Funny business

By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 8, 2008

Indeed, things would not be what they are today without artists like Cross, Steven Wright, Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, and Louis CK, all of whom are from or got their starts here. Add Brookline’s own Conan O’Brien, and Dana Gould (who wrote for and produced The Simpsons), to the list. “The Boston scene produced so many people,” says Oswalt. “Just name them. I’m a fan of all of ’em. They were a huge force in comedy.”

Mirman (who now lives in New York) doesn’t consider himself a “Boston” comedian per se — “I wish I’d called an album Wicked Retahded, and then I could say, ‘yeah’ ” — but “I’m excited that [AltCom] is happening in Boston. It’s where I’m from.”

Gimme indie rock
After graduating from Lexington High, Mirman headed west to Hampshire College, where he self-designed his major — comedy, natch. “I did a paper on the physiology of laughter for science. I took writing and film classes. Acting. And my thesis was a one-hour stand-up act.”

After graduation in 1996, it was time to get to work. “Basically, I just started doing stand-up, and then just did it and did it.” (Between gigs at the Hong Kong in Harvard Square, he co-founded the satirical Weekly Week newspaper — “Boston’s Only Redundant News Source for News.”)

In 2004, Mirman released his debut album, The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman, on Suicide Squeeze Records, erstwhile home to Elliott Smith and Pedro the Lion. In 2006, he signed with Sub Pop for En Garde, Society. Along the way, he opened for bands such as the Shins, Modest Mouse, and Gogol Bordello.

“The way my career has gone is a lot more like a band’s career,” says Mirman. “I have a rock booking agent. I have a rock label.” At the same time, however, “it’s not like I sit in with bands. Or that [bands] tell jokes.”

Except when they do. Such as when Oswalt sat in with Ted Leo and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard — performing Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” — to raise pledges for Scharpling’s Best Show on WFMU this past March. Or when Wurster, drummer for Superchunk and the Mountain Goats, calls in to the Best Show each week to wrangle with Scharpling, voice-disguised as a coterie of different crackpots.

Or when SNL’s Fred Armisen — former drummer for Trenchmouth — produces online shorts with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein at thunderant.com. Or when Galifianakis appears in Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” video with Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie” Oldham. Or when bongo-playing Barry breaks up Flight of the Conchords on their HBO series. (Mirman plays the Conchords’ landlord, Eugene.)

“There’s a real good correlation between them,” says Joyce of the music and comedy scenes. “Guys like Todd [Barry] and Eugene are looking for gigs to play, and playing with bands was sometimes almost a better option for them than playing with other comedians. There’s kind of a crossover in the audience.”

Yes, says Barry, who’s opened for Luna at CBGBs on New Years Eve (“a fun train wreck”), and even toured Sweden with Jens Lekman, “it can be great. I did a show with Yo La Tengo in DC, and it was 1200 people standing and listening. It blew my mind, in a way, that everyone would shut up in a place where they were standing — and they weren’t there to see me.”

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Related: A User’s Guide to AltCom 2008, Interview: Eugene Mirman, Comic belief, More more >
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