And at the end, I said “Do you have a question.” And he said “No.” Like he was on a panel and he was a panelist. In some other city, someone tried to get me to dance with them.

A girl or a dude?

A girl.

Was there music?

She was singing a song she made up. It was for a blog, so don’t think it was for nothing. There was a reason for it.

I love local bloggers.

I was a little sleepy and didn’t want to do a dance. But most people are very nice and will say something nice and I will say, “Thank you, nice person.”