On Bob’s Burgers, the little cult cartoon that could, Eugene Mirman voices Gene: an aspiring musician, lover of flatulence, and 11-year-old middle child of the burger-flipping Belcher brood. The Emmy-winning show means that the comedian’s daily grind consists of hanging out with pals like Kristen Schaal (“She’s a joy—a true joy”) and H. Jon Benjamin (“I think he makes me laugh more than anyone”) while, perhaps, recording a song about his character’s fear of snakes (“I’m not afraid of ghosts / I’m not afraid of sharks / I’m not afraid of cancer / I’m just afraid of snakes / They really creep me out / Where are their arms and legs? It’s not okay!”).
Though the show’s recent and somewhat unforeseen success now places Mirman’s voice in an abundant amount of American homes on a weekly basis, the Russian-born comedian has steadily built a following in the alt-comedy scene and gained cult notoriety as the landlord on Flight of the Conchords. Taking a break from planning his annual eponymous comedy fest, gearing up to record a live album in Seattle, and brainstorming ideas for new shows, Mirman checked in with Alarm from his home in Brooklyn to discuss lamb vindaloo, Andrew Bird, and Gene’s adult sensibility.
You crafted your own comedy major in college. If Gene Belcher could do the same thing in the future, what would he end up with a degree in?
Entertainment. I think he would create an inter-disciplinary entertainment major: music, comedy, what have you.
How much can you relate to Gene?
Well, we both love lamb vindaloo. So that’s one thing. I think I have a kid-like quality to a degree, and he sort of has an adult sensibility. We both have a love of silliness, joy, and warmth. The thing that’s great about all the characters is that we were all cast and then helped develop the personalities and bring ourselves to them. So in that sense, we’re all kind of in the characters.
What do you enjoy most about your cartoon counterpart?
His positivity. His relentless joy is something that I completely love.
You’ve said you prefer the music venue to the comedy club. What are some of the benefits of performing in the former vs. the latter?
If you do a comedy club, you’re doing two shows Friday, two Saturday—you’re likely doing six shows in one sitting. At a music venue, you can just book one or two shows. And for one show at a music venue, you’re probably paid about two-thirds of what you’d get over several nights at a comedy club.
The difference, of course, is that with a comedy club, people go there to see comedy. And in a sense, you can develop fans that way, and people who want to see you or who have been tricked into seeing you are more likely to go to those.
I know you’ve opened for bands such as Yo La Tengo and Modest Mouse. Do you enjoy opening for musicians?
I recently did some shows with Robyn Hitchcock, which was really fun. When I was starting out, doing shows with bands was a great way to get out there. But often, opening for a band is much harder than doing standup at a place where people only want standup. I also did a tour with Andrew Bird that was really fun.
And an Andrew Bird crowd is likely to be much more tame than your average, drunk rock-show crowd.
Yes, exactly. It was in beautiful theaters, and it was really wonderful. I had a great time. I also do shows with John Wesley Harding, and he has a variety show that has lots of different musicians and is one of the few music/comedy/literature things I do that’s incredibly fun.
For someone who might not have read your book, The Will to Whatevs: A Guide to Modern Life, what would you say is the biggest piece of advice or take away?
Somewhere between “pick a passion and do it for 10 or 15 years” and “don’t have sex with things you find on the ground.”