Saturday, May 08, 2010

WAMFEST: Eugene Mirman and His Pretty Good Friends

WAMFEST was pretty much everywhere last week. If you don't know what that is--it's the Words And Music Festival organized by David Daniel in the creative writing department at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and curated by Wesley Stace (a.k.a. John Wesley Harding), who is FDU's artist-in-residence. This year's WAMFEST got a lot of attention, mainly because of the last day--Bruce Springsteen teamed up with former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky in a session called "Jersey Rain" (Pinsky and Springsteen were both born in the same hospital in New Jersey 9 years apart). I didn't go to this particular WAMFEST event, as I was at the rally against the NJ Governor's budget cuts for libraries in Trenton. WAMFEST this year also included John Doe and Exene Cervenka of X (which I missed because I was sick), and Stace in conversation with poet Paul Muldoon (which I missed because of a doctor's appointment). However, I did attend the WAMFEST event on Tuesday of that week, which included Eugene Mirman and His Pretty Good Friends.

Last year I posted a YouTube video with a graduation speech given by Eugene Mirman at his high school. He had read us the draft of that speech at last year's Rumpus/McSweeney's party at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. I enjoy good comedy, and I think Eugene Mirman is excellent. So I was happy to be in the front row for this particular event. (It helps when the event is one building over from where you work.)

There were 4 comedians in the troupe that afternoon--Leo Allen, Kumail Naanjiani, Michael Showalter, and Eugene Mirman (in that order). Leo Allen brought his (or someone's) copy of the Brothers Karamazov onstage to try to look more intellectual, since he was at a university. He then recited the Fairleigh Dickinson University joke that was repeated later by Kumail Naanjiani--one I've never heard before. He expressed how pleased he was that this was "Fairleigh Dickinson", and not "Very Dickinson", or "Not at All Dickinson". I'm surprised no one has made that joke before--or that they didn't know about the "Fairly Ridiculous University" joke. What I remember most about Leo Allen's routine was his account of being in a McDonald's at 3AM, with a mentally retarded McDonald's employee, and another employee who was clearly high. Allen was drunk, so he said, "mentally, we were all on the same level." He noted that you have really sunk to the lowest point possible when you go home with McDonald's food and look at Internet porn at 3 in the morning. "If you reach down for that french fry you've dropped while jacking off.."

Kumail Naanjiani took the stage next. I couldn't help but think that he looked familiar. Later it hit me--when I saw the Found Footage Festival Volume 4 show, they had a clip that I loved called "Beggars CAN be Choosers", in which they spoofed a video dating clip. They were all saying what they weren't looking for in a woman. Naanjiani was the guy who said, "If I had to say what I didn't want, I would say, no drug users. Actually--there are probably some pretty nice drug users out there. Can I...can I take that back?" So, if you've seen Found Footage Festival, and haven't been on Comedy Central lately (I haven't)--this is that guy. He was very funny--he talked about the video game "Call of Duty", which very realistically puts the player in war zone situations. There are games for earlier wars (like World War II), but there are also versions for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Naanjiani noted that he was Pakistani, and avoided these games initially on principle, but then ended up playing a game at a friend's house, and threw principle out the window. One level in the Afghanistan game is actually the name of his own hometown. He figured he would have an advantage there, as he already knew where everything was. But he noted that all the road signs and such were in Arabic, and they speak Urdu. "You would think, after 3 years developing every detail of this game to be perfect--someone would have Googled 'Pakistan language'. But no..." He talked about his childhood experiences with movies (he saw a Disney movie--I can't remember which one now--and when he was upset about the ending, his mother said, "Animals can't talk. Stop crying." But when he watched The Elephant Man--not knowing what it was about--he said to his mother "Good thing this is just a movie," and she said "No, this one is real.") He mentioned Paranormal Activity, and how scared his wife was after seeing it. He told her, "It's just a movie." But he went home and dreamed that night that he and his wife were the people in the movie--and when he woke up at 1am having to go to the bathroom, he had to bring his cat Bagel with him, reasoning that the cat would sense something weird before he would.

Michael Showalter's act appeared to be an experiment in "unexpected" comedy--where he just says things, the audience comments, and he lashes out at the audience. He later said, when asked, that he was basically unprepared. I don't think he was joking. In any case, I had a hard time warming up to his brand of comedy. He did do enough research to know that Fairleigh Dickinson was a person, and argued with a guy who said the school was founded in 1942, not 1948 (the guy in the audience was right). I thought it was more interesting that most of the students were totally clueless about the university's origins. But maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

Eugene Mirman was last, and was incredible. He read quips from cocktail napkins that he liked to give out as fortunes ("have a baby--it will save your marriage"). He also joined one of the "Tea Party" sites, so that he could look at people's profiles. He brought some of the pictures posted to that site. He managed to infiltrate with a few of his own, which were hilarious. ("Taxation without Tea? No way, Mister Obama-Hitler-Stalin"). At the end of his routine, he told his famous joke about the 12-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome (leading to Mirman's CD, "God is a 12 year old boy with Asperger's).

Wesley Stace led a Q&A afterwards that was brief, and the event was over by 5:30. I came home that evening to no power and another attack by the attack tree in my yard. I heard from a friend that a massive thunderstorm had come through around 4:00, and actually cracked one of her windows. I have to say I'm glad I missed it.

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