INTERVIEWS

Myq Kaplan: “All the Yoda’s of Stand-Up Comedy We Are.”

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myqMyq Kaplan’s distinctive voice, crafted bits and jokes debuted on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and has since gone on to appear on Late Show with David Letterman, ConanThe Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson and in his own half-hour Comedy Central Presents: Myq Kaplan special. A NJ born atheist/vegan, Kaplan is an enigmatic force in the American comedy scene. MYQ be in Santa Cruz on Sunday July 31st at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. Tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2551689

Editor’s Note: When I transcribe interviews for SUSC, I often leave out any tangents that take away from the thrust of the talk. In Myq’s case, I’ve left it in. His quirky, hilarious personality shines through the phone, even when he’s driving through Brooklyn.

 

Myq: Hellllloooo!

SUSC: Is this a good time?

It’s a great time.

Where are you right now?

New York City. Currently in Brooklyn, driving to Manhattan.

So, that blizzard didn’t pan out?

We got pretty heavy snow, for a little while. Just not as much or as long as they thought. I had to dig my car out of 6 inches of snow, which is not my favorite thing, but better than digging out from three feet, that’s true.

If you grew up on the East Coast you know what that’s like. I guess the government was so alarmed about what happened during Hurricane Sandy, it was better to yell, “Red Alert!”

I’m happy to have erred on the side of caution. I had to miss a few shows because they got cancelled. But I got to bundle up, get some stuff done in my home and in myself. I have no problem with people being encouraged to be safe.

You’re more conscientious then I thought.

You don’t know me very well.

No I don’t, but I’m from New Jersey so I have an inkling.

Understood. I feel there are a multitude of different types of people that come from New Jersey. I don’t think either of us are like The Situation.

That’s true. I’m more like Snookie if I had to pick an archetype of Jersey Shore.

Of course, I think we’re all like Snookie. I think most of those people were from New York anyway.

Right. Long Island.

Quick question before we get into more of this talking. Are we making a recording or are you putting something in writing afterwards? Just curious.

Good question. I transcribe everything, I like long form. And personally, I think these podcasts are a flash in the pan.

I understand what you are saying.

You originally started at the Comedy Store in Boston?

Eh, the Comedy Studio. There are many comedy places that have similar names.

Sorry.

No. No problem there.

Who were you coming up with at the time?

Some friends of mine who started at the same time who are still doing comedy include: Shane Mauss, Joe List, Erin Judge who just moved to LA, Baratunde Thurston, Ken Reid who is still in Boston. A few years later were Josh Gondelman, Micah Sherman, I’m on my way to meet for dinner now, Giulia Rozzi. Boston is a small enough city that once people start doing comedy, people are like, “You’ve been here forever, right?” I started around 2002 and some people traipsed in the next few years, or maybe they were before me, and you become one big conglomeration. One big blob of Boston comedians. Dan Bolger another great funny dude and a lot of people.
Was it the Comedy Central Open Mic Fight that was one of your first bigger acclaims?

That is a good question. Overall, it was a gradual thing over time. Hold on there is a honking situation behind me. (pause) I am alright. I was doing a ton of open mics. In Boston there was this isolated scene where you could move up to open mics to guest spots at clubs and get booked, hopefully as an opener on a 3 person show. There were a few different bookers and rooms around. Maybe like 2 years in I was a getting a little paid work, and then eventually, maybe four or five years in I was getting good enough that the big club in town, which was the Comedy Connection booked me. I opened for Mike Birbiglia there in 2006/2007. He was real helpful to me, he recommended me to go do some shows in New York. He also brought me to open for him at a bunch of places. That was a big thing. But there isn’t any Tonight Show or Carson that makes you have a career the next week. That’s story from the olden days when 10s of millions of people were watching, because there was nothing else to watch. But now, open mics were the thing that led me to getting to be on Comedy Central and be on Live at Gotham, and put on the radar of some other people. But by the time I was on TV I was already making a living at doing comedy and performing at colleges. Mostly anyway, I was also doing some roadwork in Boston and starting to perform other places. That was 2008 and I did Live at Gotham and that’s when I moved to New York. In 2009 I did the Montreal Comedy Festival which was another step along the way. And in 2010 I did Last Comic Standing and that was the biggest viewing audience, millions of people that never heard of me were seeing my comedy. And some of them cared and enjoyed me. But it was all the local Boston stuff that got me to the place where I became a working comedian where I didn’t need to have another job. Everything was snowballing up towards the Open Mic Fight time, and it was a nice feather in the cap, a nice stepping stone. But no one thing was the be all, end all. Just doing the comedy work is the be all, end all.

How nerve wracking is it to make the transition from appearing in front of a live audience in a club to appearing on TV?

Before you get on TV, when you start out doing comedy, getting on TV is probably not your main goal. When I started I knew I wanted to be a working comedian and having a TV credit would be helpful for getting a college agent and booked in clubs—which it definitely is. I actually got a college agent first before I got on TV. So when I got on TV, I thought it was helpful and good and I’m very grateful, but the goal of doing more comedy was already being met. Doing Live at Gotham which was my first TV set, was just still just doing a set at a club. I didn’t treat that one differently. Essentially it was just a club set. It was a super pumped audience, they were excited to be on TV. I was excited as well, I was a little sick that day, so I was mostly concerned with maintain my composure, because I had almost lost my voice. I said all the things I had to and then went and collapsed, medicated in my room. That might not be the best example. That was 2008. 2009, in June is when Conan moved to the Tonight Show. I got an email from the booker of the stand-up on that show and he had seen me over the past several years and was ready to book me. It was the ideal situation. I didn’t even know that was an option. He was great to work with, and that December was my late night debut with Conan, which was a thrill. I love Conan, and The Tonight Show is a massive institution and in hindsight, that was a limited time to have been on that show.

The Collector’s Edition.

Now that I’ve done more late night sets, I’m pretty calm most of the time I’m performing, even if it’s “high stakes”. I do sometimes get some butterflies when I do TV. I do have a moment in that Conan set, where if you watch it and you didn’t know me, you wouldn’t notice, but there was a moment, for less than a second, that I forgot what my next joke was. I remembered and went on, but it felt like a lifetime. As far as how to prepare for those things is to treat it like another set. Prepare as much as you can leading up to it and control everything that you can and when you get out there, do what you do and the audience is out of your control. They are going to react the way they are going to react. Other then everything you can do, you can’t do anything. I used to read a lot of comedy books, and I still do, I think it was called Zen and the Art of Stand Up Comedy. The one thing I remember is, “Don’t worry about tonight show. Tonights show is not important. What is important is the comedian you are going to be in 5 years.” That’s a valuable insight and I think that applies. There is no show that is so big, that it is the end. Unless you’re retiring. If you play Madison Square Garden or Carnagie Hall, like Louis C.K. and I’m not in their place so maybe they feel differently, what are you going to do the day after you play Madison Square Garden? The night after a comic films a late night set, he’s doing comedy in some old dirty basement, doing more jokes, writing more jokes. There’s an old Zen koan of “Chop wood, carry water.” Basically, you do an amazing thing, then before enlightenment, “Chop wood, carry water,” then after enlightenment, “Chop wood, carry water.” Before Madison Square Garden do comedy, after Madison Square Garden do comedy. It’s all just, do comedy.

That’s good stuff. You’re like the Yoda of stand-up comedy.

I think we’re all the Yoda of stand-up comedy.

That’s something Yoda would say.

He would say it a little differently, like, “All the Yoda’s of stand-up comedy we are.”

You’re situated in the Northeast where there seem opportunities for comedy writers. Would you ever take a job writing for late night?

100%. That’s not my main goal, so I don’t spend much of my time pursuing that goal. But I’ve written some submission packets for late night shows. The best would be if a friend of mine had a show. T.J. Miller and Nick Vatterott had a show on Comedy Central for a while called Mash-Up and they called me in, I wasn’t an official writer, but they had brainstorm sessions to participate in for money. That was really fun, even if it’s not working for people I know, but I have been in comedy for a while and I know a lot of people. I do love writing, collaborating so for sure, but although I don’t like waking up in the morning, I will wake up in the morning, but I don’t like setting my alarm. That’s my least favorite idea about having a job. I would never want it to be all that I do. But if I had to stop stand-up for a year or two writing for a show, I would be grateful for it and if you have offers, I’ll listen to it.

You never know Myq!

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Interviews
01/30/2015

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