Four years ago, Eugene Mirman had a dream. The comedian, a New York City mainstay, recognized that dozens of festivals devoted to stand-up comedy come and go each year. But how many have a caviar eating contest, a feast and a petting zoo?
The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, now in its fourth year, turns that dream into a reality this weekend in Brooklyn, partially thanks to an inventive Kickstarter campaign that allowed fans to help fund the festival through unorthodox means. Mirman was clear that he wanted to raise money so that he could pay the performers at the festival, but also promised, among other things: "Build an ice cream limo or buy an ice cream truck," "Awkward party bus" and "Pay recent college grads to have sex in a pit (probably not, but we’ll see how much money we raise)."
But novelty appreciation rarely translates into handing over cash, so the likelihood of fans donating the necessary funds was uncertain. Mirman told The Huffington Post:
I was surprised more that we could raise it, not as much that people happened to tweet about it. In a sense, we had created a lot of very dumb, silly incentives. Comedy blogs writing about a huge Kickstarter made sense, but the idea that around 250 people gave us money -- some people gave us $1,000 to have an animal named after them, for example -- that’s what was amazing.
The festival kicked off on Thursday night, and although the official lineup has been announced -- and what a lineup it is, as it includes Kristen Schaal, John Hodgman, Michael Showalter and a few dozen other comedy luminaries -- it's expected that the surprise guests will be aplenty. Additionally, the programming for the weekend features a few non-comedy personalities who somehow fit seamlessly into lineup, including Ira Glass, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Alan Alda.
Yes, that Alan Alda. The veteran actor stopped by to discuss science (!!!) with Tyson, Mirman, Schaal and Scott Adsit ("30 Rock") for a live taping of Tyson's podcast "StarTalk." It's possibly the only time one may see the veteran actor share a festival bill with Adult Swim stars.
But Mirman is quick to point out that although many of the incentives of the festival this year are silly, they're silly for the best possible reasons.
Its tone is both a celebration and parody or satire, but it’s not about comedy festivals so much as the many events that often have different levels of VIP stuff, or are categorized as “Lots of Jewish Boys” or “A Night of Gay Comedy.” So we’ve often satirized those kind of elements, but this year we’re almost just doing unusual, fun events.
Tickets for the festival are mostly sold out, but if you live in New York City, you can still get tickets for Gastro-Laughy-Time: A Food Comedy Event, a show (and feast!) with Sarah Vowell. Check back next week for our recap of the festival.
Photo credit: Mindy Tucker
Mirman caused a stir earlier this year with his open letter to Time Warner for a botched appointment. He took out a full-page ad to run the letter, which compares the cable giant to Stalin, in a Brooklyn paper.
Author and NPR darling Sarah Vowell will be a part of Gastro-Laughy-Time at The Bell House on Sunday evening. She'll join food writer Raquel Pelzel to serve a feast that will include roast lamb, goat and rabbit rillette from Meat Hook. Tickets can be bought here. Here's a delightful clip of Vowell on "The Daily Show" in 2006.
"Invite Them Up" at Rififi was one of the hottest comedy shows in New York in the mid-2000s, and served as a place for performers like Zach Galifianakis and Reggie Watts to work on new material. Although the show has been defunct since 2008, it's being resurrected for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at The Bell House, with Jon Glaser impersonating regular host Bobby Tisdale.
Mirman's hilarious video on Kickstarter soliciting funds for the festival, where he asks for money to do "very unprofitable stuff to make the festival fun."
Saturday night at the Bell House will see "The Archer Variety Hour and Panel," featuring Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Matt Thompson, Adam Reed and Lucille Bluth herself, Jessica Walter.
One of the true festival highlights is "The Talent Show Presents: The Drunk Show," with "This American Life" host Ira Glass and man about town John Hodgman joining Mirman and hosts Kevin Townley and Elna Baker. Here's a clip from "The Daily Show" where Hodgman and Glass solve the problem of violence in video games.
Comedian Craig Baldo is hosting "A Night of Very Likable Comedians" on Friday and Saturday night. Here is he on Conan, being very likable.
"The Rick Jenkins Comedy Studio Showcase" will be at Union Hall on Saturday evening. Jenkins' Comedy Studio in Boston has been a mainstay in the Northeast for ages.