Mirman’s album does not break any new ground for his own style of comedy, but it is so intrinsically unique by nature you get the sense that no other comedian could do his material. Mirman is a special, endearing kind of awkward, which makes it so that his audience can relate to him on one hand, while pondering his strangeness on the other. It seems that Mirman is comfortable in his niche, which is fine because what he’s doing is far enough removed stylistically from most other comedians that it doesn’t become trite.
The bulk of Mirman’s comedy is comprised of him recounting stories from his life, a pretty average starting point as far as comedy goes. Generally, these stories tend to be fairly mundane situations that he makes absurd through his tendency to experiment with social conventions, such as testing the limits of an environmental activist or purchasing full-page ads in newspapers to condemn the incompetence of Time Warner Cable. One change in Mirman’s style, however, is that he now tends to tease out his jokes more than he did in earlier albums such as his 2006 release En Garde, Society. Whereas previously he leaned more toward rapid fire joke-telling, he now spends more time riffing on a single topic, or describing elaborate situations. However, his comedy never feels slow, and this style plays to his ability to interact with the crowd.
For other comedians, one might assume that these stories were contrived for the sake of comedy, but with Mirman it becomes clear for the uninitiated that he is just weird enough for these tales to be real. At one point, he examines the absurdity of Facebook and what controls the ads that we see. Most comedians would be content just doing a bit of speculating about the topic. Simple enough.
But Mirman likes to go a step further and decides to take out his own facebook ads. Random messages targeted to men, aged 52-55 who like contra dancing and live in Saudi Arabia? Why not?
In other bits, Mirman continues to take full advantage of the oddities of the internet. He explores a social network for Tea Party members, and the inanity of their slogans, coming up with his own. Given the nature of these slogans, he has no shortage of material, creating taglines that are realistically, not much more extreme than the original material (but still very politically biting).
One defining aspect of Mirman’s comedy which this album highlights is his understated intelligence.
Mirman is clearly articulate, and subtle obscure academic references make him all the more appealing to someone looking for smart humor. A good example is when he recounts an acting job in which he was instructed to dress as someone from the 1920s. The outfit he decided on was simply a normal suit with a sign that reads “Irish need not apply.” Nothing like a little historical humor commenting on early 20th century racism.
What makes Mirman even more unique is how he manages to combine traditional stand-up storytelling with interesting experimental segments that other comics might not try, not because they would be uncomfortable doing so, but simply because it didn’t occur to them. Later in the show, Mirman utilizes a fairly simple concept for the sake of comedy, questions seeking advice from the audience. However, there are absolutely no guidelines for the questions, and he is seeing them for the first time. In this segment, Mirman shows off his improvisational skills and his weird personality shines through.
The bit also produces one his more obscure intellectual references, this time showing off with a philosophical allusion. “Did you not study Schopenhauer?” he says in response to one of the questions. Realizing the obscurity of the statement, he facetiously remarks, “Yeah, that’ll be on TV.”
Mirman even works in parts of the his special stage in his set, which as the title of the album implies, is a “fake underground laboratory.” On the set are various satirical items that Mirman has created. This includes a book where he writes down what he thinks would be good books to sell at an Urban Outfitters including How to Make a Dress out of Ramen Noodles and Post-Racism and, my favorite, 400 Pictures of Sad Teenagers. He also parodies “medicine” that he found a health food store that claims to act as social aid.
One of Mirman’s notable creations is one that “let’s you take back trying to kiss your good friend who doesn’t like you back” to which he adds “This is going to make a lot of money with 17 year olds.”
One of Mirman’s final bits just about sums up the sort of comedy that this album offers. Some musicians experiment with the use of musical instruments in their sets, like Zach Galifianakis on piano or Demetri Martin on guitar. But this is Eugene Mirman, and he doesn’t play by any sort of convention: he tells jokes with a theremin. Yes, a theremin. But given the sheer absurdity of Mirman’s comedy career, it’s honestly not that suprising.