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SXSW 2013: Five minutes with Eugene Mirman

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Eugene Mirman is a busy man, especially when he’s at SXSW. So we jumped in the car and chatted with him for the five minutes it took to drive from the Driskill Hotel to his next gig.

Hi Eugene, thanks for letting us hitch a ride with you.

Oh sure, so are car interviews your thing?

No, no you just didn’t have time for a sit-down interview.

Ah! I have been doing a lot of interviews, but I thought this was your thing. “Oh we do car interviews!” and I was like, ‘Okay that sounds fine,’ but it isn’t. It’s not that you do car interviews. This is great, this is good, I’m glad we’re doing it anyway.

You’re a veteran of the Austin scene down here. How many SXSWs have you been to?

I’ve done the last 13.

Wow, 13? You’re an expert then.

I don’t know if I’m an expert at going to a music festival. But I think in 2000 my website was nominated for Best Humor Site or something like that and I came down with my friend who had designed it and we were like, ‘Oh this is very fun. We should come back.’ So I did. I may have even done a show somewhere that first year, but since then I have been coming back and doing shows every year. Before they ever added comedy, I would just put on a show before the music festival started and use that show’s money to finance staying here.

Do you have certain things you really like to do while you’re here each year?

Walking around South Congress is always lovely. There’s a handful of restaurants – although sometimes they change – that I try to go to each year. Like Franklin Barbecue and this Japanese place called Uchiko, which is really awesome, so I might try and do those things, but mostly it’s just coming to see friends who are in LA or live somewhere else. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends, basically.

What are you doing here this year?

Just a bunch of car interviews.

Car interviews are where it’s at! I’m going to make this my thing.

Just seven back-to-back car interviews.

No one else gets to do car interviews! It’s my shtick now.

This is how it’s going to start for you. You’re going to become the greatest car interviewer ever. I’m interviewing They Might Be Giants today.

Oh they are great! Are you a They Might Be Giants fan?

I am.

Which album?

I’m a fan of several albums, actually. It would be funny if I was like, “Only Lincoln, after that, what happened to them.” But I am a fan of them. They are a band I liked a lot in college, so this is fun. Flood was a great record, Lincoln, classics! John Henry, I think that came out while I was in college. So I’m interviewing them tonight and I did two shows yesterday and I’m going to go see stuff and eat at some places. Like Franklin Barbecue, which is right there [pointing as we drive past]. You have to go at 9 or 10 in the morning, but it’s the best. Literally the best.

Here’s the question we’ve been asking everyone: What is one memorably awkward high school experience?

What’s an awkward high school experience? High school is all awkward, so I don’t know. I have sad stories from elementary school, so maybe this will suffice. When I was in sixth grade I had a collie and it was a very pretty collie that I had for about six months, because it got hit by a car.

I don’t like this story at all, Eugene.

We had to go to the vet while my parents were away, with this collie dying next to me, and it died. Then the next day at school this little girl came up to me and was like, “You’re dog committed suicide because it didn’t love you.”

This is the worst story I have ever heard.

Yeah, well you asked if I could think of an awkward story and I thought that the amount that story is sad covers it. Like, it’s the wrong gear, it’s not awkward, but it’s pretty horrifying, so in that sense, it’s fine. It was sixth grade, but it was pretty traumatic, so it works.

It does sound very traumatic. How long did it take you to get over that?

I don’t know, I’m 38 and I’m in the back of a car telling it to you now, so I don’t think I ever have. That was when I decided I should become a comedian and use that to work through these issues.

Do you do that with your comedy? Do you work through issues on stage?

No, not really. Not specifically. Meaning what I do on stage is not particularly personal. It’s personal as to how I see the world, but it’s not personal like, “It’s so weird fucking people and it makes me feel weird.” It’s not that. That’s a bad example of personal stand up comedy, but you get what I mean.

You came to the U.S. from Russian when you were a kid, right?

I did. I came here when I was four.

Where did you go to high school?

I went to high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, which in hindsight was very nice. It was a great school, but at that the time it was like, “School is a terrible experience.”

Have they invited you back to speak?

I have spoken at both my high school and college. There were several people from my high school like Ethan Zahn who won the first “Survivor,” Amanda Palmer, I think a lot of us have spoken at the high school. I mean there’s only so many people who went to the school. They also have professors or radio personalities or whatever, but yes. That’s a long roundabout way of saying that yes, I spoke at my high school. And at the college, which was nice too.

What was that experience like? My high school has definitely not invited me back to speak.

Yeah, but in like two years they will. Maybe four. It’s really likely. How many people are voice actors from your high school? Once they are invited back, you’re next. That’s how it works. The experience well the class picks you. In both high school and college you are invited because the class wants you to come. What’s funny is that when I was introduced for the high school one, you can find both speech on the internet, but for the high school one they just introduced me as “From the Class of 1992, Eugene Mirman” and most of the people in the hockey stadium where they did this graduation clearly had no idea who I was or what I did. They knew that I had gone to the school and that they had asked me to speak. It was a really funny experience where my friends who had come and were in the audience kept hearing the kids ask “Who is this? What does he do?” But it was a really great experience and it went really great.

Well, we reached your destination, so get out of the car.

Okay, I will.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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