Mike Phirman

Mike Phirman

His mom has been married 8 times, his father 4.   How’s that for a good place to start?  In addition to performing with Chris Hardwick as the comedy/music duo Hard n’ Phirm, Mike also performs solo.    He’s really talented and also really nice.  Really, really nice.   That’s right.  Full on people pleaser.  Mike and Paul get into the fear of disappointing loved ones, strangers and fans.   Also a little post interview excerpt from the great Ram Dass, regarding a man and a dolphin that will move you to tears or creep you out.  Or both.



Episode notes:

Visit Mike's website.   And listen to his music for free by clicking here.

Episode Transcript:

P: Welcome to the Mental Illness Happy Hour. I’m pleased to have my guest, Mike Phirman, here with me...


M: Hey, how ya doing?


P: We’re here in Portland for the Bridgetown comedy festival, and we’re here in my hotel room with a beautiful view of Portland ...


M: No rain ...


P: … at least its freeway. It’s sunny out, it’s nice. It’s a beautiful afternoon.


M: There’s a guy jogging on an off-ramp.


P: Maybe we get to see his life end, right here on our podcast, and we dedicate it to him at the end. But we’re having a lot of fun up here at this festival, it’s such a cool vibe in this city. Although Portland, I have to say, I didn’t know it’s two major exports were begging and daydreaming. But they are. If you walk around long enough you’re like, ‘Wow, people are really actively avoiding life in this city.’


M: But it’s beautiful, though, it really is. There are so many place to go, and avoid… avoid things.


P: Go and avoid, yeah.


M: Yeah, it’s gorgeous.


P: It’s got kind of a weird counterculture vibe to it that I’m really enjoying. But let’s talk about Mike Phirman. Let’s get to that. Mike was, before we started rolling, expressing a little concern that his life or his ...


M: Struggles therewith.


P: ...struggles therewith might not be dramatic or interesting enough for this podcast. And we were talking a little bit about it last night backstage.


M: And I said some magic words.


P: You said some magic words, and tell me what it was that you said that made me think, ‘Yeah, maybe Mike does qualify to talk about mental illness.’


M: Well, I said my mom’s been married eight times and my dad’s been married 4 times.


P: Wow.


M: It was like, ‘Well there’s something in that!’


P: Let’s just soak that in for a second. Eight times. How sad is it that we don’t have time on this show to get into her eight marriages?


M: Well… Yeah. I don’t know if there is time. At all. Ever. To talk about it. And that said, I don’t want to ever sound like I’m disparaging, or — and I don’t know what your swearing policy is but — ‘Oh, what a screw up. Blah blah blah,’ I’d never, you know, I’m not mad at her. I don’t fault her for it.


P: And that’s not the — and we’ve talked about this before on this podcast — that is not the intent of this podcast, is to cast blame on other people. It’s more to describe the surroundings that we were brought up in. I think we all know that our parents did the best they could with the tools they had, but our parents’ generation didn’t have a lot of tools. They were good people, but most of them didn’t know any better. So there you have it.


M: I feel like even if you did have the tools, though. I don’t know, sometimes life just keeps throwing curve balls and you forget how to swing straight, and then —


P: Yeah. I had a guest on podcast number four, an ex-con, who was raised in a pretty loving, stable household. His brothers & sisters turned out fine, and he basically walked around shooting people, dealing drugs, and spending half his life in prison. He’s fortunately turned it around now. So it doesn’t necessarily ...


M: There is a nature aspect.


P: Absolutely. But describe your home — first of all where did your father, your biological father, fall into the number eight?


M: He was the second.


P: Which lottery ball was your dad?


M: This is the fun part. I hope if she ever heard this — mom, I hope you’re not upset that I’m talking about this. This is just a part of my background. Paul asked. So, anyway, it’s all part of the process of … yeah.


P: And by the way, I worry about my mom hearing stuff that I say about this too. So. But that’s okay. I think that if they really love us, then they’ll know that this is — what we do is helping us and hopefully other people, and hopefully they can keep their stuff out of this and see that it’s all for the good.


M: Yeah. So mom, I love you dearly. But I’m going to say the names of the 8 people.


P: Yeah. And I think you’re fuckin’ nuts. Mrs. Phirman.


M: So, my father’s name is John. And the guys were: Ron, John, Ken, Ron, John, Keith, Pat, Dunne. So he was John the first. And I used to make a joke about it, she actually heard it. She came to a show one time and I said, “I hope you don’t mind, I’m have a joke to make about that.” At the time it was Ron, John, Ken, Ron, John, Keith, Pat. I thought, “Man, if this guy had been another John, that’d be a full house!”


P: [laughing]


M: And if Kens were wild ...


P: Oh, my God. That’s fantastic. How long was your dad — after your parents got divorced — how old were you when they got divorced?


M: I was 10. ish.


P: And did you stay with your mom or go live with your dad?


M: Stayed with my mom. We have two brothers and a sister, sister from the marriage before. So we all stayed with my mom, and for about a year, my dad moved to an apartment. And had fun, I actually really enjoyed going to visit him, I’d ride my bike over to his place to visit and it was really fun. And that’s why — I feel like divorce isn’t really the hard part. Like when I hear about somebody getting a divorce it’s like, well, that’s awful. I never want to hear it. It’s terrible. Of course I did just hear somebody say, “Good marriages don’t end in divorce.” It’s like, well, there might be a reason for that. But I’m sure far too many of them that could make it end in divorce, but that’s not for me to say. But the part that is, for me anyway, is the introduction of step parents. Cause that’s the part which — as a kid, when my mom told me they were going to get divorced, it was just, okay. I guess. If that’s what happens that’s what happens. It wasn’t that big of a shock.


P: Had you become attached to your first stepfather?


M: Yeah. I did.


P: How many years was he in your life before she moved on to number three? I guess it would be number four.


M: We moved up to Sacramento and they were together for, I want to say two years, something like that. Then we moved back down to San Luis Obispo. And he was — is — I’m actually still in some contact with him — a great guy. He came in at a really good time when I was 12. So I was very impressionable to a male father figure and all. Not to say that my dad disappeared or anything. He was totally there, we just had a weird, kind of ugly — I don’t know exactly what it was. But I’d turn down going on vacations with him, he was like “We’re all going to Hawaii,” and I was like, “Eh. I’m not going.” He was like, “Really? Why wouldn’t you go to…” I was just like “Ehh. I’m just not.”


P: Your dad?


M: Yeah. I would say I’m not going.


P: Did your mom talk bad about your dad behind his back?


M: Not ... I wouldn’t say bad, but it was … it’s tough —


P: It’s such an unfortunate thing where they put children in the middle. That’s so fucked.


M: That’s the thing. The bummer thing was not even that it was talking … I don’t even necessarily remember her saying … she never said “Your dad’s a bad person,” or anything like that. It would just be instances. Specific. Like oh, ‘I don’t agree with this thing or that thing,’ or whatever. There was a little of that, but what was the bummer was, when there would be, on either side, acknowledging the other person being… you know, like the other, like the stepdad, being ‘mmeh,’ or having a problem with the stepmom. And I’d be like, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do now.’


P: Did you ever feel —


M: When I’m over there I have to be one way and when I’m over here, I’m on your side.


P: So there was always kind of a feeling that you had to watch the way that you acted, lest you show that you liked somebody too much or too little, or …?


M: I guess so.


P: Because when I told somebody who my guests were that I was going to interview, everybody was like, “Mike Phirman’s just the happiest, nicest guy.”


M: Hmm.


P: But a lot of times underneath that is somebody who is afraid that they’re not going to be liked, or feels that they have to project — they have to be liked by everybody as a survival skill. And I’m speaking from experience ‘cause I’m one of those people. Do you feel — there are few people that I feel as comfortable [with] as you, I feel like you don’t have any agenda, you’re like this really mellow, easy-going guy. You don’t have that kind of desperation that a lot of comedians have. You seem to be able to be present when I’m in a conversation with you. Am I wrong?


M: I think you’re right, I hope on all accounts. I hope I’m a nice guy. I think you’re definitely right on — there’s definitely a lot of ‘I want to be liked.’ I’m very careful to not offend. It’s kind of — I put myself in this weird kind of position now where I, like I have — I work with Chris, and I have a dark sense of humor sometimes, but …


P: Let me pause for a second and fill the listener in. Mike performs occasionally as part of a duo called Hard ‘n Phirm with Chris Hardwick, who has the very popular podcast called The Nerdist, and you guys have an album that’s been out for a while called Horses and Grasses. If you dig They Might Be Giants, or Cake, listen to it, because it’s as strong musically as it is comedically. I think it’s just a really really great comedy music CD.


M: Thanks, man!


P: So check that out. You also do solo standup, you do music stuff. You can go to Mike’s website, MikePhirman.com


M: And I do have an album recently —


P: Yeah, tell them the title of it, I love it.


M: Very Last Songs I Will Ever Record (Part 1)


P: Your website has so many great jokes in it. You should go to Mike’s website and read his bio. It’s very entertaining.


M: Thank you!


P: Also there’s a video on the website of you creating a song from the ground up, live, that is really, I think it’s a great example of the kind of comedy you do. It has a sweetness to it. It’s creative and it’s kind of refreshingly not bitter.


M: That’s what I try to — that’s actually kind of full circle to the point I was making earlier, I’ve gotten to this point where I like that stuff. I’ve always liked comedy that doesn’t have to swear, that’s funny universally, you don’t have to get the references necessarily, you could just be funny. Even if it was on mute. Things like that.


P: And you were getting big laughs at the UCB theater, which is a hipster palace. I was thinking to myself as I was watching this, ‘this is no small accomplishment,’ making these people laugh with material that could also make people laugh on Star Search, or something like that. And I don’t mean that as a put-down.


M: Yeah. Any more than I mean it as a put-down — I mean, I love comedians that swear, I have a filthy sense of humor, too, and very dark as well. So that’s what gets to be kind of tricky. I do have this — and I’m sure this is where it comes from, the earlier, formative years — which, I think this is nothing special to me — that comedians need to please, to some degree, and get acknowledgement for being — they need positive feedback immediately and they need to make light of things. In doing that, I’ve come upon this range of material that I feel like I should pursue. Like, I should do things like this that are not dirty, ‘cause I kind of can, and I’ve done enough of those to where I just commit to it, I can be a totally clean comic and that’d be great! There’s nothing wrong with the other stuff — God knows, 4/20 just passed and there’s a song I wanted to put on my website that Hard ‘n Phirm did, but I feel like I shouldn’t because it’s… it’s… filthy. Like, you can’t say the title without swearing.


P: Right. You can say it here, ‘cause this is an explicit show. What’s the title of it?


M: It’s Super Fucking High. And it’s about getting high and smoking pot.


P: Do you get high?


M: I used to a lot and I don’t. And if my dad’s listening, guess what? There you go. No, I used to a fair amount. And, um, yeah, a lot. And I don’t much now. I think I do maybe like — it’s one of those things where the setting would have to be just right. And it’s one of those like, all right, I’m out of town, and I’m totally — I don’t know, I have a kid now, I’d feel weird doing it at home. And this is just me. If somebody else, if you smoke pot WITH your kid, go ahead. Fine. But for me, I feel like — I also get quiet and paranoid now, and I used to be more like, ‘wooo-hoo!,’ but as soon as I started, you know, it kind of made me like, withdrawn and shaky.


P: Yeah, I know that feeling. Your muscles —


M: I was having so much fun —


P: Your muscles start to cramp up a little bit.


M: Yeah. And I was having so much fun a couple minutes ago, and I thought, ‘yeah, that’s gonna kick it up a notch!’ And I don’t realize that, yeah, it’s probably gonna knock it down a little bit. And then I’ll withdraw and go to sleep. So. That said, I do definitely have — I smoked when I was 13. I smoked the first time when I was a little kid. A couple times. And then, actually, I did that a few times with some friends. And then a buddy of mine, there was a little group of us that were little heavy metal guys, and a buddy was saying, like, “Aw, man, I wish you didn’t smoke. I thought you were my one friend that wouldn’t smoke.” And I was like, ‘oh, crap. All right, no, I won’t. I’m done. I don’t need to do that, that’s fine.’ And I stopped. And I stopped all throughout high school.


P: Because of what this one person said?


M: Yeah, and it’s kind of this same, like —


P: Who do I need to be, to be —


M: I don’t want to disappoint anybody, you know? That’s kind of where the comedy thing goes to, too. I don’t want to have these people that are like, ‘oh, I love that chicken monkey duck song,’ and I’m like, ‘oh, great!’ And they’re like, ‘my kids love it,’ and I’m like, ‘that’s awesome!’ And then I put up a thing that’s called, like, you know, I don’t know … Titty Fuck Bang Bang. And you’re like, “What the F… What the HELL?! All right, you know what, we don’t like you.” And I’m like “Awwww! Why did I have to —” Not that I want to be totally —


P: Everything to everybody.


M: Yeah, I don’t want to be sanitized, but at the same time I still want to … put it this way, actually: I really envy people like Louie or Patton, or Bill Hicks. People that kind of have a green light to say what’s on their mind. ‘Cause a lot of times I feel like I’m never going to say what’s on my mind.


P: What do you think would happen if you said what you wanted? Obviously it sounds like you were afraid that there would be people that would not like you because of that, but let’s go one step further. Let’s assume those people don’t like you? Then what happens? ‘Cause a lot of times, when I pull the thread on what my fear is, if I pull it long enough, I eventually find what the real fear is, underneath it. And a lot of times, the fear that somebody’s not going to like me is then the fear that I’m not going to be successful, or that I’m going to be alone. And then that it’s I’m going to be homeless, and then I’m going to be hungry, then I’m going to die. You know what I mean? If I just keep pulling it and —


M: Right, right. I mean, mine probably goes to, like, I’d get beat up, my family’s in danger, I get — I mean, really, the being hated part is almost bad enough. Like I wouldn’t want to read hate mail, or get publicly hated, or privately hated, whatever it is. I’m sure some of it just goes back to getting beat up. I never got in a fight. I somehow … got by … I just knocked on wood, for those who heard that little tap. I really don’t want to get beat up. I’m not equipped for that really. When I was a little kid, my little brother was getting picked on by these two kids, and one of them claimed to be a black belt. I feel like there was a lot of black belting going on, like ‘what level black belt are you?’ And you know, a 7-year-old is like, “I’m a second degree.” Really?


P: Where were you raised?


M: That was in San Luis Obispo. So my little brother, getting picked on by these two guys — two guys being, like, 11 and 13. Of course, he’s looking at me like, big brother. Aren’t you going to take care of these guys?


P: How old are you?


M: I was probably 11 or 12.


P: Oh, so these guys were older than you?


M: Well, actually I don’t even know. They might have been. We were all probably roughly — I was probably the same age as the — he kind of actually — and I don’t know how much of this is in my head, or how much of this he really did look — but he kind of looked like the guy from Karate Kid, like the blonde guy?


P: Billy Zabka, or whatever his name was?


M: Yeah, he kind of had that same like, ‘oh, you’re tough—’


P: Perfectly parted feathered blonde hair...


M: Yeah, exactly. And like sleeves cut off. And I was like, ‘uh-oh, I know what you’re about.’


P: And like the hateful good-looking. Isn’t it funny, there’s like an all-American good looking, like a John Davidson, that you’re like, ‘yeah, he’s genetically good-looking, but he’s the good-looking you want to punch in the face. That’s what I loved about the South Park one they did with the puppets [Team America?] those reminded me of the variety show hosts from the 70’s. That were All-American good-looking that you just kind of wanted to punch in the face.


M: At the same time, I feel like, if that guy was on my side, he’d be MVP. ‘Oh, dude! This is great!’


P: So what happened?


M: So I just — I think I did the old, ‘look,’ — I stood up to him for a second, then I just grabbed my brother’s arm and just ran as fast as we could. And just ran away. But I went home and I cried for like, I don’t know how long. I just holed away and cried ‘cause I felt like such a … douche.


P: Felt like you let your brother down.


M: Yeah, here I am, big brother, and I just completely crumbled. And later I’ve talked about that with my wife or friends, most people will say, ‘Well, you got him out. He didn’t get beat up. You got out of there.’ But it still just doesn’t feel good. It still feels to this day, like, ahhhh —


P: What do you think was more painful, the fact that you felt like you looked like a pussy to those guys?


M: To my brother.


P: Or that you let your brother down?


M: To my brother.


P: So you felt like you disappointed him more than you disappointed yourself.


M: Yeah.


P: Okay. So let’s talk about your mom for a little bit. And you mentioned your wife. By the way, Mike is married to a super-talented, nice woman by the name of Donna … did she take your…?


M: Donna Phirman. She did.


P: She used to be known as Donna Feinglass. A terrific voice-over artist, she’s the voice of Word Girl, among other things, and a very funny comedian.


M: A funny improv actor.


P: So let’s talk about your mom for a little bit, ‘cause it sounds to me — and I don’t want to try and sound like I’m diagnosing things — I am certainly not an expert on mental health. The fun of this show for me is just seeking answers. I don’t claim to know anything, but it’s fun for me to talk about feelings and stuff like that, ‘cause I didn’t for most of my life. And when you find people that do, there’s something really cathartic...


M: It’s Socratic. Like there’s no room for bullshit, kind of…


P: Yes. And ultimately I think that’s what we try to do in our comedy, is we’re seeking the truth on some level. Ultimately I think that’s what comedy really is, is unspoken impolite truths, presented in a socially acceptable way.


M: Actually I just saw, two nights ago, the Bill Hicks…


P: Is it good?


M: It’s amazing. It’s great. Because he’s great. I’ve always liked him anyways, but seeing that, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ But of course, I think, I don’t know how many comedians would come away from that and feel about their own material as they did before — oh, is that a phone?


P: Yeah, I think that’s your phone.


M: That’s my own personal geiger counter.


P: Just toss it on the bed over there and we won’t get any more feedback from it.


M: But I came away from that like, ‘oh. I’m a hack.’ ‘Cause that’s like real - exactly what it is, it’s truth to power and I really don’t do that. I don’t do that at all and that looks important.


P: I go through that too. But what you forget, a guy like Bill Hicks, is how many nights he had to endure being hated by people. You have to almost get off on that. He would walk entire rooms of people. And I think you have the constitution for that or you don’t. At a certain point in my life, I realized I don’t have the constitution for that. While I’d love to be beloved by people, and there’s a price you have to pay, you have to go to the gym to become that type of person. Not literally, ‘go to the gym,’ but there is a workout that is involved. In tolerating confrontation...


M: And to be naturally good at it, to some degree. Like I shut down immediately. I get very clammy.


P: And that’s not who you are. That’s not who your personality is. But let’s go back to talking about your mom. The point I was going to make is, if you’ve been married eight times, that says to me that you are creating an image of somebody that, then when you find out what the real person is, you’re disappointed by it. That to me sounds like one of the hallmarks of sex and love addiction. I’m paraphrasing, but, you assign magical qualities to other people, then when you get to know them, you’re basically disappointed that they don’t live up to this magical image that you have of them. You’re disappointed and you kind of berate them into becoming who you think your fantasy of them is. Because it’s all created in your head.


M: Or you resent them for not being that when you realize that there is no chance, then you just leave.


P: Yes. You just leave. So am I fair in saying that that might be how your mom is? How could she not be?


M: I think to some degree. I think it definitely was a part of it in there. But I think somewhere in the middle of all of it, it might have gotten into other areas that aren’t necessarily — even trying anymore, kind of things. I don’t know. I don’t addiction that well, to say people are just like, ‘well, screw it, I’m just going to drink.’


P: Is there a history of addiction in your family?


M: No, not that I know of. I mean, my grandfather, but he’s Mad Men era.


P: Sure, everybody...


M: Nothing, nothing — I’m probably the heaviest drinker, and I don’t even drink anymore. But yeah, I think all of our family, at some point, stops. And just kind of like, ‘Well, all right. That was college.’


P: When you quit drinking or doing drugs, was it a conscious decision that this is something that’s getting in the way of my life, or was it more just, ‘I think it’s time,’...


M: Well, I think the point at which I stopped drinking heavily was, Hardwick stopped drinking. And he stopped drinking because he was really drinking. Heavy, heavy, heavy drinker, and knew that it was getting in the way of what he wanted … I actually had one time where I told him that, that I said, I think  — it was really tough to say — “I think you’ve really might have to..”


P: That must have been brutal for you.


M: Well, here’s the thing. It wasn’t that brutal because I was on ecstasy!


P: [laughs]


M: ‘Cause I couldn’t do it without, like — I just had this like, ‘It’s okay, I can say everything!’ So I said that and he was like, “You’re on drugs right now.” And I was like, “I know, but the point is… I would hope you’d tell me if the drugs were getting …”


P: That’s so funny. That should be an episode of a new reality show called Ironic Intervention


M: [laughs] Right.


P: People have to get fucked up on drugs …


M: … to intervene …


P: … to intervene, because they’re all people-pleasers.


M: That’s really funny. Yeah, oh my God.


P: So, it would seem that if your mom has been married that many times… You get to know husband number three, then he leaves. You get to know husband number four, he leaves. At a certain point, just to protect yourself, aren’t you going to put a little of a wall up, not get to know people?


M: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I’m always — I say, ‘I’m always’ like it keeps going, but I don’t know where I was going to go from here — but, the last few, of course, you take them with like — ‘Oh, you’re a nice person. Nice to meet you.’ I’m not going to call you dad. I remember the last time I thought, ‘this person is family, family, family … and they’re not going anywhere.’ ...was the one after my dad. At that point I started like, ‘Hmmm, hang on a second, he seems to be disposable.’ So by the last one, you’re like, I want her to be happy of course, I mean we all do, and she doesn’t... And for the time as long as she’s happy, great, cool!


P: Is she currently married?


M: Currently … getting divorced. Shit, I really hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, or if it will get back, but anyway…


P: Let’s switch gears here for a second, on the website I have a survey that people take. I thought it would be fun to have some of the people I interview take the survey. Obviously we know you are a male, and how old are you, Mike?


M: I am 37.


P: What best describes your drug or alcohol intake … antidepressants wouldn’t count as drugs. Never touched either, rarely touched either, trying to give it up, been sober for more than 1 year from all of it, ingest quite a bit, or I know I have a problem.


M: I guess, probably… what was the one that was like, ‘rarely...’?


P: Rarely touch either.


M: Yeah, rarely touch either. Cause even though I don’t — I mean, I have a beer with dinner, I’ll still drink a beer. Like last week I had two beers, went out and had some Guinness, like I’ll still social drink…


P: Like a normal person!


M: But for the most part, I don’t drink before shows, usually it’s like literally to have some liquid. But I think giving it up because it gets in the way — I feel like I don’t have time to be fucked up


P: Yeah. You know what’s funny, I didn’t drink before shows, and I’m an alcoholic. Not saying that you are, but there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand. Alchoholism and addiction - you don’t have to be a drunk in the alley, it’s just, is it interfering with your life and you still do it anyway, that’s usually the question you need to ask yourself. I mean I didn’t even drink when I golfed, and I thought, ‘how could I possibly be an alcoholic?’ But when the time came for me to quit, because of my depression, I couldn’t quit. If you can’t quit —


M: Right. I know I’ve definitely thought about it, like in my head, like turned to it. I’d be really nervous before a show or something and thought, ‘oh, I’ll have a martini, that’ll be fun,’ so in my head, yeah I guess I’m an alcoholic, then. Cause at some point, I think of it as some kind of


P: Yeah, I don’t think that —


M: — refuge, or something like that —


P: Yeah, but I don’t think that —


M: But it’s one of those, like I’ve heard that if you ever do that —


P: No, that’s bullshit —


M: — like if you ever have a drink a year, you could be, well then, oh, okay by your definition I guess I am, and I’m not denying it, so boom. Well, wait, now I’m not.


P: Ultimately, the person is the only one that can say whether they’re an alcoholic.


M: And that’s kind of the weird thing, is that actually there are enough positive aspects of it. I’m not a, like, ‘alcohol’s just bad!’ I mean, there are great things about it, and I love it, if you can do a little bit at a time, great. Go for it. I kind of feel the same way about pot. I think there are enough things about it, I don’t think it’s bad. I definitely don’t think it should be criminalized and demonized and all that crap. I think that’s nonsense. For me, I personally connect with music really well. And I love music anyway, and it’s obviously a large part of the pie. But I’ve come up with a lot of little bits of music in my head that are now songs because I smoked, and then ten minutes later I was like, “I just have something in my head, I’m gonna go record that right now.” So there are enough benefits to where I feel like, well probably I’m a little too reliant on it. I feel like I kind of — if I’m ever at a total standstill and I have no ideas it does come into my head, “well, you could always smoke. You might come up with something. It’s better than nothing.” I don’t know. But I don’t want that to be the lesson for my kid or something.


P: I don’t know. I don’t see that as being a big problem. But what the fuck do I know?


M: That said, I don’t go into my room in to, like, write a song in the morning and smoke pot, I just don’t, if you do, great, that’s cool, but usually I think, if I’m gonna smoke, I’m just gonna have a recorder with me because something might pop out.


P: So, I think I know the answer to this next question. What best describes the environment you were raised in? Well, obviously not stable & safe; little dysfunctional / pretty dysfunctional / totally chaotic? I know you want to say, “A little dysfunctional.” But I’m gonna say, “Pretty dysfunctional.”


M: Pretty dysfunctional, I’m sure.


P: Let me say it for you, people pleaser.


M: The thing is that there was always love, though. It was never like, I don’t feel like anybody was ever in danger, but it was not like ...


P: But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be malicious for something to have been uhealthy. It’s almost like our coping skills as children become this wall that keeps part of us from ever growing, ‘cause we hide behind it because it’s safe. It’s safe to do that, and I’ve always been kind of interested in the relationship between that, the fears and the anxiety, and creativity. Can you talk about that a little bit? Have you ever been conscious of, ‘this part of my life is really uncomfortable, I’m going to turn this into art?’ Or this negative thing. ‘Cause I know a lot of comedians, myself included, something really pisses me off, I’ll write a joke about it, and it’s almost like it’s cathartic for me.


M: That’s great. I kind of wish I could do that, and I don’t think I can.


P: You think who you’d like to please, and then you go write something for them?


M: Right. Or I just think of something that’s just lighthearted, and just like, I don’t know… I don’t do well with …


P: That sounds really pure and beautiful to me though, you know?


M: But I think the down side of it is — and I definitely feel good about that side of it — there is plenty of stuff that is bad, and if I can make things that are just fun, cool — but, you know…


P: That’s what I admired about a lot of Mike Myers’s movies, is that he didn’t shit on anyone. There wasn’t the negativity to it, there was kind of a childlike quality to it, that I remember looking at it and thinking, “I’m such a bad person, why do I have to shit on someone to get a laugh?”


M: Right. Which I definitely, yeah. I definitely try to do that to stay like — there’s funny stuff that’s just funny ‘cause it’s funny not because you’re — not to mention, the downside is, I feel like if I do that, I’m going to be proven wrong. And once I get proven wrong, I don’t know. Then it’s all lost. That thing is all a waste, I’m less of a person. I can’t — that’s why I feel like …


P: Was it a big deal to be wrong in your household, growing up?


M: I guess so, ‘cause I feel like …


P: Any memories kind of pop to mind?


M: Nothing that stands out as like …


P: But just a general feeling that ...


M: I think there’s a lot of comparing myself to other things. So, even if I can’t think of a time when it was like “You’re WRONG!” — again, it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t like that. But I think there was a lot of being compared and feeling like, ‘oh, that’s the right one over there.’ Just like when I watch Bill Hicks I can’t just enjoy ti and just be like, wow, what a great dude, I’m inspired, I’m going to go out and do something. I’ll be like, nope, I’m less than that. Shit.


P: Marc Maron has a really funny joke, he said “I read Keith Richards biography, and what I took out of it was that I wasn’t in the Rolling Stones.”


M: [laughs]


P: And I laughed so hard, ‘cause it’s like — yeah, you know, narcissists, which I think most comedians are to some degree, we have to filter everything through our needs. But getting back to the attention. There wasn’t as much attention as there should be. Cause it sounds to me like your mom was a little wrapped up in herself.


M: I don’t know, I feel like she was very attentive. I want to say she was very focused on us, and there was always, with us in mind. And I also think I kind of, I developed interests that were very … isolated? I mean, I got into drawing, I got really into music. So it was things like, you could leave me alone for seven hours and I’m fine.


P: You don’t remember feeling starved for attention as a child?


M: Not from my mom, maybe from my dad, but not necessarily attention. Time-wise, although he worked a lot, he was a doctor.


P: I don’t know many guys from my generation who got enough attention.


M: Like connected.


P: Yeah, connected with their dad. I just don’t think that was something that they did. And I don’t think that we knew how to ask them for it. I just kind of assumed — there was this subliminal message that my dad’s not really interested in me, I must not be interesting. Do you think that…?


M: Probably. Yeah, like the things I do are not the right things, that I should — that my interests should have been more … [chuckling] interesting.


P: Do you think the ‘afraid of being wrong,’ and the need to be right kind of feeds into that, I need to present the best case possible, so that people will be interested and like me…?


M: That makes sense. It’s funny, ‘cause now that you say this, my logic brain is like, ‘so why didn’t you do those things that you knew would be, service-oriented, or something that’s not disposable. Like, that is a real thing, why don’t you go do that? I think it’s ‘cause you also have your skill set and you have things you are naturally good at and you get encouraged to do, and then you do those things.


P: Do you feel like you can be honest about your desire as a child, and today, to be famous?


M: Yeah. I think so.


P: Could you talk about that?


M: I wouldn’t want to be the kind of famous where you’re accosted all the time. Like, I like …


P: Being able to mingle.


M: Yeah, I like being able to walk down the street. And I don’t think I’m in any — I don’t think that’s a threat. But, that said, I’ve always thought the coolest kind of fame would be somebody like John Hughes, somebody like that, who’s … revered …


P: Dead.


M: … loved, and DEAD. [laughs] No, but somebody who could be sitting in the room, we’re all sitting around talking, and like two hours later, we’re like ‘oh, by the way did you know he directed Sixteen Candles?’ and you’re like, ‘wait, you’re John Hughes?! And like that kind of thing, if by choice, now you can know that what I do is awesome.


P: That’s funny, I’ve always felt the same way, I always thought a famous author would be the best. Because then you can just bring it out when you want to, so fame is almost like ...


M: ...like a superpower.


P: ...like an American Express card. Oh, really? BAM. Pop that down, suck on that, motherfucker. Yeah. Maybe go back and you cook that steak how I said the first time! Kidding, obviously.


M: I think I’ve never really cared to have the world like, ‘Oh my God! Mr. Phirman! Mr. Phirman! Oh my God!” like, “Thanks for coming to us Mr. Phirman, oh my gosh, could you sign …”


P: I think that would kill a people pleaser, by the way.


M: I think so. That’s where I start to think, okay, I’m a little afraid of success to some degree. I think I always kind of have been. But I definitely … I don’t know, I just like being one of the people. That’s one thing too about it … that it’s hard to sometimes be a comic and be at shows and stuff, because really, I’m probably a lot more of a fan than I feel comfortable admitting or being. Because a lot of it, when feel like I think I should be thinking of the joke or the thing, I’m just like, ‘heh heh heh, this is great, I can’t believe this.’


P: That’s awesome though Mike, because I think one of the biggest drawbacks to being a comedian is who makes us laugh. It’s so rare that I heartily laugh at something that I can completely lose myself, stop filtering something through my narcissism. That to me shows you are a pretty healthy guy, that you can be normal in certain situations, be entertained by other people without making it about you. So that’s great.


M: That’s cool.


P: But it’s also horrible that you beat yourself up for that. So you wind up … being fucked. I start to compliment you and then I slap you.


M: And then I’m wroooong! Ahhhhh!


P: The one thing — the little sliver of fame that I have experienced made me realize that all fame really does… it doesn’t necessarily make you more beloved, it just gives you more of people’s opinions of you. Because you always think it’s going to be some gorgeous blond in the airport who’s going to say, “Oh, my God. You are brilliant.” And


M: And 13 year old Paul is going to be like, “Finally got it!”


P: Yes, yes, and she’s going to be succinct and polite, and you’re just going to wheel and go on your way feeling better about yourself. And in reality, it’s some guy with horrible breath pinning you in the corner after the show, telling you a racist knock-knock joke. That is, unfortunately, the bulk of the little bit of fame that I’ve experienced. But I always thought fame is going to fix me. Uh-uh.


M: I also feel like no matter what … these days, who knows, you could make a tweet that gets huge, gets somebody’s attention and boom… anything can hit. You make the right jokes, you do the right shows, and anything can hit, boom, you get a show. But, I also, it’s the reason I never did coke. I never did cocaine. I did ecstasy, I did a little bit of mushrooms, I did some pot. But I never did coke and I never did acid, because I was afraid I’d like them a lot. I know that mushrooms and ecstasy and those, I knew what they were. They were what they were, and eh, it was good. I did mushrooms one time and it really did, profoundly from that day forward, like there was no, like, “I can’t really remember what happened yesterday.” Like, I remember right now what happened. It totally changed my perspective on everything. On life and, on ever. But I was afraid that those ones would actually take over, and those ones would be like now I need this. And the other ones, I’d be, like, no it gave me something, I’ve come away with something. But those ones it gave me a need, so I’m like, ‘ehhh...’, or acid it would just make me crazy. That’s kind of the way I feel, like fame, I’d almost be afraid to have that kind of attention and that kind of like, “Oh, my God! It’s you!” because, one, we watch people get torn down. I mean we all do it, that’s half of entertainment is watching people get torn down. And I don’t want that. I’d rather just be… I’m who I am when we meet and we hang out and hopefully you get that I’m a good guy and I can hopefully do this enough to support my family and everything, and beyond that I don’t really want the day to come when people are like, ‘You aren’t as good as you were.’ Now we have to hate you publicly. Now you’re a punch line. Really? All I did was stop doing the things you liked. I’m still trying things. Maybe that’s a fear of success or fame. I don’t want to disappoint, and fame is like a huge setup to a disappointment to me.


P: The other thing about fame … people are always puzzled when they think, ‘How could that famous person be lonely?’ I think what they don’t understand is, when you grow up with this intense desire to separate yourself from the pack, to be special, to be recognized and singled out, you don’t then get to choose when you feel a part of. That pursuit in and of itself makes you lonely, by wanting to be better than other people. I think ultimately, if you are cool with being one of many and just care about the craft of what you do, if fame happens to come I think you’ll be much more able to deal with it. But if you’re constantly thinking, “I have to be the guy on the pedestal above everybody,” you’re gonna be lonely because you won’t be able to immediately feel a part of your fellow man when you feel like it. You’ve set up this island that you live on. That unfortunately didn’t occur to me until I was in my 40’s, and I realized how sick it was for me to hold on to this fantasy that I would become more famous.


M: And the sad thing is, there’s still a lure to it, as much as I say I wouldn’t want that I still look to people that are famous and be: “Wow, that looks cool.” I’m watching the glamorous part.


P: You’re not seeing them read webpage after webpage of people talking about what a piece of shit they are and spreading lies about them. Imagine how much that would … there’s something nice about not being important enough for anybody to lie about. That’s a little gift that a lot of people don’t realize. I’m glad that I’ve never gotten to the point where I was ever important enough for anybody to gossip about. Let’s continue, we’ve got a little bit of time left. I want to ask you a couple more questions. So we decided ‘pretty dysfunctional’ for living at your house?

Or ‘a little dysfunctional?’ Maybe somewhere in between.


M: I’d say it was pleasantly dysfunctional. Because it was never, like, tormented…


P: Oh, my God, that’s such a fucking people-pleaser answer. “Pleasantly dysfunctional!” Wow. That was a delicious fece you put on my plate, can I have some more? Have you ever been in therapy, more than 20 sessions?


M: Yes.


P: Describe the most common negative thoughts that you have.


M: They evolve, of course. Now I have a baby, so my best stuff is behind me. I’ve made the most money I’m going to make, I’ve made the most creative interesting things I’ve ever made, and that’s basically it. It’s all downhill. So I assume, even if I make a joke — this is where it’s pathetic, because I’m very needy in that way, and I wish I wasn’t — like if something gets retweeted like it’s stupid but 20 times… 20 people. All it takes is 20 people to retweet a dumb joke, and I feel like…


P: I’m still in.


M: I can still make funny things. So I’m constantly step by step by step, and it’s exhausting. I wish I really didn’t care, but if I didn’t care, why would I put the joke out? I’d just laugh to myself and go ‘huh, that’s funny. Moving on.’ But like I actually care enough to stop, write it, word it the right way…


P: To me the sad thing about Facebook and Twitter, is now we’ve expanded the need to be digitally validated.


M: And without break. There’s no start to the show and end to the show, and then you go home and evaluate, and write and improve things. It’s thought by thought now, and it’s like, oh my God. Like right now. If I could think of something funny right now, I could go write it down, and then I’ll have some more people, but I can’t think of something right now so I’m a failure. I’m a failure until I can think of something good. That’s crazy. I know, I feel kind of alone in that respect. I’m sure there are people that don’t feel like that …


P: Which makes me think, boy, how in danger is this generation of children being raised right now, of having parents that aren’t present? Our dads just had The Wide World of Sports to distract them on Saturday, but kids nowadays their dads have their Facebook page, their Twitter, internet porn, all that stuff to distract them. So I think if you’re going to be a good parent today, I think you’ve got to really take a close look at ‘Do I need to be out searching for some type of validation, or am I enough?’ We’re talking about negative thoughts, the greatest hits to me of negative thoughts are: I don’t do enough, I don’t have enough, I’m not enough, and I don’t matter. Those are the four that… can you relate to any of those and can you talk about them?


M: I think the - ‘I don’t matter,’ I feel satisfied by, I feel like I matter to people on a personal level, especially my wife and kid, of course. I feel like I definitely make a.. interpersonal influence. So that part feels like ‘I’m alive, I’m here.’ But the ‘I’m not enough’ and ‘I don’t do enough,’ … I don’t remember the fourth one?


P: I don’t have enough.


M: I don’t have enough. Those, definitely. Yeah, sure. And that’s kind of why…


P: And yet you have a house, a wife, a child, a career…


M: Yeah.


P: Friends.


M: Yeah, nothing...


P: Your health.


M: ...but nothing steady.


P: And your health.


M: Yeah.


P: But your mortgage is getting paid?


M: Right now.


P: Yeah.


M: But there’s … that’s so…


P: But right now. That’s all that matters, is right now. Isn’t life just a series of right nows?


M: Yeah. It is. But it’s one of those things where you … if I sell a theme song to … The Simpsons, well, now I can relax. Cause now ‘right now’ is pretty much guaranteed to be … forever. Now I’m pretty much gonna get a check every week.


P: But how many people get to experience that?


M: Right. Yeah, not many.


P: Maybe .001 percent of the people in show business. But we hold onto that. And by the way, I’m not judging you, I’m exactly like you. I’m just playing devil’s advocate.


M: Sure, that’s the process. That’s the Socratic process. Yeah, so I feel like that part of it, that’s what kind of feeds the whole … I don’t even know if I really … of course I want people to laugh at jokes and Twitter and Facebook gags and whatever, you know, dumb little jokes. But there’s a part of it that’s just like … that’s the part that, if something’s funny, and it’s encouraging, then I know I can still do this as a living. If I had some other … you know, if I sold a show, or I had some other thing, like a show that began and ended and then I go home or whatever. I don’t think I’d be as worried about, “Oh, is that a funny joke? Oh, it doesn’t matter. My movie’s doing well. My show is … “ Or I have a book. Things like that. But when there’s not that other stuff… And that said, I still do shows and get to feel good about ‘The audience liked that song. Great.’ But it’s still… that’s the ‘I’m not enough.’ That’s the, ‘It didn’t make a ton of money, I’m still kind of like, ‘Oh, crap. What’s next?’’’ But that’s all that entertainment is.


P: And I believe the nature of the human mind is, it will then shift to whatever you don’t have, and it will obsess about that...


M: Right, and comparing it to other people that do.


P: I think Howard Hughes and Michael Jackon are complete perfect examples of that. They went mad because they got all the stuff that society tells them will make them happy, and then you start obsessing about germs or little kids, or … obviously pedophilia is a lot deeper than just, um… that doesn’t come because you’re famous and you’re bored. That’s not what I’m talking about. But his… whatever extravagances… a couple more questions. Describe any behaviors you wish you didn’t engage in but you do anyway. I know, that might be a little of a tough one, to put you on the spot...


M: Oh, no. Well number one, probably Angry Birds.


P: Fuckin’, I hate that.


M: I had to delete that game.


P: Also, there’s one level that’s impossible to get three stars on. Impossible. At least on a hand-held iPhone.


M: You meant Cut the Rope, or Angry Birds?


P: Angry Birds. It’s the one with the bubbles. It’s a V-shaped thing of bubbles. And I must have done it four hundred times, completely ignoring my dogs and my wife and my career.


M: Yeah. I caught myself at one point, in the middle of the day, had a babysitter there… and this is work time. You know, you have the babysitter come, that’s work. It’s golden time where you’re paying somebody to take care of the baby so that you both can work. And I caught myself like spending fifteen minutes playing Angry Birds behind a closed door, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. This is ridiculous.’ This is time that I absolutely need to be going out to my studio and worrying about writing music. So that. And the Twitter / Facebook nonsense. And I guess I get a little obsessed about some details, like my mailing list and my da-da-da-da-da… all these little things that, it’s like, that’s not the material. I can do so much stuff, get everything in order, and then, I’d have to have not written a new song. That part is really difficult.


P: Right. What would you, scale of one to ten, what would you rate your typical bad mood? One being attempted suicide, ten being at peace with the universe and yourself.


M: My typical bad mood? Like when I’m in a real bad mood?


P: Yeah.


M: I’d probably get down to … when I was younger I’d have suicidal thoughts and stuff, but I would not  … that’s nowhere near me anymore now. At least right now. Probably like four. I get to despair, like feeling pretty…


P: The description I have for number four is: very depressed, don’t see how you’ll ever get better, just want to isolate.


M: Uhmmm…


P: Or is it five: depressed, want to get better but can’t seem to find a way to do it.


M: Okay, it’s five.


P: All right, five. And by the way, this is a survey that I made up and it’s obviously not scientific, but it gives me something to talk about, and look at in my free time…


M: Sure. It’s a great idea.


P: ...and not play Angry Birds.


M: Angry People.


P: Your typical good mood on a scale from one to ten, where would you put it?


M: Oh, ten. And I think I’m mostly, usually, if one of my very specific little buttons hasn’t fired, then I’m usually … the world makes sense. And as awful as that is… at peace with it.


P: Let me read you nine and ten and then you can tell me whether or not you think its nine or… cause it might be nine it might not be ten. Nine, I have: excited about life, able to accept almost everything life brings. And ten is: enthusiasm about life, peaceful, purposeful, at one with the universe.


M: Mmmm.


P: Still ten?


M: I think so, like nine and a half…


P: Awesome, awesome. And then your most common mood. What number do you think would rate that at?


M: Probably, most commonly probably eight. Eight or nine.


P: Eight? Eight is: feel great most of the time, able to accept much of what life brings.


M: Yeah, at least eight or nine. Cause I’m usually pretty focused on how appreciative I am on … that’s the thing too … coming with the feeling of, ‘things are fleeting’ and everything, is the ‘enjoy it while you can.’ So I think I’ve got a pretty good ‘count my blessings at all times,’ unless something is like a specific little button that gets triggered. My default is to appreciate everything and be like, ‘But come on how great is this, look it’s a beautiful day out.’ ‘We got great food here,’ that kind of thing, where I’m pretty much trying to soak in everything and enjoy all the details.


P: What best describes your spiritual life? Nonexistent, a little, average, a lot, or full.


M: Ummmm - Spiritual Liiiiiiife, probably five I guess, for this…


P: I don’t have numbers for this one.


M: No but I do.


P: [laughs]. So average? Do you believe?


M: No I think I feel pretty relaxed about my place in … relaxed in the universe’s place in the greater universe, you know what I mean?


P: So you don’t believe that the universe is just chaos, that there’s maybe some type of …


M: No, I kind of do…


P: ...underlying structure to it?


M: No, I think I kind of feel like it’s chaos. Like it’s neutral.


P: Do you believe in positive or negative energy? That people feed on it or generate it?


M: Yeah, for sure.


P: Well to me, then, that makes the case that there isn’t chaos. That we do have some control over our destiny by what we connect to, and the energy that we …


M: I guess it’s the scales. On the small scale, definitely. Absolutely. On the bigger scale of …


P: We’re rowing a boat but we’re in the middle of 30 foot waves.


M: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. The earth’s gonna get burned up and… who knows, tomorrow there could be the virus. So it’s not like if we all band together and be happy it’ll all be fine. No it won’t. That’s okay. I don’t want that to happen. Mainly because of my wife and kids. But also all the wives and kids. I really don’t want that to happen. I don’t know. That’s why I could never adhere to any religion, or totally bought into them. Except for I used to think I was Taoist. Only because — I’m not Taoist because I don’t think I’m an ‘ist’, I don’t think I’ve really learned it. But that was the only one that was, ‘that’s so profound and poetic and vague,’ that I can’t argue with it. Everything is at least, ‘yeah, I guess everything is what you just said - I have no idea what you just said.’ But at least you didn’t put a name on it. My faith side is very crippled when it gets to naming things. Like, ‘that’s the planet where so-and-so came down from and he was named this and he had eight people,’ ehhh…


P: And to me, that’s religion. That’s not spirituality. That’s forcing your idea of what something is on other people.


M: Which, if it makes you feel better… I’ve …


P: More power to you but a lot of those people try to force it down our throats. And I’m probably guilty of doing that sometimes too because I do believe that there’s something out there. I’m not really comfortable always calling it God because it carries so much connotation with it, but I believe that the seeking of some higher purpose is really important because it gets us out of ourselves and we feel good. The way to self esteem is through, I believe, esteemable acts, as it’s been said before by people a lot smarter than me. The pursuit of that, something other than just my own pleasure, I believe creates pathways in the universe that then unlock this life that we want. Not in the shape that we predicted it or want it in, but it’s a beautiful package in wrapping paper that we probably hate.


M: That’s kind of the thing, of the spirituality thing to me, it’s you just want to feel connected. And the thing that I can point directly to that I would feel connected to, funny enough, it’s Earth Day. But I really do. If I was to go any hard and tangible, ‘this is what it’s called,’ well at least I know I’m on a big ass rock that’s alive and I’m a piece of that some way, however small. I’m a cell in this big thing which I think of a giant living thing as kind of a God. Kind of. As much as if you piss it off it will be vengeful to you. So in that respect, I’d be more toward Sun worship than — but even then, the Sun is subject to all we were just saying. It can get wiped out.


P: Two more quick questions and then we’ve gotta go. Do you currently take any medication for mental illness?


M: No. I do not.


P: Do you share your feelings with anyone on a regular basis?


M: Yeah, I think so.


P: Some of the answers are: Yes and it helps greatly, yes but I don’t know if it helps.


M: Yes and it usually helps.


P: Great. And what describes the healthiness of your diet: Terrible, not good, good, or excellent?


M: While in Portland?


P: [laughs] Yeah. Not to good? It’s so hard to eat healthy on the road.


M: Can we say that’s on a scale from voodoo to ten? Yeah, it’s hard to eat healthy on the road. And I’m constantly thinking I should, going back to what you said if there are any behaviors, I probably should eat better. I usually don’t.  I do it on kind of a reward system, I eat well for a long time, for days and days, then I just go insane. I go oh, I just bought myself this — then I just eat a ton of donuts.


P: I believe that that’s deserved. You’ve earned it. But I want to thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you’d like to plug before we say goodbye.


M: You can go to mikephirman.com. Then I’ll have my mailing list. I’ve been crazy about like I said too much so but I feel like my mailing list is now like, oh my God, why wasn’t I doing this before? That’s the way to actually contact people. They put their address in, I can tell them I’m coming. So that’s probably it.


P: And I highly recommend the CD, Horses and Grasses from Hard and Phirm. I especially enjoy the song you guys do, a cover of a Radiohead song and you do it in uptempo country style and call it Rodeohead. It’s just a great sample of the creative stuff you bring.


M: Thanks Paul.


P: I appreciate you as a friend…


M: Thanks, man, you too.


P: ...and I appreciate you as an artist, and thanks so much for coming and saying hello and opening up.