Road show

Eugene Mirman takes ‘Maya’ to the MFA
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  February 20, 2008

NEW TERRITORY: “Tearing the Veil of Maya” has never traveled beyond Park Slope before.

Be warned, Hollywood: Eugene Mirman ain’t takin’ your shit. True, the stand-up comedian is making just as many waves on the small screen as he does live on stage behind a microphone, appearing regularly on HBO’s hipster/genius Kiwi fest The Flight of the Conchords, as well as lending his voice to Adult Swim’s Satan-tastic Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil. But the Russian-born, Lexington-raised Mirman is in it for the good times, plain and simple. “I love doing stand-up, and I enjoy doing a variety of things,” he says over the phone from New York. “Industry people . . . they’re hedging bets on what will be popular. I’m not trying to figure out how to make a cartoon that really hits a certain demographic.”

The Lexington near-native (“I came from a Communist country to the birthplace of American liberty”) takes part in another leap over conventional demographic wisdom with the venue for his February 28 show, “Tearing the Veil of Maya”: the Museum of Fine Arts. Although the MFA has of late been booking indie rock and folk, comedy — even “indie” comedy like Mirman’s — is another twist in the programming. In “Maya,” Mirman and co-host Michael Showalter (of Wet Hot American Summer and Stella fame), along with special guest Jon Benjamin, will present a comic cornucopia of stand-up, sketch, video, and other tasty nuggets of funny. Bostonians should be honored to get the show, which has been running weekly for the past year and a half at Union Hall in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

“Michael and I tour together a lot, but this is the first time we’ve done ‘Tearing the Veil of Maya’ outside New York,” says Mirman. “The show is just a variety of things, but, mostly, it’s a fun, informal comedy show where the meat of it is dictated by the performers. Of course, there’s a chance that if uptight people from the art world show up, they’ll leave horrified.” The title comes from “a joke about Schoepenhauer’s theory of art — that we all live in a world of illusion, of sorts, which only art can uncover. The title is somewhere between kind of funny and slightly pretentious. Veil of Maya is also the name of a metal band. But they don’t tear through the veil of illusion like we do with our stand-up comedy.”

This is one of two shows that Mirman hosts weekly in New York. The other, “Invite Them Up” (hosted with Bobby Tisdale and produced by Holly Schlesinger), has had Boston comedians pissing all over themselves as they scramble to be, well, invited up to perform. But after six years, “Invite Them Up” is closing for keeps on February 27, partly because the venue, the East Village’s Rififi, is closing, partly because Mirman et al. are hungry for a change.

That itch for a switch will bring Mirman next month to — of all venues — South by Southwest, where he, Showalter, and fellow by-product of the Boston suburbs Mike Birbiglia will perform as an unofficial part of the revered music festival. Demographics be damned once again. “I’ve performed there for the last five or six years, the day before the musical festival starts, at Emo’s in Austin, which is really fun. This year, there will be a comedy venue. Is it difficult to perform comedy near a band? Yes. But is it worth trying seven minutes on stage to get a free trip to South by Southwest? Yes.”

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