“After I record a special or an album, there comes a decision-making process where some of the jokes, I’m like, I’m glad I never have to tell that one again.”
By Blake Maddux
Michael “Myq” Kaplan was a fixture of the Boston stand-up comedy scene in the early to mid-aughts. Since moving to New York City in 2008, he has been a guest on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien , The Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Conan, and Late Night with Seth Myers.
Kaplan has also appeared on Comedy Central Presents, Last Comic Standing, and America’s Got Talent. In addition to these and numerous other television credits, he has done a Netflix special called Small, Dork, and Handsome, recorded two CDs of stand-up, and hosts the podcast Hang Out with Me.
Born in and raised throughout New Jersey, Kaplan graduated from Brandeis University in 2000 and then did graduate studies in linguistics at Boston University.
Myq will be performing at Great Scott in Allston this Friday (March 25) and Saturday (March 26). He spoke to The Arts Fuse by phone while walking the sidewalks of Brooklyn to meet a friend for lunch.
The Arts Fuse: How do you decide when to stop telling particular jokes? Do they usually just die a natural death?
Myq Kaplan: After I record a special or an album, there comes a decision-making process where some of the jokes, I’m like, I’m glad I never have to tell that one again, and I never do. But some of them I still enjoy telling. And while I’m building up the next hour to record or to perform, I don’t necessarily start completely from scratch and throw that whole hour away immediately. I might keep the opener, keep the closer, and then formulate new stuff until I have a new opener and closer. There are some jokes that disappear immediately once I am done with the creating, honing, and recording process. And every joke eventually goes through that because there are no jokes that I tell, thus far, forever.
AF: Are you the headliner at most of the gigs that you do?
Kaplan: Most of the time when I go on the road, I am either headlining a club or headlining a college or whatever event. So I’d say mostly when I’m booked it is to be a headliner, though in New York City, most of the shows are showcases. Like for example, last night I was on a show with probably eight other people and we were all doing eight to 10 minutes.
AF: Who are some of the bigger-name comedians for whom you have opened?
Kaplan: I’ve opened for Patton Oswalt a bunch because his manager and my manager are the same person. I got to open for him at Carnegie Hall once, which was pretty cool, and I’m fine to not be the headliner at Carnegie Hall. I’d also be happy to be the headliner, but it was an honor just to be the opener. Most frequently, I would say, I am booked to be the headliner of shows, but also other times there are exceptions. I have been thrilled to be get to open for people like Maria Bamford, and Louie [C.K.] and Patton and Doug Stanhope [and] Mike Birbiglia. You know, a bunch of people whose comedy I would just go to see if they were around, so I’m happy to be on the show in any capacity.
AF: Not counting late-night television audiences, what is the largest number of people for whom you have performed?
Kaplan: I think one time I was opening for Louie C.K. on a run of shows that he was doing at theaters that sat regularly thousands of people. I think there was one that was between three and four thousand. Somewhere in the mid-three to four thousand range. I think that’s the post people I ever performed for at once. When I was on the Last Comic Standing tour, I think we might have performed one [theater] that might have been around 3,000. The one with Louis was at an amphitheater in LA, or somewhere in that region.
AF: Do you think that political correctness has an adverse effect on the art of stand-up comedy?
Kaplan: My short answer is I don’t think it does. I’ll paraphrase a Paul F. Tompkins response to this type of question. Paul is one of my favorites. What he said in response to this questions was, essentially, times change, and we don’t speak the same way now as we did 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. If you stick only with what you’ve said forever, that means that you’re not changing and growing and evolving and understanding that that is what is happening with the society that is progressing around you, and you will essentially be an old insensitive dinosaur. He probably said it more eloquently and sensitively than that, but that is what I feel.
It’s certainly true that if you say a thing that somebody doesn’t like, they might tell you about it, or blog about it, and I think that’s good, not only for comedy but for people, for society. That is freedom of speech at work.
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who also contributes to The Somerville Times, DigBoston, Lynn Happens, and various Wicked Local publications on the North Shore. In 2013, he received an MLA from Harvard Extension School, which awarded him the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Thesis in Journalism. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife in Salem, Massachusetts.