“I lived on the Royal Mile, which is a beautiful, magical cobbled street, that leads to a castle, and in the alleyways, are—like these, stone, little alleyways, and there’s homeless people in them, but they look… like wizards.”
So starts En Garde, Society!, the second comedy-album-and-DVD release from New York City comedian Eugene Mirman. Mirman’s style of comedy is remarkably casual, laid-back and almost improvised in its feel (although of course it is too calm to be improvised). He elaborates on and builds jokes off of observations of his, like many other stand-up comics, but where he differentiates himself is with his off-hand, absurdist delivery and the unexpected directions in which he takes his jokes. A riff on the laughable concept of an “extreme bowling” party twists into a subtle comment on racism, a comment on racism becomes a clever mockery of the concept of statistics, and trains of humor fizzle out halfway through and become meta-jokes, ironic takes on the art of humor itself. Mirman highlights the unnatural aspects of stand-up comedy, the sheer awkwardness inherent in the idea of a single person getting up on a stage with the belief that they can talk and make other people laugh, while at the same time coming across as the guy next stool down at the bar, talking and laughing and poking fun at “those other people”. He pulls his audience in with his clever everyman observations, making them identify until it feels like he’s just one of them, and then with a twist of a punchline pulls back to reveal the true artificiality of the situation. Many of his best lines straddle this border between humor and meta-humor, for instance:
“Another way people lie sometimes is they’ll just leave something out, but I don’t really have an example of that…. Or do I? Yeah. I just blew your minds.”
It doesn’t always work well, but when it does (and it mostly does here), it’s impressive. The CD consists of a number of live recordings of Mirman performing his comedy, spread out across 15 tracks (including an off-kilter skit and closing musical number in which Eugene drives home through a series of progressively more surreal events and finally sings his goodbye). Throughout, Mirman gives self-made coupons to audience members (“This coupon gives you the confidence to gesture to anyone to make out in the bathroom”), reads from Republican comedy lists and a teen-magazine Bible, and recounts stories of his grandmother and his emigration from communist Russia. For the most part, it’s remarkably consistently funny, and it merits some repeat listens.
The DVD, on the other hand, is considerably less impressive. It holds a series of home-made, extremely-low-budget videos that primarily feature Mirman giving monologues, but while these are delivered in his same old charismatic voice, they are almost entirely stripped of any of the subtle nuances, intelligence, or humor of his live show. Instead, Mirman’s videos consist mostly of an admixture of uncomfortable silences, in which he blankly stares, and humorless obscenity (“I’m a badger-fucker” wouldn’t be funny the tenth time even if it had been the first). These have a definite potential to hold interest, based on the wit of his other work, but in and of themselves contain absolutely no power to amuse. It’s not only that I dont find them funny, it’s that they so heavily rely on concepts like “dirty words = automatic humor” that simply don’t hold true. I did not watch them alone, I watched them in a room with others, and nobody laughed. Once.
En Garde, Society! presents an interesting balance, then. Disc two, the DVD, is stupid, pointless, and completely not worth your time or money to watch or buy. Disc one, on the other hand, is Eugene Mirman at his stand-up best: sharply perceptive, likable, funny. And for the CD, I know of no higher compliment.
Eugene Mirman - Canada