Myq Kaplan is one of the brightest young comedians out there. The 2010 Last Comic Standing Finalist has an unmistakable style, and is one of my personal favorites. I was lucky enough to sit down with Myq during the Moontower Comedy and Oddity fest. Kaplan is doing it all. He’s set to release a new comedy album June 11th, and you can catch him live on Conan TONIGHT!
I first saw you perform on Comedy Central’s LIVE AT GOTHAM. How did you get your start in comedy?
I went to college up in Boston, then started grad school in 2000. I was a singer songwriter for a while (and still am). 2002, I was in grad school around age 24 when I started pursuing comedy in Boston at a place called THE COMEDY STUDIO, and then found out about all these other places up there. And that is the answer to that question.
I did that LIVE AT GOTHAM around 2008, taped it in March, aired in June, and basically moved to New York right after that.
Were you a funny kid?
I don’t think most people would’ve said I was a funny kid. I was pretty quiet. When you’re small, like 5, 6, 7, 8, most kids don’t have a good sense of humor. You laugh at farts then when you become a grown up you’re like, “Oh I can do that again, good.” There’s some period in the middle when you’re like, “No fart jokes!” Maybe not for everyone. Some people might love fart jokes forever, but for me, there was a period where I thought I was too good for them. I know now I was wrong.
I went to this summer camp where I sort of blossomed socially during high school so I feel like I definitely started to do things I thought were funny, and some people might also think were funny, but other people might be like, “That’s annoying.”
So over the course of my life as a comedian, I’m becoming a funnier person as I become a better comedian. Some people have the goal of having the person on stage match the person you are off stage. I’m doing the other thing. My person off stage has become the person I am on stage all the time! That is sort of a joke, but I am kind of like meeting in the middle. I’ve heard that Lewis Black said something like, “If your personality is like a bunch of slices of pie (of different characteristics and traits) then your stand up persona is like 1 or 2 of those and amped up.” But then over time, the more you focus on those characteristics the more you become that character. You know, like in the way that Andrew Dice Clay will seem more like his character than he probably was in the past.
You should see how well I ask questions in my everyday life.
I want to. So no, not a super funny kid.
So it wasn’t one of these things were people were saying “oh you should be a comedian”?
No, for a while people were like, “You should stop!”
Was that motivation?
People weren’t really giving me a lot of negative feedback, but a lot of people in my family, like my dad, would be like, “What is your back up plan?” and my mom was supportive of anything I did. My dad got on board once results came in. But also, I wouldn’t have cared if they were like, “You’re supposed to do this.” My grandmother wants me to have kids so she can have great grand-babies, and I’m like, “Well I don’t ‘care what you want.” My parents weren’t disappointed that I wanted to pursue my dream. People weren’t discouraging other than some of my college roommates who were like, “Why are you doing comedy? You’re no funnier than us.” Then a few years later one of them came to see my comedy and was like, “You’re funny now, I get it”. At the beginning of anybody’s comedy career you don’t get positive feedback.
Do you feel like you’re getting better and better and better as a comedian?
I do feel like I’m better at what I’m doing now. I’m happier with what I’m doing. You know, as a rule, and this isn’t about me, you get better the more you do something. Alan Watts said, “Categorizing yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth” meaning it’s difficult and weird and other people could do it better. Something that I’ve gotten better at is being aware of other people’s impressions and perceptions and reactions to me, and that’s something I can kind of filter through.
Sort of how writers aren’t supposed to think of themes, they write and it’s the readers job to determine the themes.
Exactly. In the job of comedy, though not for every comedian, the subject is oneself. Sometimes it’s the world, sometimes it’s external observations, it’s me, like, “Hey I noticed a thing I do.”
What on TV do you like?
My favorite shows that I can think of right now are Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and pretty much all other Joss Whedon creations), Six Feet Under, Boston Legal, Party Down, Arrested Development, Justified, Parks and Rec, Community, 30 Rock, Fringe, Freaks and Geeks, and probably lots of other stuff.
Do all comedians get along? Seems to be a lot of support among all of you.
Comedians are people. And if you’re like “Are people are cool?” Some people are cool. Some are not. I hang out with a lot of comedians. A lot of my best friends are comedians. There is a certain camaraderie you can feel coming to these festivals. Other jobs you don’t get to know people that you don’t know, but with comedy it’s like, “Oh I saw you on Conan, that was really great. I like you, you say things I agree with” or just the fact that we’re in this together.
In this case, is bad (or any) publicity good publicity?
I’m not sure. I guess if it was somebody less famous than Dane Cook who said it then it wouldn’t have become a big deal. “Look, some nobody said an offensive thing.” The Kramer situation was an example of publicity not being good for him.
Do you have to win a comedy contest to get to a point of national recognition in this day and age?
It depends on what you want. Some people think, every comedian wants a TV show. That’s not true – having a TV show is not my main priority. If I could stay at the same level I’ve been at for the last 2 or 3 years forever, would be happy. Just work, be on the road 1/2 the time, go to NY half the time, go to LA sometimes, do great shows for people who enjoy them. You can only be so happy. I’m content. My goal is to focus on what I do have and not what I don’t. There’s a upper bound to how good you can feel, and I’m pretty near the top. If you’re like, “Where do you want be in 5 years”, I mean, I’d love to have more people, or a greater number of shows where more people come. I’ve had good shows in front of 20 people, 200 people, or 2000 people. I’ve had amazing feelings after a show for 5 people. Brian Regan and Jake Johannsen are both guys who have built up massive fan followings without having had a TV show or anything else besides all the work they put in. It comes down to talent, work, and luck, and all you can control is the work you put in.
What are you going to do if the whole comedy thing doesn’t work out?
Keep doing stand up with it not working out. Live in a car. Live on the street.
Do you think that’s an important attitude to have? To not give yourself a back up plan to fall back on?
When I started, I was coming out of being a singer songwriter, and then I realized there’s other venues like comedy clubs and open mics where they have a mic and you can just go and talk into it. And I started learning about comedy and was like, “Oh i think the way to succeed in comedy is to just do it.” I learned that pretty early. You listen to anyone that has succeeded and there’s no secret. You just do it. So I was like, “Okay, I’ll just keep doing it” because I like it. That’s the reason to do it. I want to be successful, but only because I want to be successful at something I like doing. The point wasn’t to get somewhere, I was already like, “I like doing this, so I’m going to stay in grad school and have a light course load, I’m going to live as a resident’s assistant so I don’t have to make a lot of money for rent.”
What were you in graduate school for?
Linguistics. And I was in Boston which was fortunate because it’s a great city to start doing comedy in. I said to myself I’m just going to go out every night to shows, to be a part of them, to try to get on.
So by 2002, was it like, “Oh, I’ll just stay in school so I can live and try out comedy?”
A little bit, yeah. My program advisor was also the head of the Department and they were cool about. I took enough classes to be a full time student technically, I was done with classes after like 3 years, and then I had to write a thesis, so I was just in school to write a thesis, which I didn’t do for about 5 years. So I essentially was a student in name only and I lived there as an RA.
When I started doing comedy the only goal I had was hopefully getting to a point where I only had to do comedy to survive. I remember Eugene Mirman did a speech at a college recently and said, “Give your dream 10 years, try to do what you want for 10 years, and by the end of it you’ll either have achieved it or you won’t, and then I guess maybe think about doing something else.” At the beginning I definitely wasn’t thinking it’s this (comedy) or die. Deciding that I wanted to pursue music was important to me, just for focus. Then I just shifted that focus to comedy. And I’m going to do this as much as I can.
Did you bomb your first time on stage?
Well my transition into doing comedy, remember like the first number of times I ever performed I was just playing songs. I’d been playing the songs for years. That’s why I went to a comedy club, I was like, “I wanna play my songs wherever possible…some of them are funny, can I play them at your comedy club?” I can write a better comedy song now than I could when I was 18. But they were structurally really sound, and made sense, and ended with a big punch line, so the first time I went on stage at a comedy club I just played a couple songs and they went well. And I did that for just a little while, maybe every month or 2 months I would go up and play those songs. Then, when I started really pursuing comedy, I would bring my guitar, but I would only (out of a 5 minute open mic set) I would maybe tell jokes for 4 minutes and then play a song for like a minute. And the song was set, it was like guaranteed this song will work. Not that I didn’t care what happened, but I knew these were all things (comedy) I was trying in the first 4 minutes, certainly at various points I bombed, I wasn’t like, “Oh no” I was like,”That’s how it works.”
Check out Myq’s website: http://myqkaplan.com/
his podcast “Hang Out with Me”: http://www.keithandthegirl.
Follow him on Twitter: @myqkapla