SF Sketchfest Review: Hold On with Eugene Mirman at Swedish American Hall, 1/26/18

by Dakin Hardwick on January 30, 2018

From Left: Paget Brewster, Eugene Mirman, Paula Pell, Thomas Lennon. Photos by Dan Dion

When I plotted out my Sketchfest schedule this year, I based my show decisions on a number of factors:

  1. Scarcity: How often does this person actually come to town?
  2. Age: How likely is it that I won’t be seeing this performer ever again?
  3. Fandom: The old “does this performer make my heart feel warm” when I think of them?
  4. Past experiences: Have I gone to this show or seen this performer before and enjoyed them?
  5. Podcast I’ve never heard before: Can I experience a live recording of a podcast before ever listening to it or really even understanding the format?

Hold On with Eugene Mirman checked off 4 of the 5 boxes for me. Really, most of it was due to Thomas Lennon being on the bill. But, I also really enjoy going to a podcast recording with only having a cursory understanding of the podcast. There is something oddly pleasant about being the only person in the room that’s “out of the loop” of what you’re going to experience. And with the level of talent on stage tonight, there was little chance of it being “bad.”

The premise, as I soon learned, is “a famous person of note” will share a personal story with the listener, and Eugene Mirman will stop and ask questions. It’s essentially like any 1:1 storytelling situation where the listener is actively listening.

Before Mirman took the stage, we were treated by a short warmup set by Solomon Georgio. Without anyone to ask questions, Georgio was forced to tell a story on his own. Which is perfectly fine, because Georgio’s storytelling skills may have been some of the most impressive I’ve experienced. Since this is a podcast, and I’m hoping you’ll get to hear it yourself when it’s uploaded, I’m not going to get into the weeds. What I will say is the story was about Georgio’s brother using a turkey baster on Thanksgiving to impregnate his girlfriend with his own semen. Oh, did I mention his heroin addicted sister was helping out? And now you have to subscribe.

For the main show, Mirman’s first guest storyteller was former Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell. She told a few humorous anecdotes ahead of her main story. My favorite was when she had to bring her cat to the vet after a 30 hour writing sprint and ended up misplacing her in a French cafe, only to find her in the pastry case.

The main story was beautifully executed. She told us of a time when she got a pilot picked up by HBO and was driving to New York for some meetings about it. She came in early to celebrate with her writing partner, and on her way to meet for dinner, she decided to “start warming up her vape pen” so they could get high together. Pretty normal stuff. Except she made a left turn when she couldn’t and got pulled over by a police officer. Then the cop smelled the weed in her car. This turned into a long, intense tale of a cop being far too aggressive with a 50 year old woman over weed. Sitting here, remembering the story, kind of riles me up a little. Actually, a lot. Particularly when she tells the police officer that she can’t take steps due to a cartilage issue in her knee, so the officer abuses her while she attempts to get into the police van.

The next storyteller was Paget Brewster. I’ll admit, I still am having a little trouble piecing this one together. It was such a weird and surreal story, and it’s not entirely clear to me how the beginning led to the end. So when Brewster was 19, her boyfriend was a drummer. There was a well known dominatrix, by the name of Mistress Ronnie, who was trying to steal her boyfriend. This somehow leads to her going to a dungeon to meet with a dominatrix and learn about her profession and maybe help learn how to prevent Ronnie from stealing her guy. It’s not totally clear how this led to her working as the phone operator at a brothel, but it did. This brought us to several stories about working at a brothel as a 19 year old, capping off with a man buying her a Boy Scout uniform. I have no idea if she’s still with the drummer.

The final storyteller of the evening was Thomas Lennon. He is probably best known as Lieutenant Jim Dangle from Reno 911, but he primarily works as a writer these days, mostly because the work is more consistent than acting. After a little bit of riffing about his Smiths cover band (Sweet & Tender Hooligans), they started talking about the Aspen Comedy Festival. At this point, a woman named Megan gets up to leave. Why do we know this? Because Lennon asks her seatmate, and then laments over the empty seat throughout the rest of the night, occasionally screaming out Megan’s name.

Anyway, the Aspen Comedy Festival is an event that happens every year, and it eventually became something HBO would film and air a trimmed down version of. It attracts celebrities of all creeds. One night he witnessed Neil Diamond throwing a mink hat at Janeane Garofalo. Another night featured an entire comedy performance by Lennon added at the last minute, just for Richard Plepler, the CEO of HBO, to attend. Piepler did not attend. Eventually the fest moved to Las Vegas, and that’s where Lennon’s main story comes into play. Lennon proceeded to give a long speech on how amazing James Gandolfini is and what a fantastic actor he is. Then he spots Gandolfini and follows him around the casino, afraid to talk to him. They stumble across a high rollers room, where the entire cast of The Sopranos is playing, and a mutual friend decides to introduce the two of them, all while Gandolfini knows Lennon has been creeping on him for a while. One thing leads to another, and Lennon somehow ends up making Gandolfini mad by taking the mutual friend to a George Lopez show that lasts like 2 ½ hours. Not to give away the ending, but there was plenty of yelling at people for different reasons here.

Thus ended my evening with Eugene Mirman and friends. For the most part, Mirman kept his interjections brief and warm. His brand of humor is dry, and very rarely mean, mostly supporting the stories instead of making it about him. It may have helped the storytellers warm up and be very frank with their tales. And now I’m going to subscribe to his podcast, because it was a great joy.

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