Frequently Asked Eugene Questions —
I’d like to be a comedian, any advice?
Yes, start writing and performing in the next few months and then do it for ten years. A lot of doing well in comedy is really tenacity — though obviously, try not to be terrible for that first decade. Comedy is as much trial and error as science, so just do it a lot for a long time and you'll be fine.
How did you get your start in comedy?
Standup was very popular in the 1980s and I loved it and watched it all the time. Towards the end of high school, I decided I wanted to try it. I did a set at a talent show my senior year and then I signed up to perform at Catch a Rising Star in Harvard Square. I wrote on a form that I’d been on stage 12 times (I counted my appearance in the background of Tom Sawyer in 6th grade and some high school theater and improv). I got a post-card a month later telling me my first set would be four days after my 18th birthday on July 28th, 1992. Brian Kiley was the host (he’s now a writer at Conan and has been for years). It went well. After that though, I bombed for many years. So, just keep doing it I guess.
Who are some of the comedians you liked growing up?
Emo Philips was my favorite comedian growing up. He’s an amazing joke writer and unlike—in both subject matter and performance—any other comic at that time. I also loved Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Steven Wright, Bobcat Goldthwait and a bunch of others. When I got to college I discovered Lenny Bruce and the street-prank duo Coyle and Sharpe, both of whom I greatly admired. Also, I really loved the music and absurdist in-between-song monologues of Robyn Hitchcock.
Would you perform at my birthday party or wedding?
No, sorry. It sounds like it would be very awkward.
Would you officiate my wedding?
What if I paid you $50,000?
Maybe? But still, sounds awkward.
This is me now!
How much of Bob’s Burgers is improvised?
We record the show together in NY and LA at the same time through an ISDN line. Unlike a lot of cartoons where actors record alone, we mostly record everything together, even though half of us are in one studio and the other half are across the country in another. We do each scene a few times and often get to add our own jokes and lines or play off each other. But most of what you see is the script the writers wrote.
Your character Gene is kind of like you.
Loren Bouchard (who created Bob’s Burgers) cast each of the family members before the show was made and developed the show for a few years with all of us. So a lot of our characters have a lot of the actors personality, especially Dan Mintz, who has spent a life-time as an awkward, sexual teen without knowing it.
Are you the fairy in Demetri Martin’s half-hour Comedy Central special from 2004?
Yes. I am.
How did you get on Flight of the Conchords?
I met Bret and Jemaine when they came to New York through Demetri Martin (after he did the Edinburgh fringe). I think they thought I would just be given the role of “Eugene,” but I auditioned with the line, “Hi, guys” (which took place in the elevator) and read it three different ways, one of which turned out to be correct I guess.
What are Flight of the Conchords like in person?
They’re as nice in real life as they seem on TV, but they don’t have indoor voices, so they yell everything when they talk. Also, in real life, they both have a limp.
Did you go to high school with me?
Yes, if you went to Lexington High School between 1989 and 1992 in Massachusetts. Otherwise, I’m one of a handful of Americans who are on television the exact amount that makes people in supermarkets think they remember me from their childhood.
You seem very smart, were you really in Special Ed?
Sometimes children are put in special education because they have terrible grades and it’s unclear what the fuck is wrong with them. I was one of those special cases. In Massachusetts it was called “Resource Room” so you didn’t feel bad about yourself, just that you need access to recourses (just like a factory that makes iPhones or shoes would need). Every day from 7th to 12th grade I spent one or two periods getting help with schoolwork along with other slow or misunderstood children. The teachers who helped us were all very nice.
Are you related to Ethel Merman?
In the spirit of creating mystery and rumors like when a youthful Bob Dylan claimed to have been a hobo grifter or whatever, I will lie and say yes, I am—I’m Ethel Merman’s grand-nephew, if that is a thing you can be.
Were you really born in Russia?
Yes, in Moscow. I moved to the US when I was four.
Do you think you would have been a comedian in Russia?
Most likely I would have been Russia’s nicest oligarch, creating pretty-good working conditions while murdering competitors in a kind-hearted way.
If I see you on the street, can I say hello?
Yes, of course, but don’t tell me a very long, weird story.
I also had a bad experience on an airline.
My cable company is also terrible.
I know. And I’m sorry.
I heard you studied comedy in college. Really? Did you?
I went to Hampshire College, which is a wonderful school where you can design your own major. I did a one-hour standup act as my thesis and did independent studies on Lenny Bruce’s cultural impact, the physiology of laughter for science, took classes in writing, film, acting, sociology, rise of mass culture, wrote a weekly humor column for my school paper, did talk radio shows, helped organize weird events, etc and turned it into a comedy degree. Lots of my parents’ friends thought it was wasteful and silly, but they didn’t understand how practical I was being.
I just heard of you yesterday! Are you telling me you started doing standup in 1992?
Kind of? It was often many months between shows (not a good way to improve) for the first three or so years. There were very few places to do standup in western Mass—I did sets at college variety shows, Humor Works Comedy Club at Peking Garden on Rt. 9 in Hadley, the Hadley Pub and eventually started going to Boston and NY to do sets towards the end of college. My senior year I started a weekly show in the basement of my dorm.
There are no open mics where I live. Should I start one or move?
Either way, whatever you think is best, but just start doing comedy and then do it for about 10 years, okay? Though I guess it’s probably good to spend a few years doing standup in a city that isn’t New York or LA.
What are some good cities to start doing comedy in?
There may be lots of other great cities to start doing comedy, but some good ones are San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, and Seattle. And after three to five years, move to NY or LA.
I once came up to David Cross and said something really weird. I was trying to be funny, but it came off wrong.
I know. I think it’s fine by now.
I like someone in my class but am afraid to tell them?
Just tell them. It won’t matter in five years, but if it works out now, it’ll be wonderful. Everyone feels upset and lonely and it’s better to take the risk than not. The one exception is if you’re sort of a crazy person. If you are crazy, do not approach love interests until you decrease your craziness by 45%.
You tour with bands, right?
Not that much anymore. Sometimes, if a band I like asks me to do a show I will do it, but I mostly tour music venues with other comedians. I still do a variety show tour with John Wesley Harding called Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders, which features writers, musicians, comedians and the occasional surprisingly good poet.
What bands have you toured and done shows with?
Modest Mouse, Andrew Bird, Cake, Yo La Tengo, Robyn Hitchcock, Gogol Bordello, Tegan and Sara, The Shins, She and Him and some others.
Is it true that you really like the Bourne trilogy?
Yes. I think it’s great.
You call it a trilogy, but there are four movies now.
I think I sometimes see you in a commercial for a radio station? Is that you?
I don’t think it airs anymore, but yes, it is me. About eleven years ago when I was on tour a company in Atlanta that makes TV commercials for radio stations asked me if I wanted to stop by their studio and record some improv inspired by my Mr. Robot video. I was sort of hesitant, but did it, which turned out to be great, because then I could afford to stay in NY and buy sandwiches.
Would you email my sister and tell her she should break up with her boyfriend?
Maybe. It depends on the situation.
If I buy a Jethro Tull album, which one should I get?