Gloomy drizzly weather: poor conditions for a music and comedy festival, but great conditions for storytime. So maybe, in that moment, it was for the best that I got to chat with Eugene Mirman with a light patter of rain beating against a vinyl tent, erected for the Boston Calling Music Festival. Ahead of his set at the event’s expanded comedy experience, we chatted about his most recent project: a storytelling podcast called Hold On with Eugene Mirman, presented by Audible.
“They tell a story, and then I ask them questions,” is the simplest breakdown of Hold On’s premise. “Sometimes we listen to a pre-recorded story, and then I pause the story and ask questions; other times it’s live and I’m just talking to them in the room about the specific story [they’re sharing].” The idea of the show was brought to Mirman, and he “thought it sounded really fun.” The enjoyment of the experience of listening and learning more is evident in listening to Hold On. Because he often doesn’t know the story that the storyteller shares ahead of time, his questions are the product of attentive listening and genuine surprise, instead of advance preparation like some other shows of this variety. On the fly queries aren’t the strength of too many interviewers or hosts, but Mirman does well and creates compelling conversation amidst entertaining tales.
After listening to so many stories (42 episodes since September 2016), I wondered if Mirman had a take on what makes those stories good- maybe pacing, or word choice- but he said ultimately it comes down to the person telling it. “A lot of [the people telling stories] are really funny comedians, or really funny actors and actresses, and they bring it to life.” And as he asks guests to “hold on” for a question, the best stories are further illuminated when the storytellers are willing to answer openly and honestly. And because these episodes are pretty short (on average, twenty minutes), the ability to tell a great story and keep it brief is also essential.
Who does all of that well? When asked about his favorites, Mirman cited Busy Philipps (on the wedding of her boyfriend’s ex-fianceé), and Kristen Schaal (about a bike trip through wine country à la Sideways) as his highlights for funny stories. He also recognizes that some of the best stories have been good for their extraordinary nature – for him, Kumail Nanjiani’s (of marrying his wife in a Muslim ceremony) and Weird Al’s (about getting LASIK in its early days of the surgery…on television) stories fall under that category. On his wishlist for future guests: comedian/poet Derrick Brown, Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Schumer, and Aziz Ansari.
For those who haven’t yet seen Mirman’s live set, it is a mix of jokes, storytelling, sharing of art, and even a bit of music- but it clearly highlights his own skills as a potential storyteller. And yet, when asked if he had a go-to story if the tables were ever turned, he shared, “Not offhand, I’d have to think of one!” He added that most of the people who appear on Hold On have a story they know well, that they’ve previously told live, and likely crafted over an extended period of time in advance of that pre-recorded appearance. His story of that nature doesn’t exist yet- but it could be on the way, “maybe for the 300th episode!”
Because Mirman’s other immediate plans include a pair of live shows in LA to celebrate the release of the Bob’s Burgers album (available now on Sub-Pop Records), I couldn’t let him go without asking him what his favorite songs on the wildly comprehensive set are. “I love ‘Gene’s Snake Song,’ I love ‘Electric Love,’…and there’s also ‘Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl: The Musical’, that’s another favorite.” Of songs that aren’t his, he also cites Linda’s Thanksgiving song, Kristen Schaal and Jon Benjamin’s 100th episode duet, “Bad Things Happen in the Bathroom.” Beyond that, he is always in talks to team up on projects with friends, but plans to focus on one of his newest releases: his 9 month old son, who is likely to be the source of a whole new chapter of stories.
Hold On with Eugene Mirman is currently available for download on Audible Comedy; new episodes are released each Wednesday.