Mirman didn’t just help establish two landmark comedy homes. He also became a focal point of a community of comics, helping give many their start. (In the documentary, Kumail Nanjiani says Mirman was the first person to give him a big credit.) In 2011, Interview magazine called Mirman the “de facto leader of the Brooklyn scene,” and in the new documentary, Bobcat Goldthwait describes him this way: “He’s the drain in the sink that catches all the weirdos.”
Did this diverse community of weirdos share an aesthetic?
It’s easier to define what that aesthetic wasn’t: club comedy and traditional stand-up. But even that is a simplification, since those approaches were welcome as well. Mirman has always defined comedy as broadly as possible, and while there are still comics with rigid ideas about what constitutes stand-up, Mirman’s more catholic tastes have won the day. What was once alt is now mainstream. Asked if he thought there was a common style to the scene back in the day, Mirman pointed to “a sort of sincerity to themselves, an authenticity, a silliness.”
Mirman’s own stand-up is infused with a warm and cheerful sense of the ridiculous, including satirical bits that sting instead of lash and stories using show-and-tell-style props. He has a prickly side, too, and some of his best-known stunts build on minor grievances, as when he took out a full-page newspaper ad venting ludicrous rage about a parking ticket in a New Hampshire town. The ad closed by turning the state’s motto (“Live Free or Die) back at the town, saying drivers don’t even get “freedom to back into a spot.”
His greatest legacy might be helping build something so successful, its end was inevitable. He stopped doing the weekly show and the festival was over after a decade, when most of his peers moved to Los Angeles for TV and film work. Mirman recalled specifically when he realized the end was near, when Kristen Schaal (who along with Kurt Braunohler hosted Hot Tub, another regular comedy show that moved to Brooklyn) told him she was moving to the West Coast. “I came home and told Katie: The world I am part of is winding down.”
The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival has been replaced by the Janelle James Comedy Festival, and a new generation of Brooklyn comics has filled the spaces he pioneered. And while his reputation has faded among young comics, you can see echoes of his influence in the bustling, vital Brooklyn scene today. Video is common as is his off-kilter, multi-hyphenate aesthetic. Compare his advertisements for shapes like squares and triangles on his debut album with the surreal meditations on shapes in the recent HBO special of Julio Torres. But also, the mood of Mirman’s shows — amiable, casual, a bit chummy, as the title Pretty Good Friends suggests — is common.