Eugene Mirman: An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory debuts tonight on Comedy Central at 12 a.m. Eastern.
Allowing a television audience to see Eugene Mirman in performance is the most crucial aspect of An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory. Otherwise, he’d be in danger of becoming nothing more than a recorded voice. His Bob’s Burgers character, Gene, shares plenty of DNA with the performer, but for those who don’t live in New York, the easiest access to Mirman’s stand-up prior to this special comes from the three stand-up albums that marked Mirman as the leading absurdist of the mid-to-late-’00s alt-comedy boom. An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory extends and expands upon the thread of non sequiturs and twisted observations of those releases, but the visual element provides an additional window into Mirman’s strain of comedic madness, a demented sensibility heightened by the special’s elaborate set and the comedian’s alternately giddy and incredulous expressions. Plenty of stand-ups use props and visual aids to underline their jokes, but the online-profile printouts, faux medicine bottles, and childhood notebook that Mirman employs throughout An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory come across as products of the cluttered mind and varied interests of Eugene Mirman.
Or, perhaps, “Eugene Mirman.” Any stand-up comedian is essentially playing a caricatured version of themselves on stage—Mirman takes that concept to new heights of exaggeration on An Evening With Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory, positing himself as the kind of guy who maintains a subterranean lair that could share property (and a few points of inspiration) with John Hodgman’s “Deranged Millionaire” persona. But whereas Hodgman pops on sunglasses and a cravat to skewer the ultra-rich and the ivory-tower guardians of so-called “knowledge,” the Mirman of An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory is an alter ego of sillier ends. Weighty topics such as politics, civil rights, and corporate responsibility find their way into the Fake Underground Laboratory, but they’re dealt with by way of satirically over-the-top Tea Party slogans or a full-page newspaper ad that mock-enthusiastically lauds Time Warner Cable for treating customers in the same way Joseph Stalin treated political enemies. These are easy targets, the subjects of countless gripes currently splashed across the Internet, but Mirman’s satirical jabs at them have hysterical impact thanks to his insistence on pushing several steps beyond the obvious observation. Anyone can point out the stupidity of a teenager scrawling anarchy symbols on every available surface—only Mirman would emphasize this remark with specific tenets of anarchy that flew over the head of his 16-year-old, Tick- and AC/DC-loving self.
Such arch deconstructions would grow wearying, if not for the visible joy with which Mirman lifts up the hood on mundane topics and monkeys with the inner workings. Even the special’s title is like a joke Mirman told if only to delight himself: The name calls out for abbreviation, but the best way to do that is to reduce it to the innocuous An Evening Of Comedy. He’s gleefully forcing the viewer to think or speak the ridiculous phrase “in a fake underground laboratory.” The special’s prankster streak culminates in a bit about targeted Facebook ads, a shrewdly chosen subject in that it’s humdrum yet rife for Mirman-style mischief. The comedian’s passive-aggressive battle with Time Warner earned him a small degree of publicity in 2011, but the words of that letter—as well as accounts of practical jokes perpetrated upon the users and administrators of Facebook and ChristianMingle—retain a freshness in their translation to the stage. It helps that no one’s actually harmed by these pranks; a small handful of online Tea Party supporters may have had second thoughts about their convictions, but that’s the intention of the satirically barbed punch line about a website that’s “like Facebook—but for people who hate roads.”
With all its bells, whistles, and Theremins (the last used in a deadpan send-up of musical stand-ups featuring a surprise cameo from an old friend and former New York comedy cohort of Mirman’s), An Evening Of Comedy In A Fake Underground Laboratory makes for a scruffy whole. A segment involving presumably improvised answers to questions from the audience is outshone by the pure stand-up material; elsewhere, a digression to interact with the set dressing is cut too short. (Then again, it’s also a stagey moment that probably worked better live.) But the overall package and the chance to watch Mirman do his thing are well worth an hour-long trip to his fake underground laboratory. It’s a little messy, but you were warned by that mouthful of a title.