Comedy Preview: Myq Kaplan
To say that Myq Kaplan’s material is unconventionally layered and endearingly offbeat only goes a certain distance in illustrating what makes him one of the most unique stand-up comedians in the industry.
It’s probably good, then, that he’ll be on stage in Columbus on Thursday night at the Grandview Theatre & Drafthouse, so you can see the rest for yourself.
Kaplan became known widely to TV audiences in 2010 when he was a finalist on NBC’s competitive series, Last Comic Standing. He has also been featured on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (and more recently on O’Brien’s TBS series, Conan), The Late Show with David Letterman, and Comedy Central Presents. In 2015, Kaplan was a contestant and advanced to the quarterfinals on the tenth season of America’s Got Talent. He has released three acclaimed comedy albums: Vegan Mind Meld (one of iTunes’ top-ten best-selling comedy albums in 2010), Meat Robot (2013), and No Kidding earlier this year. In late 2016, Kaplan recorded and issued a music album, Many Mini Musics. His first one-hour comedy special, Small Dork and Handsome, arrived in 2014.
Besides regularly touring as a stand-up headliner around the country and abroad, Kaplan hosts a podcast on the Keith and The Girl Network entitled Hang Out With Me.
You have degrees in philosophy, psychology and applied linguistics. I’m sure those must shape your material on some level…or many levels?
“Good question… is it one level, or is it many levels? These are the types of questions best left to the philosophers. And I’m one of them, so I’ll take it from here! My material is formulated in my mind, which is philosophy’s territory. Then it eventually comes out of my mouth as language, which is where linguistics shines. Finally, it hits the audience, where each joke basically asks them ‘how does that make you feel?’ Psychology’d!”
I was recently reading a Boston Globe article that described how you’re constantly recording and compiling observations and ideas. How do you eventually choose from that much input and edit those down to actual workable bits?
“Thanks for asking! When I was just starting out, I would try as many ideas out as possible at open mics – and if they didn’t work, I’d never do them again. And none of them ever did work, so I stopped doing comedy and became an accountant. Tax day is coming up! Everyone get your paperwork in!
That’s an example of a joke I chose to make into a workable bit for this interview, to show rather than tell. The sincere answer is: in the beginning I would indeed try as many ideas out as possible, and then stick with the ones that got the most traction in the form of audience laughter. Now, I still come up with as many ideas, but will usually choose to share the ones that I care the most about – either because they are about concepts that are important to me, or because they are the most present in my consciousness at the time. Or possibly because they are the ones that are tickling me the most, currently. So while I used to follow the laughter and hope to shape it into something meaningful, now more often I’ll start with something meaningful and strive to shape it into something laughable.”
In your opinion, what’s the most absurd thing people do on a regular basis? I realize that’s painting with rather broad brushstrokes, but…
“It’s absurd that people paint with such broad brushstrokes. If you just use a thinner brush, you’ll really be able to get some more nuances into that picture you’re painting! Sincerely, this started out as a joke just based on the words you said, but…it turned into a metaphor. I really do believe that a lot of people make a lot of generalizations, and that can be less useful than focusing in on individual differences…
He said, generalizing greatly. I am doing the absurd thing! I am the people I am talking about right now!”
I listened to Many Mini Musics today, and I love that you have the ability to blend comedy and music. You started out as a musician, correct? To whom did you aspire to when you originally chose that as your path?
“I did start out as a musician – when I was four years old and my mother asked me if I wanted to take violin lessons and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Which is good because I said ‘yes’. I then taught myself guitar in high school and started writing songs, only aspiring to have fun in that creative process. Or maybe I was aspiring to be my best self. It was just fun to play. And still is. That’s why one of the songs on my new music album is called ‘Music’s Fun (To Play).’ It’s based on a true story.”
And then, you shifted gears. Was there a specific event or moment that occurred when you decided to pursue comedy?
“Good question. I think the moment I decided to pursue comedy happened while I was on stage doing comedy at a comedy club…Sincerely, that is so – because the first time I performed at a comedy club, I was playing my supposedly funny songs. But in between the songs, I would say things. I wasn’t playing to say anything in particular. I hadn’t written jokes. I wouldn’t have called it ‘riffing’ at the time. But that’s basically what it was. Being in the moment. Saying whatever occurred and made sense to say at the time. And it made people laugh. Which was a thing that had happened before in my life with friends, of course, but never in this ‘formal” environment of a comedy club. So, I knew I wanted to do comedy basically right after I started doing comedy.”
You also host a podcast, Hang Out With Me. There are a lot of comedians who have really flocked to that format over the past several years. What makes it compelling for you?
While there are a lot of comedians with podcasts, I’ll tell you first about an interesting kind of comedian that does exist still – and that is the comedian who doesn’t have a podcast. I’ve heard such comedians say things like ‘why should I have one? Every comedian has one,’ which is funny to me, because every comedian is also a comedian. And you’re being a comedian. If you’re going to choose to not do something because other comedians are doing it, why isn’t being a comedian front and center in that category? Not saying everyone needs a podcast. Just that’s a funny reason not to have one.
The reason to have a podcast is often the same reason to be a comedian: because you have something to say. Because you want to share part of yourself, or something that you care about with a listening public. That’s what it is for me. I love going on stage and talking to people. I love being off stage and talking with people. I love talking, when there are people that want to listen and/or talk to/with me. Before I had my podcast, I did someone else’s podcast. I think it was Andy Beckerman – a very funny friend who I didn’t know well at the time at all. But despite not knowing him, I had such a fun time on his podcast – just hanging out with another kind, fun human being. I might have been in less of a good mood before we started, I think, and I noted how much that recorded human interaction made me feel so much better.
And I thought: hanging out with people! That is the stuff! I want to be able to have some control of when I hang out with people in this way! In a world where we have so little control….please – let me have at least some!
Thus was born Hang Out With Me.”
You’ve been a frequent guest on the late night circuit. Comedians who used to be invited to perform on those shows in the 80s and 90s have often remarked it was a turning point for their career. Does it have the same sort of cachet now?
“Fifty million people watched Carson’s final episode, I believe. Numerically, no other late night show since has come anywhere near that. A large part of it is that now there are so many more shows, channels, and opportunities, both on broadcast and cable and online of course – so the 50 million people that once all watched one thing are no longer doing so. I would say that it’s still a thrill to perform on a late night show – still a marker of some measure of accomplishment, but certainly it does not have the same impact on one’s career as it once might have in general.
This answer has been entirely serious with no humor in it. ‘Til now. Kind of. Maybe.”
Your comedy is pretty fearless. Is it hard to edit yourself for network TV? You’ve had a lot of experience there, especially with Last Comic Standing and America’s Got Talent, but do you find it sometimes stifles you?
“Thanks for saying that! I am pretty fearless! I say what I want! No matter what! Unless I don’t want to! Or someone asks me not to! Or something else!
If I’m going on a show where I know there will be limits on what I can say, I don’t think of that as ‘stifling’, because I’m signing up for it. It’s more like a game. I don’t have to play if I don’t want to. But if I choose to play, then I’ll accept their guidelines as a challenge. It’s like this, maybe… you usually walk on a horizontal plane. You’re good at it. You get from point A to point B successfully almost all of the time. If you were to climb a mountain, would you find that stifling? The mountain gets in the way of your moving horizontally as easily.
The point is, I’m not afraid of any mountains. Because I don’t have to climb them if I don’t want to. And if we’re back to the metaphorical mountain of having to choose what to say on broadcast television, I’ve written a LOT of words and lots of them CAN be said on TV and I don’t find it difficult to choose. And just to reiterate one more time, no mountain scares me! I am pretty fearless! You hear that mountains? Come and get me if you can! Oh, you cant?! Well, how about that, then?! I win in this battle of me versus mountains!”
As I’ve been interviewing comedians over the past couple of years, I feel like I’m learning a lot about the industry through their eyes. Do you think stand-up comedy as a commodity is in a good place? Are there things you believe are helping – or harming – it right now?
I can only answer based on my own experience, which is limited, because I am only one human. Only one comedian. I’ve certainly observed other people’s careers from the outside, and have heard anecdotes, so I suppose I can factor those in… okay…I changed my mind. I know enough to say everything about everything. Sincerely, my impression is that standup – and art in general – is in a fine place. People currently have the freedom to do and say what they want. I haven’t heard of a comedian in the US going to jail for things they’ve said in their comedy since Lenny Bruce or George Carlin way back. One thing that is helpful is all the technology that exists right now. It used to be, if you couldn’t get on TV, you couldn’t gain an audience. Now you can get on satellite radio or have your own podcast or a web series or a Twitter following or any number of other ways to get yourself out there that didn’t exist earlier in my lifetime. And also, most of those things are about things external to the actual doing of comedy, which has, for the most part, remained constant as a thing you can just do. Anyone can go to an open mic. Anyone can write jokes. Anyone can perform. People who work at it can get better. And now there are so many more ways to share it with people who want to hear what you have to say. Hopefully.
Maybe I’m an optimist. I do strive to focus on the positives. Of course, there are people who could make counter-arguments. But basically right now, in America, you can get on a stage and say things and get off stage and not be thrown in jail for it. That’s good. Hope it stays like that!”
Myq Kaplan will appear at the Grandview Theatre & Drafthouse, 1247 Grandview Avenue, on Thursday, March 30 (doors open at 7:00 p.m., show begins at 8:00 p.m.). Tickets are $10.00 (plus service fees and taxes) – ages 21 and up admitted. You can also follow Myq on Twitter, or visit his official website for more information.