Eugene Mirman's reputation precedes him: he's loved on Flight of the Conchords, and is a staple of the NYC comedy scene. As a comedian, his job is to make the audience laugh, yet in his first book, The Will to Whatevs, his writing chops don't match his funny-guy renown.
Using the self-help format, Mirman faux-navigates the reader through life's milestones, weaving in facetious takes on the be-master-of-your-own-fate genre. The book cops heavily from John Hodgman (down to the charts and nonsensical quotations), but where Hodgman used the trope of the almanac and turned it on its head with hilarity and inventiveness of format, Mirman falls short.
In this culture, any idiot is allowed to dub himself an expert and dole out advice, making the genre ripe for parody. But Mirman — while obviously trying to make you laugh — fails to seize the day. He goes for predictable punchlines instead of overturning clichés, as he said he would: "Let's fuck this shit up!!!!!!!!!!!" That's eleven exclamation points and, by extension, an enthusiastic promise of fucked-upness. Instead, Mirman sticks too closely to the self-help protocol, and it gets grating. We're not turning to Mirman for actual advice. We want the funny, twisted shit he promised at the outset. By failing to take it far enough off the beaten path, the advice is neither helpful nor hilarious.
Not only that, but Mirman dates himself with pop culture references so hackneyed as to be gag-inducing (Ashton Kutcher: a dead horse. Uh, You, Me and Dupree?! Really?)
This likely would've been funnier if it were condensed, say, for a magazine feature. As a book, Mirman leans on the structure without reinventing, subverting or enhancing it. At one point, his sentence dissolves into a random assortment of letters. Mirman explains that his cat stepped on his keyboard, but he's decided to keep it in. This attitude epitomizes the book's comic shortcomings. Though his cat's rep remains intact, Mirman leaves readers wishing that the hilarity he provides on stage and screen might have walked across the page.