Jamie: Ok, I’m here with the brilliantly funny Myq Kaplan. Thanks for taking the time out to do a quick interview Myq, I appreciate that.
Myq: I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. Thank YOU.
Jamie: I start everyone off with a question about the cause, so let’s get right to that. What is it about cancer aide and awareness that made you want to get involved? Was it just a general compassion, or have you had the misfortune of witnessing someone go through it?
Myq: I always want to do anything I can to help whatever suffering exists.
Jamie: Let’s go back to the early stages of your career. You actually got your start in music, tell us a little bit about that.
Myq: My parents were music teachers and I played the violin since I was four. I didn’t really like it but I had to, which I’m ultimately glad for because those skills helped me teach myself the guitar quickly as a teenager. That became my first dream, to be a singer-songwriter for a living. In college, I began pursuing that wherever I could, and one of the places that let me play some songs was a comedy club called the Comedy Studio in Cambridge, MA.
Jamie: How much do you still dabble in music? Are we going to see any future releases?
Myq: I play the guitar for fun whenever possible, or whatever stringed instruments are lying around. I also actually enjoy playing the violin from time to time now again, because my girlfriend plays it as well. We’ve started having fun improvising together, not for any released recordings right now, but who knows about the future! (Answer: no one.) I also do still write and perform musical comedy songs with my good friend Micah Sherman. A few years ago we released an album called “Please Be Seated” and this year we put out a mixtape called the Micah Myq Mega Mixtape. And finally, my good friend, wonderful comedy rapper Zach Sherwin, and I have been writing podcast theme songs and producing them with the help of my other good friend Sam Kusnetz. We’re thinking of putting out a mini-album of all of them (they’re only about 20 seconds each) but right now they can all be heard for free at the beginning of podcasts like “Hang Out With Me” (that’s mine), “Here We Are” (our friend Shane Mauss), “Universe City” (Joe Zimmerman, Jono Zalay, and Raj Sivaraman). And more to come possibly! Thanks for asking.
Jamie: Absolutely. I’ve been a guitar player since I was a kid, so there’s a natural interest there for me. Now… you got your master’s degree in linguistics at Boston University right around the same time you transitioned into comedy. Throughout his career, George Carlin really picked apart and found the humor in language. You have a similar astute knack for finding the humor within language and terminology. How much would you say studying linguistics played a part in developing your cerebral style?
Myq: When I found out linguistics existed, I was thrilled, because it illuminated a subject that I didn’t even know WAS a subject. I’ve always enjoyed words… a weird set of words to say, maybe… and so I think that that’s what drew me to both linguistics and some of the comedy that I enjoy. Maybe learning about linguistics influenced some specific things in my comedy along the way, and vice versa, but mainly I think there was something in me that manifested as both an interest in linguistics and comedy, as opposed to those things necessarily influencing one another. Does that make sense? If not, that’s okay.
Jamie: Speaking of your cerebral style, I want to touch a little more on your approach. As a comedy writer for various comedians, I write a lot of jokes and bits that aren’t really what I consider my style. When I keep jokes for myself, I tend to go with the ones I consider to be more clever, or satirical rants, versus the raw or straightforward type jokes. The odd thing I’ve noticed about that though is that the masses, or even just certain crowds for that matter, tend to prefer the raw straightforward jokes in many cases. I’m channeling my inner Lenny Bruce-Bill Hicks, or Steven Wright-Mitch Hedberg, and sometimes all they want is Dice Clay-Dane Cook. When you’re writing your material, how much do you balance between what you know is funny or clever or more your style, and what you think the crowd or the masses will find funnier, and have you ever found yourself in front of a crowd that you knew your clever stuff was a little over their head, so you made a conscious effort to dumb it down a little, so to speak?
Myq: No. Or maybe earlier on, but early on, most aspiring comedians are just trying to figure out what works. What about oneself is funny? Now, I never think about what people are going to like during the writing process. Of course I think about it later, in the performance, or more when I’m listening back to performances to see how new ideas went over. But while coming up with ideas, I let myself think and write and say whatever I want, regardless of how I think people are going to respond. I mean, I’m not thinking about how they’re going to respond. I’m thinking about the fact that I like what I’m saying. I like what I’m constructing, and my goal is to get what I think is worthwhile, my best work, out there to people who will enjoy it. No comedian is exactly right for every audience. Everyone has different tastes. So if as a comedian you try to do what you think “people” will like, what people are you talking about? One of the worst things has got to be failing with material that you don’t even care about or believe in. Second-worst I think is SUCCEEDING with material you don’t care about or believe in. Second-best and best are failing/succeeding with material you do care about and believe in. In either order. The results don’t really matter. The process is what’s important. This is not to say that I live my life in a creative vacuum, and what I say is funny goes for everyone. If I were performing for only my grandmother’s friends, I might not do my Holocaust bits, even though they’re anti-Holocaust, and if a crowd doesn’t like a certain kind of joke, or topic, sure, I might do some math in my head and think about what jokes of mine they MIGHT like, and trend towards those… but I wouldn’t think of that as dumbing it down. I’m never going to not be myself. I’m going to be myself, if the self exists, which it might not, and hope that people who like the self that I am or am not will come to my shows and enjoy them, and the people who wouldn’t, won’t. I mean, for their own benefit. I want everyone to be as happy and fulfilled as possible.
Jamie: Well said. Sometimes I’ll trend away from the rants if I feel like a crowd isn’t really into listening to me rip certain things apart, but I never stray from the style of jokes I choose to keep for myself, unless its online. My online material is basically just a bunch of leftover shit I haven’t sold or plan to use on stage myself, so it’s all over the comedic spectrum. I’m just like fuck it, it’s the internet… someone will find it funny. Let’s talk about when it all started to click for you though. Almost every comedian goes through an inner struggle early on where they’re not 100% sure if they’re going to be able to make a long-term full-time profession out of comedy. At what point in your career did it just click that this was it for you? What was your defining moment where any and all doubts disappeared and you just knew you’d be making a full time career out of it?
Myq: I wouldn’t say there’s ever a time that there are no doubts about the future. Right now, who knows what will happen in the world tomorrow or next year or a decade from now? I knew from the beginning that I WANTED to be a full-time comedian, and I knew the way to do that was to just do it as much as possible. I was working a few different jobs at the time, living as an RA at Boston University, working at the bookstore cafe there, among other things… I was fine with the idea of being a barista as long as need be until I didn’t need to anymore, and I was fully aware that that day might never come. About six years in, I had the good fortune of booking a large enough number of college gigs that I didn’t need to have any other day jobs for a bit, and I was optimistic that if that could be sustained, then I could be sustained. But I didn’t “know.” Sometimes they say “leap, and the net will appear.” So I leapt, and the net did appear… or more like steps in the air that you build and construct yourself while you’re leaping, and also other people help you out, and sometimes you stumble mid-air but ultimately you head in the direction you want, or you start wanting the direction you’re heading. The point is, if you don’t leap at any point, you won’t get anywhere. So, leap everyone! If you want. You don’t have to. You can just walk wherever you want to go also. Did I answer this question fully? To summarize: no one ever knows the future, but I knew I could be a fulltime comedian for at least one year when I was one, and then the next year I knew I could be one for two years. And so forth. And so on. Until now. And hopefully later too.
Jamie: You never run out of material, so I think you’ll be doing this as long as it still interestes you. How about venues? Out of all the venues you’ve performed at, what’s your personal favorite?
Myq: There are too many favorites to name just one, and I’m sure I’ll leave some out, but here’s a few… The Comedy Studio where I started in Cambridge, MA, will always be in my heart. Acme in Minneapolis is a club that I’ve loved every time I’ve performed there in the past several years. I recorded my album “Meat Robot” there and the audiences are always just super. And the other comics. And the staff. And the way everyone treats everyone. I also love the various Helium locations. Portland is one of my favorite cities, and performing at the Helium there has always been a treat. There are many more… the Comedy Cellar, UCB, Meltdown in LA, tiny places that have a show once a week like “Gandhi Is That You” at Lucky Jack’s in NYC… I like anywhere that the audience is happy to be. With low ceilings. And vegan food. And I get paid a million dollars. And I’m in love.
Jamie: What would you say is the strangest or oddest thing that’s ever happened during one of your live shows?
Myq: I don’t know. Probably a lot of things happen that people would think is weird that I don’t really even notice anymore. One time I was performing in the round on a rotating stage outdoors in the daylight under a tent opening for KC and the Sunshine band for an audience that wanted to see not me, but KC and the Sunshine band, and a little girl gave me a thumbs down. How does that strike you?
Jamie: (Laughs) That’s the way uh-huh uh-huh, she didn’t like it, uh-huh uh-huh? If you got a thumbs down, I can only imagine her reaction to Tony Soprano singing disco in a Hawaiian shirt. How about material selection? To me, there’s a big difference between a comedian and a comedy writer. Most comedians can get by on limited material, whereas comedy writers have to face the constant struggle of coming up with endless new and fresh material. I’m more of comedy writer because I write so much material for others and do standups of my own so infrequently, so it’s actually very easy for me to determine what material I’m going to use if and when I do a standup of my own. You, on the other hand, are a hybrid of a comedian and a comedy writer. You come up with endless amounts of material for yourself, something that is a very rare quality amongst comics. Between your standup material, your Twitter account, your blog, podcasts, your YouTube clips, etc, etc… you’re just an endless source of comedy material, and you do countless standups and appearances. With so much material constantly swirling around in your head, how do you narrow it down and determine what you’re going to use for your standups and appearances? Do you go into your sets with a game plan, or do you just kind of pull from the plethora of material that’s always in your head on the fly?
Myq: Thank you for the very kind words. I feel bad having to start this response by saying I disagree with your characterization of comedians, in that they can get by on limited material. I think that most comedians that I know are constantly creating new material, because for so many of us, that’s the most enjoyable part of the job–coming up with something new that works. Or coming up with something new and MAKING it work. The alchemy from which an idea in a notebook turns into a crowd’s laughter over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years… that’s a huge part of what being a comedian is all about. So, I’m not sure which comedians you’re referring to, and names needn’t be named, but the best comedians are always creating, I would say. Of course, comedians are humans, and there is a diversity amongst us. Some might not write as much new stuff. People work at different rates. But saying comedians can get by on limited material is like saying “musicians can get by without writing new songs.” Some musicians might just play their hits for years. But some bands or solo artists put out new albums every year. Or every couple. Or what have you.
Jamie: I should probably clarify that before you get me in trouble here. I don’t mean to imply that comedians aren’t creative. I’m just saying a comedian can write some material and then use it for weeks, or even months because they’re frequently seeing new crowds who haven’t heard it yet, whereas comedy writers don’t have the luxury of getting extended use out of their material. Guys who write for websites, or television, or other comics, etc… it’s basically a one and done thing for their material. Hell, you can’t even repeat a tweet 2 or 3 years later without someone pointing out that you already tweeted that joke. Hear that comedians? I’m totally not knocking your creativity. You know I’m going to forward all the hate emails I get to you now, right? (Laughs) Where the hell were we? Oh, right… how you determine what material to use.
Myq: Well, it depends on the context. If it’s a show where I’m aiming to workshop some new ideas, like a weeknight at a club or bar around NYC, I’ll probably have a set list with some new ideas or bullet points jotted down, and I’ll go up and get into those. Or I might riff some on whatever has been going on in the room or my mind or earlier in the show. In that type of situation, it can be really loose. If I’m headlining a comedy club on the road for a weekend, I’m much more likely to have at least the framework of the hour I’m going to do ready. I might not do everything the same every night. I might still riff and get some new ideas in there. But the general shape of things might be at least similar from night to night. I heard a quote once, sorry I don’t know the source… something like “repetition makes us feel secure; variety makes us feel free.” And as humans, we want both of those things, so I aim to strike an equilibrium between them. Doing polished, honed material provides security… sometimes job security, sometimes the security of knowing that these jokes work, and trying new things is freedom. And it’s also the thing that leads to new polished, honed material, so it’s all necessary. All part of the same machine. The life machine. I’m a robot. Beep boop.
Jamie: See now, that’s the part I’m envious of. Sometimes I’ll come up with something I really like, and I want to use it again for the people who haven’t heard it, but can’t. I don’t do standup enough to quench the thirst of reliving polished jokes… so it ends up carrying over into my personal life because I shoehorn it into every day conversations when I know I’m talking to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. Speaking of writing though, there are a lot of comedians with good writing skills that find themselves getting offers to be regular writers for sitcoms, or asked to do acting roles. Could you see yourself writing for sitcoms regularly or possibly taking on an acting career at some point? Or possibly even a screenplay of your own? Have you considered going down those roads?
Myq: Sure! Who’s asking?
Jamie: Someone who doesn’t have a sitcom.
Myq: Sincerely, my main goal is to keep doing standup. And it’s a goal I achieve every day. Tip: set goals for yourself that you’re already achieving. You’ll feel real good about yourself. I have been on a few TV shows and written a few things. I like doing those things and would be happy to do them more. But I KNOW I’ll keep doing standup. As long as I want to and can.
Jamie: I’ve actually been working on a rough outline for a comedic screenplay, and once I have enough time to get it to a point where I’d actually show it to someone else… you might be one of the first people I contact about contributing… but that’s a conversation for when I’m not interviewing you for a charity website. Speaking of television though, you have a long list of television appearances on your resume, including Conan, Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Seth Myers, Last Comic Standing, Comedy Central, etc. Which one was the most enjoyable and/or most rewarding, and why?
Myq: They’re all the most rewarding. Or maybe the most recent one is the most rewarding. No, all of them. I mean, the Tonight Show with Conan was the first late night set I did, so that was a real thrill. And the next time I did Conan was a real thrill because that meant they liked me and I could keep doing it. Same with the times I’ve done Ferguson. It’s just always appreciated to have external markers of your progress. And when I got to do Letterman the first time, that was really something because I had been submitting to that show for years and years. And Seth Meyers was exciting because it was new, and I really like Seth. (I really like Conan and Letterman too). And the Comedy Central half hour was an amazing opportunity. And the hour I just put out this year on Netflix, my first hour special, that’s something that I’d wanted to do and was happy to get the opportunity. So, all of them. Everything I do is ideally enjoyable and/or rewarding. Otherwise why am I doing it?
Jamie: Let’s talk about the releases. 2010 was a pretty big year for you. You did Last Comic Standing, had your own Comedy Central Special, and also released your first album Vegan Mind Meld. Tell us a little about your debut album, and what it was like to be you in 2010.
Myq: That was a big year. I had recorded the album in 2009, and then all the other things started happening, I think. That’s the way it is, in general. It’s all gradual for years and there are no tangible concrete results that you can discern, and then seven or eight years have gone by and the tree starts bearing fruit. You planted a tree at the beginning of the metaphor, I guess? I started really pursuing standup in 2002, so by seven years in, I was headlining colleges and some clubs, and had written a lot of stuff that I was happy with, so the opportunity to do an album then was greatly appreciated. Jason Riggs of BSeenMedia approached me and asked if I wanted to, and I did, so we did. And in the meantime, I had just done “Live at Gotham” on Comedy Central in 2008, so the next step, ideally, was to hopefully get a half hour special, and I believe I actually used a video recording of my album taping to submit for that, and good news, it worked! Spoiler alert: this all happened in the past. So the special also taped in 2009 and then aired in 2010, right around when the album was coming out and when Last Comic Standing was starting. So it was like a perfect storm of good weather. I feel very fortunate to have had all those things happen, but I’ll also say that 2008 is when I moved to NYC and started having no day job, so that was really the time that I first felt like a fulltime no-other-job comedian, which had been the goal. So all this stuff just became icing on the cake. You know, the best part of the cake?
Jamie: You followed up that debut album with Please Be Seated in 2012. Everything was really clicking for you by then. Amongst other things, you were in the midst of being a regular returning guest on Craig Ferguson and Conan. Tell us a little about that album and what it was like to be in such high demand.
Myq: It’s the musical collaboration I did with my good buddy Micah Sherman. As far as being in demand, did you know you can just keep putting albums out whenever you want? It’s true! But also yes, I was fortunate to receive multiple bookings on different late night shows, and that was a real appreciated thrill every time. I mean, I’m just writing and doing standup as much as I can and want, and since there are so many late night shows out there, it’s great that there are so many opportunities to keep getting to put it out there.
Myq: Sure! Also, one year before that came out I put out one other standup album, “Meat Robot,” which I recorded in late 2012 at Acme in MN. I hadn’t recorded an album since 2009, so I had maybe 3.5 years’ worth of material to choose from, plus other older jokes that I still liked that hadn’t made the first album, so a lot of that is what ultimately became that album plus some of the special which I recorded the following year. I thought about only putting out one album and special, and having it be the most honed, creme de la creme of all the material I had to choose from, but my friend Micah pointed out that there might be people who thought some of the stuff I was leaving out would be creme as well. He told me about a Michel Gondry quote, the point of which was something like “quality fades; quantity doesn’t,” which sort of aligns with another things I really like that I don’t know who said first, that goes “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Which is all to say if you spend too much time making everything perfect before releasing it, you might not release anything, and things of value will go unseen. So I put out the best album I could in 2013, and then wrote a lot more and had a whole new special in 2014, which is the “Small, Dork, and Handsome” you mentioned. I really liked doing it, and now I’m really looking forward to recording the next hour, and the next one, and the next one. Is that what you wanted to know?
Jamie: And lastly, let’s touch on some of your extracurricular stuff. Tell us about your podcasts, your blog, or any other side projects you’re currently working on, as well as what we can expect from Myq Kaplan in the future.
Myq: Thanks! Pretty much everything I do is available through MyqKaplan.com… my albums, my late night sets, my appearances on other podcasts, a link to my own podcast. It’s called “Hang Out With Me” and it’s generally me having a conversation with two other people, give or take a person or two, about life, comedy, philosophy, art, silliness, whatever. My goal is always to have it be fun, meaningful, both, or neither, and I believe that is achieved regularly. I’ve had folks like Maria Bamford, AJ Jacobs, Adam Busch, Laraine Newman, Paul F Tompkins, Christopher Ryan, and so many more… people I love and respect having real fun great conversations. Other than that, it’s mostly standup… and Twitter and Facebook …and whatever robots exist in the future. Thanks for checking out whatever you do. Enjoy life! Or enjoy not enjoying! Or don’t! Whatever you want or don’t.
Jamie: Well we definitely enjoy you, you’re one of our absolute favorites here. Once again Myq, I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with Comedians for Cancer and giving us a chance to pick your brain a little. I’m sure we’ll see you again down the road, possibly at one of our benefits, it’d be fun to have you perform with us. We wish you continued success and health.
Myq: Thank you! Same here!
Jamie: There you have it folks, the brilliant Myq Kaplan. Be sure to check out his website, releases, and blog, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and click on the 8 gazillion links in this article if you want to laugh because he’s relentlessly funny.