Interview: Eugene Mirman’s “The Will to Whatevs”

After years of entertaining comedy fans with his stand-up and videos, Eugene Mirman finally has delivered what audiences really need to hear from him: Advice they can use from birth to death and even life after death. Certainly you have plenty of questions. Mirman took some time yesterday to provide some answers and talk about his new humorous self-help book, The Will to Whatevs. You can browse The Will to Whatevs on this HarperCollins site. And perhaps you might want to watch a promotional video he sent my way. Just in time for Valentine's Day, here is Eugene Mirman giving you valuable tips on nabbing yourself a husband. Watch this, and then we'll get to the interview.

Mirman will celebrate the release of his book Feb. 10 at The Bell House in Brooklyn, with performances by Kristen Schaal, John Hodgman, John Oliver, Paul F. Tompkins and Sarah Vowell spinning tunes as the DJ. Can you reveal anything else about the party? "I set the building on fire and destroy the New York comedy community. Probably not."

Hodgman provided a blurb for your book. Considering he has written two books claiming
to give readers insight into everything, did that set the bar higher for you to
dole out advice that hadn't already been given? "I don't know. I mean my book is more…his book is just flat-out knowledge, while mine is more of a road map for protection."

You include actual examples from your own life growing up. How did you decide how much to divulge of your own background? "One of the things I liked about the book is that it's partially truth and partially a lie and it's not revealed except what you could believe reasonably to be true," he said. "I like the format of the book…I think that it's good to have real stories and things, and then also good to make lots of stuff up. It sounds like I will enjoy my book."

For me, I enjoyed reading your book more because I could hear you saying all of these
things in the cadence you use in stand-up comedy. "I tried to
write it like that. It's hard to know how someone who doesn't know my cadence
will think about that. It's hard to write in terms of long listicle kinds of

Did you have other ideas for a book before deciding upon The Will to Whatevs? "This was the most likely of the various ideas that I had." In fact, for years, he let fans send him questions on his website and he'd reply in kind. After a while, he said: "I made it into a little book that I had sold on tour. And I would
periodically write advice columns for various magazines…this seemed the most
logical. And then it morphed into a much bigger thing."

You told an audience last month that you used your own mug for most of the graphics because of licensing issues? Where did that idea come from? "That was actually something my girlfriend thought of which was a great idea….I think you need permission from the photographer or the subject." Except Nancy Reagan, I noticed. "Unless it's from the White House. Unless it's from a government web site. I believe that's true." He says this with such conviction, and yet I firmly believe he has no idea if this is the case. But Nancy Reagan is the exception to every rule, especially when you're just saying no. "In terms of making all the graphics, my girlfriend did that, and then we wanted some photos….I think it's funny because it looks ridiculous. Especially the pajama party ones."

I also had seen some promotional videos you were working on. What have you decided on
those? "From what you saw, I'm going to cut those down…to be as funny as they
can and put them online. Some may be online. If you go to my MySpace page you
can see one, but that's going to be cut down a bit."

How will you use them, other than putting them online? "Maybe make
a multimedia reading," he said. "I probably won't turn it into a complicated play that I take with me from bookstore to bookstore."

You spent most of 2008 following the presidential election and making funny videos for 23/6 (now called Huffington Post Comedy). How has that been, and has it changed what you talk about onstage or your comedy in general? "I loved it. It was really great. It was really really intense, but it was fun." He said he enjoyed meeting the variety of people and politicians along the way. As far as impacting his comedy: "It's like comedy has always consisted of what is happening in my life and what goes on in my life, so during this election, I had bits and stuff related to the election. During the last one (presidential campaign), I debated conservative comedians about Jews. So I feel political if something catches my attention, but it's not if I'm, like, reborn as someone who's going to take down government." That's good to know, and to also let the powers that be know that, too. "Yes, the government is lucky that I have not made it my aim because of how Willful I am."

You're working on a documentary about your life as a Russian immigrant and your comedy career, with Michael Showalter directing. How is that coming along? "We're looking for a company. The original company…we disagreed on what it was going to be like…Michael and I had one vision and they had sort of a different one. We have some footage. I have the book coming out and he has a Comedy Central show (Michael and Michael Have Issues) so we're both busy, but we're both committed to it and I really want to go to Russia and do a show and film it." He hasn't been and really wants to. But. "It's a little sad to go and do a show without documenting it, so I'll probably wait."

Jenkins will be happy to see he's in the book, listed as a good idea for a Halloween costume. Among Mirman's many weekly endeavors over the years,
one of his earlier ones was at The Comedy Studio in Cambridge, Mass., which Jenkins still runs. "There's nothing
to say except I'm glad I listed it. In fact, I wish that someone does dress up
as him Halloween and then it will become a triple joke."

What's the best advice you've ever gotten? "I don't know. One of my favorite pieces of advice, that's very ironically, when I was going to he Montreal comedy festival, Brendon Small, who I used to live with, said make sure when you meet people you let them know you're extremely difficult to work with, which is really funny. Because when you think of doing a project….it's amazing how much getting along with people makes a difference in who you choose to work with."

Did you follow his advice? "No, not particularly."

We have something in common in idolizing the stand-up of Emo Philips when we were younger. Though we both have met him, you're now quite friendly with him. What's that like to become friends with an idol? "It's like when the sun and the moon touch. It doesn't actually mean anything. Be careful with analogies."

"What did have a large impact, and this isn't me meeting him, this is when I was in college, I went down to New York to try to do some shows. I went to see him perform, and I gave a bouncer at Carolines a videotape and a letter to give to Emo. This is before Facebook, this is like 12 years or so before, you couldn't MySpace message somebody. And then a month later, I received a typed letter from Emo that had nice advice, he had watched my video…it was just the
nicest thing in the world. It made me go, if people ever ask me for advice, I
should try to help them. I just thought that was a really really sweet thing to

Related: Eugene Mirman's book tour
Feb. 13, Chicago, Book Cellar
Feb. 17, Austin, BookPeople
Feb. 19, Seattle, University Bookstore
Feb. 20, San Francisco, Booksmith
Feb. 25, Boston, Brookline Booksmith
Feb. 26, Washington, D.C., Barnes & Noble

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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