The Russian-born comedian discusses his latest book, The Will To Whatevs
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Eugene Mirman doesn’t need credentials to be an expert on life. Alleging to have lived through the Spanish-American War and Jerry Lee Lewis’ sex scandal, the comedy vet now channels his vast experience and knowledge into satirical self-help book, The Will To Whatevs: A Guide To Modern Life. Armed with eccentric wit and charm, the Russian-born comedian offers compelling insights on contemporary living, from starting a band to high-school social etiquette. Mirman (who performs tonight at The Independent as part the Cabinet Of Wonders event, which also includes John Wesley Harding, Daniel Handler, Chris Von Sneidern, and Victor Krummenacher) recently spoke with Decider about the questions he tries to avoid, his fantasy automobile line, and the relationship between music and comedy.
Decider: You’re an accomplished stand-up comedian, actor, and now an author. How did your role as an advice-giver come about?
Eugene Mirman: I had an advice column on my site and had been writing an online column for The Village Voice. It turned out to be really fun to have people write in and then answer their questions. Eventually, I made a little book of that to sell on tour and then I took that, pitched it as a book, and it sort of morphed into [The Will to Whatevs].
D: Did you get a lot of outlandish questions in that column?
EM: I would try not respond to people’s weirdest questions because the weirdest question is like: [Adopts shrill voice] “I’ve got a monkey in my room and I don’t know about ice cream!” And I don’t know what to say—that isn’t a question. It’s much more fun to answer someone who has a problem with a real-life situation than it is to answer somebody’s problems with a jelly-bean monster.
D: Would you write another book?
EM: I had a lot of fun writing this book. It was a huge learning curve, there were tons of things that I wrote and decided didn’t make sense, but it gets easier as you do it more and more. I would do it again—especially if someone gave me $1 million.
D: Was the writing process similar to working on a stand-up routine?
EM: No, because with stand-up you can get onstage, tell a joke, and if no one laughs, then you know that they’re all totally wrong. [Laughs.] Stand-up is the only art form where you get immediate feedback on whether people like the art you’ve made.
D: How does your book tour compare to a comedy tour?
EM: I’ll be reading from the book, maybe tell some stories, do a Q&A. I might show a video of advice. Audience members will have in-person helpful-helpfulness. My guess is if they do what I suggest it will either work or be a disaster, but there won’t be any advice that’s in the middle.
EM: Before the late ’70s it was really common. Comedy clubs were something that came to pass in the ’80s, but toward the end of that, in the early ’90s, people started doing comedy again in alternative spaces. So if you look at the last 50 years, it’s really the comedy clubs that are the odd thing.
D: How has new media affected these different platforms?
EM: With the Internet and all these cable TV shows and channels and stuff, you have countless outlets. You can make an album and put it out fairly cheaply and it can be on iTunes and you can make money. You have a lot more control than you did probably 10, 20 years ago.
D: Do you view yourself as an “absurdist” comic?
EM: That label mostly exists because I put the word in the title of my first album, which made me consider putting random words on the title of my albums to get relabeled. Not that it’s inaccurate, but I’m neutral on the label—it’s a word that describes the things that I do sometimes.
D: Any other self-given labels?
EM: Maestro. El presidente. [Laughs.] I’m not sure if it’s good to label yourself, unless you do it secretly and then slowly put it out in the ether.
D: Having done albums, stand-up, TV shows, and now the book, what other media do you want to try?
EM: A Eugene Mirman automobile line. It would look like a regular car but there would be buttons in it that did great stuff. It would have soup in the glove compartment and sweet seats made out of dragons.