Indie, alternative, absurdist—these are the terms usually used to pigeonhole comedian Eugene Mirman. The implication is that this is not one of your ordinary run-of-the-mill comics. The implication is not only that he skewers the conventional, but that he has an almost surreal eye for the absurdity of those values and institutions. And if you’re talking about his usual material, the shoe fits.
On the other hand, if you’re talking about his new CD/DVD Combo Pack from Comedy Central, An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory, you might want to rethink things just a bit. Certainly he still has conventional values in his sights, and certainly he tries to view them through the distortions of the amusement park mirror. But with some exceptions, his comments don’t quite reach that surrealist level of his best work. Perhaps it’s too-high expectations, but there’s too much in the performance that falls flat.
Filmed in San Francisco, the show is one of those uncensored and extended versions of a Comedy Central standup special. The stage is decked out to look like the titular fake underground laboratory (although lair might be a more appropriate description) of some sort of strange genius. And although about halfway through his act Mirman takes us on a tour of the set, it seems to serve very little real purpose other than to hold a variety of visual props—a notebook from his adolescence, a set of tonic bottles, a theremin—that he uses during the show. The tour doesn’t last all that long, and after all the work on it, you have the feeling Mirman cut it short when he felt it wasn’t working all that well.
You have that feeling a number of times during his act. He does a bit where he supposedly ad libs answers to written audience questions. And while the first time he works it, he hits a few singles, nothing gets knocked out of the park; and when he comes back to it again just before the end of the show, it really falls flat. The bit he does with the theremin is absurd all right, but it isn’t particularly funny, at least not until he gets a little help from a friend.
On the other hand, when he takes on the Tea Party with some of his homemade signs, when he talks about protest messages written in chalk, he’s right on the money—topical, surreal, and most important, funny. The riff on Christian Mingle is hilarious. His rant about his troubles with Time Warner Cable and his reading of his newspaper ad works well, as does his piece on his Facebook ads, although one could argue these are some easy targets. Still, laughs are laughs.
The DVD includes a short bonus feature: “The Eugene! Pilot Highlight Reel.” And I’ve got to say this is Mirman as you expect him to be. This little piece of film is absurdist humor at its best.