An Interview With Eugene Mirman, Volume 1

Eugene Mirman Sub Pop
The comedian Eugene Mirman describes himself as America's "Master of the Noticing." Shawn Brackbill

Eugene Mirman is a comedian who lives in Brooklyn, best known for his avant-garde stand-up, a supporting role as the adventure-obsessed Gene on Bob's Burgers, and as Bret and Jemaine's landlord on HBO's beloved Flight of the Conchords.

His third comedy album, I'm Sorry (You're Welcome), is an absurd nine-volume, seven-LP opus ranging from "A Guided Meditation to a Thoughtful Body" to an "Introduction to Spoken Russian" to "Over 45 Minutes of Crying," which features him—you guessed it—crying for over 45 minutes.

As such, Mirman's interview with Newsweek will come in nine volumes leading up to the album's release date, October 30. Here is Volume 1, entitled "The Formation of I'm Sorry (You're Welcome)."

What prompted the massive (I'm Sorry, You're Welcome) project?
So one is that a long time ago I had thought of an idea, as a joke, to make a 100-disc album.

One hundred discs?
One hundred discs. I thought, I'm never going to do that, because disc 28 would be silence but then one minute of like, me yelling at a dog. The point isn't to make 100 things, it's for it to be fun and sort of enjoyable. I don't actually intend for someone to listen to all the crying. The crying and the orgasm [sections] are the concept-y things. But even the "195 Orgasms," reading through the titles and us listening to it a reasonably funny thing, where it's not just like, "I did this," you know? But with the crying.… I kind of just did this. It's meant to be funny and something you could enjoy, but with 100 discs, that would not be the case.

And then at some point I was like, I don't have to make 100. Ten or even 20 would be pretty ridiculous. So I started brainstorming stuff. It started as 10 and possibly 11, because we recorded probably songs. But I can't sing, so there's no…songs. But there's a lot of weird, fun musical things we made that didn't end up on it and merged ringtones and outgoing voicemails.

For a week, I was with a friend at a friend's house on Cape Cod. So I said, "OK I'm going to work on this, I'm going to record 45 minutes of crying." And then I did that and I bought an audio program and a pretty good mic and thought, I could do this. Like I can record myself crying, but I don't know anything about fidelity and all the other things more complicated in music. Then I thought I should find a studio place to record. I reached out to Sub Pop, and they had suggestions. There were places I could record, but it to me felt like the idea of going into a studio and having probably a lovely person sit to record while I made orgasm sounds.… I don't know.

I bet they've heard weirder.
I bet it's not the weirdest thing, but this was just over so many years, too. Could I go in some place and record 30 minutes of orgasms? Sure. But then like come back and record 10 more minutes because I didn't like 10 of those? Eh.

So I reached out to my friends in Boston, where I'm from. I just got married and one of them was the best man at my wedding, we met the first day of college, Matt Savage. And I've always sort of wanted to work on a project with him. And Christian [Cundari], he was in Boston, but I had met him when I was in college. We had a band together and Christian is actually editing a pilot I'm making right now. He's a video editor. So I sort of asked them how to record in general. Did they record at a studio? Did they record at their house or whatever? And so they told me, then they said, if you wanted to record with us, we'd be happy to. And then I was like, that's actually great. I wanted to do musical stuff—I knew the way I wanted it to sound, but I don't know how to make music.

I almost was like, "This is what digital drugs sound like!" The digital drugs on the album, their base is a binaural beat. Their base is the thing that people claim affects your mind, and also it's sort of making fun of it. The thing itself, and making fun of it.

It certainly felt disorienting, so I'd say it was a success.
Yeah. If you close your eyes, I bet it's disorienting. But you could drive 10 minutes after you listen to it? Probably?

Maybe? I felt disembodied after listening to it.
Each thing had its own sort of ethos. The goal is for them to be the thing they are and also make fun of them. But never for it to be a song about marijuana, you know. The idea was: It is the drug. I don't know if we achieved each of our goals. But that was our attempt at every one.

Even reorganizing the orgasm LP over and over, you know, in a sense I'm very glad that we did it and we had that level of attention. But it is really funny that however many minutes of it there are, it goes through arcs. So I think when I set out to do this, I don't think I was I'll record the crying and maybe I'll have to listen to it once, but I had to listen to it maybe four or five times to make sure at each stage there weren't any pops! We just got the vinyl versions, and Sub Pop did that partially, but everybody needed to make sure it worked as a functioning piece of working audio. So it was almost this thing where I said, "Oh I'll do this, it's a funny concept." Then it became, "Oh my god, I've listened to crying five times."

It's important to make sure of that with vinyl though. Did you hear about how recently some of the new Lana Del Rey albums were accidentally pressed with a shoegaze band's?
No.

It's—[Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" comes on overhead]. This is such a good karaoke song.
Wait. I know this song. I'll recognize it in a second.

It's "Flagpole Sitta." Also, the theme song from Peep Show
Oh yeah, yeah! Sean Nelson. Yes. Oh, that's so funny. I've done shows with him before.

Awesome. So, with Lana's new album Honeymoon, because of a record pressing mix-up some people have actually been getting the album of a Baltimore band named Wildhoney. So it's a good thing you listened to it.
Yeah. That's the thing. If you had something titled "195 Orgasms" and someone heard like, a bunch of noise metal, they'd maybe think that's…the joke? So with my record, unless we'd double-checked, then they'd be like, "Oh yeah the last thing is called "195 Orgasms" it's actually just four very long songs."

What titles were you throwing around besides I'm Sorry (You're Welcome) for the album?
The stand-up [on the album] has a lot in common with the Netflix special I made, which is titled Vegan on His Way to the Complain Store. And so that was the title I was considering. I think actually in the digital booklet there's a bunch of emails we did back and forth, and I think the last one we did is a bunch of the album titles. I'm Sorry (You're Welcome) was so fitting and the favorite, but like anything, I made a list of 30 to 50 volume ideas. Part of me was like, will come up with something like Aerosmith's Greatest Hits Vol. 3! Or something like that. Or Use Your Illusion 28! But then it's like, I'm not going to give it a brief joke title. So I think there were a bunch. I ran it by Tony at Sub Pop, and Matt and Christian, who I made the record with, and a few other people, and I think everybody's favorite, mine included, was I'm Sorry (You're Welcome). It was very fitting. It's like…it's slightly describes how I feel about it.

Is there anyone you've had to apologize to in making this record?
Not yet! But not everyone has heard it.

That's true. I guess we'll know October 31.
I mean, I don't know. I think the album is very clear what it is. You'd have to be very foolish to put on something called "195 Orgasms" and become mad that there are, in fact, 195 orgasms on it. I think in terms of having to apologize…there would be impressive about someone being outraged.

People are upset by everything on the Internet, though.
I know! I just talked to Jim Gaffigan about him opening for the pope. He told what sounds like a very innocuous joke involving people throwing snowballs at a Santa, and people were offended. And he was like, "If you're offended by me, that's monstrous." He's such a clean, self-deprecating comic.

I will say, I wanted the album to have a very solid stand-up CD. I didn't want it to be in lieu of a stand-up album. Which is also why the digital version is 15 bucks. It's literally meant to be like, here. It's meant to be the same as a standard record, it has standup, you can listen to the meditation or turn it off. You can listen to "Fuckscape" [laughs] but you don't have to.

I like the idea of people sitting around as a group and listening to some of that stuff. I think in the '50s, '60s, people would put on a comedy LP and listen to it together. But I think there's something really fun about the idea that people as a group would explore the album together. You were saying that you and your editor were listening to it and going back and forth on it?

We did, yeah.
I think of it as the fun, weird shared experience for people.

You said you recorded this for a long time. When did you start, and when did it end?
I think when I first recorded the crying was, I'm guessing 2013 at some point? March 30 or something like that. But there was also a strong ethos of…sometimes you have a thing that's funny, that is off-putting. So the meditation, we had stuff up front that I thought, I really want to change that. So some of it was tweaked a month before being done. The actual recording, editing and mastering was plus or minus two-and-a-half years.

What was the most challenging part of recording this?
Part of it is second-guessing yourself that it's funny. Sound effects, ringtones…you're listening to stuff over and over again. Some stuff remains funny, others stop. You know, I'm sure if I listened to my stand-up CD nine times I'd think, well…a lot of this isn't funny. But the question is, how do you react the first or second time, really?

It's really difficult to perceive something you've made as objectively good or funny when you're so in it too, you know?
Yeah! And you want to step back. And we would. What was really great was the collaboration, working with Christian and Matt. We all knew the goal and the sort of premise. And they'd say, "This is funny, this isn't." And it was very, very collaborative, and it was so good having like, producers, and a sounding board, and people who are like I get what you're trying to do, makes sense and you might want to cut that. I'd say, I don't know if that's funny and they'd say no, it is. It makes us laugh every time.

I think it's partially the anxiety…not the anxiety, but it's also just such a weird thing! I hope people like it, but also I guess it's fine if people don't. I don't know. But in terms of making it, recording and editing and hoping people think it's funny. And enjoy it. I do hope people like it and interact with it and maybe they'll make videos with the sound effects. I hope that happens.

Since you made this album with Sub Pop, did you go through a grunge revival after doing so?
Well, this is my third record with Sub Pop. Though I think there's a video on YouTube for their 20th anniversary of me pretending to be in a grunge band. But yeah. In fact, the name of the album comes partially from the fact that for a long time me and Matt and Tony and Megan (some of the people who run Sub Pop), and some of my friends from college would often go to Provincetown on Cape Cod in Massachusetts every fall. I've gone maybe the last 10 years with Matt and some other friends, and there's a karaoke place called Governor Bradford. They have a drag karaoke night, I think every night, from the summer going into the fall.

And we would often end up there and at some point Tony and I were doing a song, I can't remember…and I can't sing. But it doesn't stop us from doing like, you know, the Proclaimers or Madonna or something. We did a song where we were impassioned but certainly not singing it well. But impassioned. And at the end of the song, I looked at the 15 people [who were there] half of which were probably friends, and was like "I'm sorry, you're welcome." Like, this was definitely entertaining, but not in the way it's supposed to be. So that's sort of where the title came from, and that always stuck with me.