Eugene Mirman is a man about Park Slope. As a longtime resident of the neighborhood that produces more snobby babies per capita than the rest of the contiguous United States, we decided to have a chat with him about what he so enjoys about living—and performing—in the same few block radius, for going on 12 years now.
I’ve been told to discuss Park Slope with you since we are both residents of that neighborhood. Right, and I’ve been told to discuss Park Slope with you.
Oh good, I’m glad we got the same message. You’ve lived there for like a decade or so, right? Yeah, I’ve lived here for like 11, 12 years. And in the same one to two block radius, where I had various apartments but all basically the same small area.
You’ve obviously seen the neighborhood change quite a bit. How has it evolved, and have you been happy with the way it’s changed? It's certainly changed in the last 12 years, but my guess is that it changed much more dramatically before that. But yeah, I’ve seen lots of places come and go, and some stick around. It's very nice here.
I saw that in one interview a few years back you had cited Great Lakes as one of your favorite bars, but it closed. Do you have a... Yeah, but I also... you know, I had a bunch of friends that lived around here and we would all sort of go there every night or every other night or whatever it was. But as time has gone on a lot of people have moved to different places or whatever. But now I probably, you know, The Sackett, or the Bell House, and Union Hall (but maybe not on weekends).
So you perform at Bell House, and you also enjoy just hanging out there? Yeah I like hanging out at Bell House, and then Union Hall also is great Sunday to Wednesday. In general, all bars in New York are very crowded on weekends. I used to definitely go to bars more, on weekends or whatever with friends, and I think that I don’t do that quite as much, or I go to friends’ houses.
So when you do go out here on a Friday or Saturday, which bars do you find you like? I mean in general there’s lots of bars that are great. Like the Sackett, Pork Slope, High Dive. Commonwealth is a wonderful bar. And there’s actually several new bars that have opened in South Slope on 5th that I don’t know as well—I went to one recently that was nice with some friends, but I don’t know its name.
I guess as is the case with anywhere in New York, there are places that you really come to like, they open and then you get attached to them and they disappear. But in terms of like, really great places, al di la has been there and is staying, you know what I mean? A lot of the places that I love—like Talde has an amazing brunch, and it doesn’t seem in jeopardy of any kind.
Are there any deal breakers for you, like if this one place closed down you would just pick up and leave the neighborhood and go somewhere else? Are you asking me if I’m crazy?
In a sense. Are you? I would be very sad, like if Bell House closed it would make me very, very sad, it’s my favorite venue, you know. It's wonderful to do shows there and see shows there. So I’d be very, very sad but I don’t think that’d be the deciding thing. Nothing would make me move. Like there’s no restaurant. I think the grilled fish at Fish Camp is amazing. But I think if it closed I would not leave. Which is really very reasonable.
Did you start doing shows at Bell House and Union Hall because they're nearby? You do a lot of your stuff there—with the exception being the Cabinet of Wonders, which is happening at City Winery. Is that by your own design? What happened was, me and a friend of mine, Julie Smith, who produced a lot of the Onion TV shows, we put on a lot of the events together. And we had always wanted to start at—like she used to live here, and we had always wanted to start a show somewhere in Park Slope. And, basically she had known the people who ran Floyd, and when they were opening Union Hall they talked to her about doing a weekly show. So that’s sort of how that began.
And at the time even Michael Showalter lived around here and wanted to do it, so we all started this weekly show at Union Hall, basically I think like within a month or so of it opening. And then same with Bell House. I think our comedy festival was one of their first sort of scheduled events. But yeah, the reason is that it’s, well, it’s a combination of that it’s in the neighborhood I live and that it’s also really pleasant.
Have you heard anything about this Parkwanus phenomenon yet? No. I don’t know what you’re describing.
Well I guess, first of all, “Parkwanus” if you had to guess, what would you think that is? A merging of Park Slope and Gowanus?
It is. But it does sound like some sort of venereal disease, doesn’t it? That’s Gowanus' fault.
It’s one of the real estate terms... Oh that’s like a thing real estate people say!
Yeah, I mean I don’t know that they actually say it, but we did hear about it and we thought it was kind of disturbing. I’ve never heard the term. There was a guy once at a real estate place, that’s luckily out of business now, cause he was a big jerk, when I was trying to find a studio apartment, now probably like 10 years ago or maybe more actually, he kept trying to get me to move to 3rd Avenue, and I was like, 'Well I’d rather just find something around here, and he was like “You’re never gonna do it,” and like “You can’t afford it, you have to move to 3rd Avenue.” And he was wrong. And then he wore one of those headsets like in an office before you really had to do that, when he talked to you face-to-face. Anyway I don’t know his name but I remember him being unpleasant, and that his place is out of business.
Ah, but yeah Parkwanus sounds fine, I guess if you went to a real estate office that’s a thing they’d tell you and they wouldn’t think it was weird. It’s like saying ‘South Williamsburg’ when you mean like Trenton, New Jersey.
Something like that. They're two totally different places. It's split by 4th Avenue, and stuff there has like, you know there’s a restaurant, The Pines, that’s pretty great that just opened up, and there’s a bunch of places off 3rd Avenue, like the Bell House. But I think that the reason for it is just that the area is sort of merging together and so many people live on the other side of 4th Avenue. I mean, other than the Gowanus canal being a green, dark green brown, liquidy Superfund site, it’s not so bad there. It’s very lovely.
I think in some ways it's better, depending on your perspective toward strollers and things of that nature—It just has a very different feel. Oh sure, I mean, maybe you wouldn’t take your baby for a stroll by the Gowanus canal. But all of New York is so dense. I don’t have a kid but I’m not like, mad at people having strollers with children. I mean they’re not at like restaurants hitting me with their stroller while I’m trying to eat.
Really? That doesn’t happen to you? I feel like that happens to me a lot actually. Or maybe you just go to daytime, I don’t know, stroller-based cafes?
Maybe. Has living in Park Slope, with all the strollers and whatnot, made you want to have kids more, or has it made you want to have them way less? I would say neither. I want to have children the same amount, which is that I probably one day want to have children. But I haven’t become averse…like I see things where I’m like “That’s terrible!” but you know, you see things in the news. There’s lots of things that are horrible, and admittedly children are one of them. But it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want a child, I’d just have to put up with, you know, several years of them being a shitty thing.
That seems to be the consensus, yeah. But it’s probably also delightful. Certainly I don’t know anyone who has a kid who’s like “Ahhhh, they just keep needing food and money!”—
But they wouldn’t tell you—I don’t think you’re supposed to say that. No, no. But comedians would.
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, no they would be like “This was a terrible mistake, even though I sort of love my son." So that’s kind of what they imply.
I don’t know. I sometimes got the sense that Louis C.K. occasionally wished he could give his back. Oh no I think Louis loves his children very much, but loves joking around about them. I mean it’s true like, I was at a friend’s house and he had a kid that was maybe four or five, and just going in circles like on one of those toy car things where you just sit. And then I realized that he doesn’t—that is the only thing he has to do because he’s like four. It’s not like he could be like "Maybe I’ll write a play!" He’s just like “I’m gonna go around hitting this car into everything for an hour and a half or so,” and it was fine. We still had a nice time.
Good. Alright, well, you seem to have a healthy attitude toward... Toward children?
Yes. That. That whole thing. Well, I mean, I also do travel a lot. So maybe if I lived here everyday and went to a mom’s group meeting. Like I don’t go to the co-op, maybe I’d be more mad at it all if I went to the co-op.
You don’t go to the co-op? Isn’t that sort of an essential part of the Park Slope lifestyle? If you don’t go to the co-op? Don’t get me wrong, I stopped by, years ago. The problem is I travel too much so I can’t have a normal shift there, and then the other problem is that it seems exhausting. Like I can’t. I don’t wanna go to a meeting and have like a 95-hour debate about having food from Israel or not.
That’s actually accurate, I think it was an actual, literal 95-hour debate about that. It might have been. Like, that isn’t an element that I want to bring into my world. And don’t get me wrong, I love discounted cumin, and I understand that their rates and probably the quality is amazing. But I travel too much and also don’t, like...want to—
I always see Steve Buscemi—actually, at the same café where all the strollers are always hitting my chair. Do you, when you see someone like him do you get sort of starstruck? Or are you kind of all on the same celebrity plane at this point, and you all get together for chess once a week? Yeah, no I’m not. Steve Buscemi is like a thousand times more well known. He once came to a show at Union Hall, I think with Sarah Silverman, and I met them and it was exciting and he was very nice, but yeah, no. I saw John Turturro on the street a little while ago and I was like “Look there’s John Turturro.” I said it to…myself. I thought it to myself very intently.
But you still did the New York kind of, like, you didn’t look him in his face or anything… I jumped on his back and I kind of like, hit my fists against his head going “You are John Turturro oh my God!”
If you could send a picture of that, or like a video or a Vine we would be forever grateful. No, I, yeah I didn’t, he was like with family or something. I didn’t say anything. But you know, it’s not like every person says something to everyone they recognize.
No, but you know, you try to... especially when you know you live in the same neighborhood as someone, you try to be cool about it. Yes. You try to be polite to a person on the street, I think is the experience you’re describing.
Speaking of other people who live in Park Slope, I have seen Bill de Blasio and his family wandering around occasionally. And I know that you’ve covered politics for various publications in the past. What are your thoughts on the mayoral race? My thoughts are...I don’t know. I’ve heard various good points about both Christine Quinn and Bill. You know, some people are very excited about the idea that he would be progressive and then other people think that Christine has a lot of experience and would be very solid. I don’t know…I don’t feel like I totally know enough to know which is true. I feel like both people are extremely well-intended, and would probably both do a good job, but I don’t know that I’d be like "Definitely this one will do much better," because I don't know. You're talking in this instance about two pretty similar points of view, and the question is “Who’s more effective?”
Right. Realistically, you’re doing a runoff of Democratic people in New York City. Like I don’t know. Yeah the question is sort of “who is more practical?” and who will actually like successfully accomplish things. Cause it’s very easy to be like “I don’t like this program” or “I do like that program” or “I wanna tax people and do this.” My only real question would be “What would be most effective?” like “What will actually work?”
Since it’s kind of a crap shoot either way would you be more inclined to vote for de Blasio because you know he lives in the same neighborhood as you and maybe we’d get our streets repaved really quickly? I doubt that that would be the result. It’d be funny if I was like “No I’ll just write-in a Rabbi because I’m Jewish. “ I would write in Lou Reed because, you know I think he had some stuff right, he knows what it used to be like and where it’s going.
You know there’s something to that. Lou Reed…that could work.” Yeah, no I uh... that would be a bad idea. I mean, it would be a good idea to have either Quinn or Bill de Blasio, but I don’t think it would be a good idea…Now John Cale maybe...
Alright, well when he wins, we’ll have no one to blame but you for that. Yes, I wish I had a stronger opinion.
That’s fair enough, I think you’re in the same boat as many people. So what made you want to move to Park Slope in the first place? I had a friend who lived in Prospect Heights, and then when I was moving from Boston to New York, he wanted to move to Park Slope and we actually ended up moving to Flatbush and Prospect Place—basically right on the border. And then when I was looking after that for my own apartment, I loved Park Slope, and this is where we ended up spending most of our time. So I found a studio apartment on 5th Avenue, and lived there for several years.
And just never felt any inclination to leave? What I first thought about, when I first moved to New York I was like “One day I’ll live in the Village and play at coffee houses and it’ll be the best!” And then once I actually lived here for a few years I was like “Oh, I strongly prefer the sort of quietness of like, Park Slope and Brooklyn.” But also you know things are open 24 hours and you can still go to get food or a bar, so there’s no real like disadvantage but streets aren’t just crowded with people in a way that’s overwhelming to me.
What are some of your favorite 24 hours and late night spots? Because it does kind of quiet down after around 9 p.m. Yeah, I mean late night places like Pork Slope and Sidecar are really great. Two super-solid great late night places.
Take us through what you would do in a full day of Park Slope tour-guiding. Well I love the brunch at Talde, I’ve only maybe had it a few times, but it’s really awesome. They have this amazing breakfast ramen. And also Stone Park has really great brunches. I don’t, like, walk 9 blocks to get a cup of coffee, but also the coffee around me is very good, I go to Konditori. And I’ll often go there and sit and write. Other places, like restaurant-wise, Fish Camp, al di la. The Brooklyn Flea is also a place that’s fun to walk around.
Are you a regular Prospect Park-goer? Um, no.
Really? I go occasionally—t’s kind of crowded.
Crowded? Oh, maybe it’s on weekends. Maybe the times that I’ve gone it’s been on weekends. I mean I do go there sometimes, that’s like not a totally accurate thing to say.
You don’t have to go there, I’m just saying. No I understand. I feel like when I've gone there on weekends it seems crowded. I also really love walking on the streets. Though I know that those probably have more people than a park.
Since you also travel so much, what’s the thing you miss most about the neighborhood when you’re gone? Or where's the first place you go when you get back? I think it’s just actually sort of going out in general, like going to some of the places I mentioned nearby. Walking around, but also my home, like I actually like my home. I have a small roof deck or terrace or whatever, and so me and my girlfriend will often sort of sit out there, or have friends over and sit out there. So that’s one of my favorite things actually, is being home, grilling. But yeah just also walking around. It’s very nice to get back to the Sackett or go to al di la or whatever.
Yep, I agree. Do you have a particular dish at al di la that you favor? No, not necessarily. Though there’s the oxtail that is very good, the raviolis that are made with... is it butternut squash? I don’t know. Their stuff is all so good. Sometimes they have a fish special that’s really amazing. The thing about al di la is that it’s just so reasonably priced and such good quality that it’s very impressive. There’s few places that are that solid but also not super expensive.
I'll let you go, but I have one more question. If you had to move to another neighborhood, which one would it be? Which one would it be? Oh, I don’t know. It’d probably be one of the ones around here just cause I know the area best. Like Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill or Prospect Heights or Fort Greene or something. But it would just depend, like, I don’t know that I would move... the things that would make me move are like, either work or a family or something like that, and then the decisions that would play wouldn’t be like “Oh I really need a coffee shop,” it’d be like “Where’s a good place for a child to like learn information to become a good person?” So it’d be like factors like that. But sure, all the neighborhoods around here are very pleasant. But potentially if I for some reason... you know, I have friends that had to move to the Union Square area because they needed to be able to get out of the city easier, so I think a lot of the factors of like what’s your, like where would you move a lot of it has to do with what’s like your life situation.
Alright, well do you have anything else in particular you want to add about the neighborhood, or any final thoughts? No, I mean I think that it’s just a lovely place that I’ve enjoyed for the last 13 years.