While it’s hardly a guaranteed ticket to stardom, opening for a popular headlining act is a sweet gig: You get the same exposure, most of the perks, and a bigger cut of the door than you’d ever get on your own, and audience expectations are so low, there’s nowhere to go but up. Of course, not everyone knows how to behave as an opening act, which is why The A.V. Club asked comedian Eugene Mirman—who will be warming up crowds before Flight Of The Conchords on their current tour—how to make the most of reflected glory.
Hanging out backstage
Eugene Mirman: We have five different dressing rooms, and a place where we make people wait that we never plan on talking to. There’s a room for beer, and then another room with the glasses for the beer. It’s a real pain. There’s one room that’s antipasti, and another one for salad—which they unnecessarily distinguish. They put the hot stuff in one room, cold stuff in another. Imagine, like, a Papa Gino’s buffet spread throughout a castle, with really dim office lighting. And then there’s the fuck-room.
The A.V. Club: What goes on in the fuck-room?
EM: Piles of fucking. It’s basically just a lot of beanbag chairs with people fucking on them. It’s very uncomfortable. As the opening act, I have to help put it together.
AVC: When trashing dressing rooms, do you start with the headliner’s?
EM: Actually, usually the only thing in your dressing room is a sad, crappy couch, so it would just be depressing to make it even more crappy.
Taking advantage of the rider
EM: I have my own rider, but it’s easier to get it done if you put it on the headlining band’s. So that’s where I put the roller-skate shoes, crossbows, the saffron. I travel with my own wok, so I need lots of spices and oils. I always need fresh wasabi root. I have seafood flown in. The expensive stuff always goes on their rider when they’re not looking. Nobody’s going to get mad at Flight Of The Conchords for having $2,500 worth of saffron delivered.
EM: Here’s a trick I learned long ago: Write your phone number in mirror-writing on their breasts while they’re distracted—say, by the chaos of fame—so when they go home and they’re washing their breasts in the sink, they’ll look up and go, “Holy shit, I have Eugene’s number.” This is also how I find love.
AVC: Do you find that being an opening act makes you second-tier to groupies?
EM: No, people want a piece of whatever they can get. But you also don’t want a lunatic, which is why I communicate by writing a message that can only be deduced in a mirror.
Warming up the audience
EM: It’s important to prepare them for the worst in life. People come to forget their problems, and it’s my job, right before I leave, to go, “Don’t forget: You’re going through a divorce and there’s a recession.” It’s always good to end on a pensive note.
During the headliner
EM: I’m usually off building stuff, cooking things, making to-do lists. It’s my quiet time to reflect. Otherwise, it’s just mayhem back there. All that free spaghetti.
AVC: When is the right time to run back onstage for an impromptu duet?
EM: Unfortunately, I don’t really sing, so the best I could do would be to run back out and light my arm on fire. The perfect time to do that would be right after the last encore. I like the idea of people milling about trying to leave, and then they see a man running back onstage screaming, with his arm on fire. That’s how you create an Internet hubbub. The blogosphere erupts, Facebook unfurls its claws, and people say, “Man, we should have stayed.”
AVC: Do you look at being an opener as a game of one-upmanship?
EM: I think of it more as a concerto, even though I don’t know what a concerto sounds like. It has movements, right? It’s like a delicious play, one that can be truly savored. I’m the soup and they’re the lamb’s leg. You can’t just go right to the lamb. You’d be like, “Whoa, this definitely needs some soup.” Lighting my arm on fire, that’s the crème brûlée. Basically, I’m a sorbet that you can’t get out of your head.