Witty. Quick. Hilarious… Vegan. You could throw around words like these and accurately describe comedian Myq Kaplan, who has just released his second stand up album titled “Meat Robot.” “Meat Robot,” the follow-up to his 2010 “Vegan Mind Meld,” is a great example of how three years can work a comedian. While Kaplan’s first CD helped him on his rise up the comedy rope, “Meat Robot” appears to show the true growth in his art, both in material and ease.
Tackling subjects like Jesus, porn, Chuck Norris and his own veganism, “Meat Robot” is forty-six minutes of pure, unfiltered funny. Myq’s ability to keep the crowd on his side whilst delivering an endless stream of riffs, quips, and improv (all packed in the middle of his written material) is rather fascinating and remarkable to hear. It’s a skill he’s admittedly attempted to better over the last three years.
Myq recently sat down with TSJ (for the second time) to discuss the intimacy of comedy, his podcast “Hang Out with Me,” and, naturally, “Meat Robot.”
The Smoking Jacket: I have to say; your appearance on “CONAN” last week might be your strongest yet. Everything seemed so on. How did you feel about it?
Myq Kaplan: I felt real good! Most of it was that one bit, and a lot of people say it’s their favorite. I feel the same, I think. I’m so happy that inspiration struck. I was recording my podcast when I said it, and I immediately had to ask the other comedians whether or not I did just think of it or if they said it and I just said it again. With comedians, you always have to ask and make sure you didn’t steal something.
But yes, I was very excited about the set. I think it was my most cohesive yet; it’s difficult to compare to other ones. Even the booker at “CONAN” said it might be his favorite set of mine. In general, a lot of people seem to really like that set. So basically it took me five minutes to say thank you for your compliment.
TSJ: [laughs] So it’s not just me, look at that! But it wasn’t just the material. You also seemed more comfortable.
MK: At no point in my career, I don’t think, did I ever feel “uncomfortable.” I think I was just not aware. I was always pretty confident in it. But at any point I’ll look at an early set and be like why are people laughing? I was definitely very stilted. I certainly have improved on how comfortable I look, I will say that. I think I seem more comfortable. I don’t know how it happens. I guess just from doing it so much?
One major difference between this set and my last was that I had a longer bit throughout the set, maybe three minutes on one topic, and then some strong jokes. Also, lately, the TV sets I’ve done have basically been from my act so maybe that’s why I’ve seemed more comfortable. What I did on TV is what I do in the club.
MYQ KAPLAN ON “FUNNY AS HELL”
TSJ: That makes sense to me. Having done so many TV spots now, is the prep different between them and a set here in the city?
MK: TV does add some level of pressure. I don’t get overwhelmed but I do prepare for that a little more. Not to say I don’t prepare for a set at a club, it’s just different. But leading up to a TV spot I do go through the set over and over at clubs. I’ve heard some comedians do it every night for weeks. I don’t do that.
I find that the reaction of TV audiences usually tends to be different than club audiences. They might be more prone to give applause breaks and that can throw off timing in a fun way. So potentially your rhythm on TV can be different than in a club.
TSJ: Let’s discuss “Meat Robot.” It came out on June 11. I’m sure I know the answer but are you excited about it?
MK: I am super excited for this album! I haven’t released a stand up album in three years, since my first one, “Vegan Mind Meld.”
TSJ: Where’d you record this one?
MK: At the ACME Comedy Company in Minneapolis.
TSJ: I was going to ask how/why you chose the venue but I guess I don’t have to. That seems to be every comic’s favorite club.
MK: I would agree. It was sort of a confluence of fortunate events that occurred. I think I had that date coming up so a few months prior I was discussing with my manager what to do next: a CD or a special. The goal was to do an hour special with the CD being used as something we can pitch it with, but what turned out happening was we did them separately.
But getting back to ACME, I’ve never had a bad time there. Every time I’m there it’s a total pleasure.
TSJ: So you recorded the CD at ACME, which is a club, and then you recorded the special at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. To you, is there a difference in doing comedy in clubs versus theaters?
MK: Definitely. Ultimately, the performance aspects are not totally different. With the special there’s the video aspect, of course. A lot more planning went into that. With ACME, an engineer showed up, set up microphones and we did it. So there is definitely a difference; I get what you mean. The club setting is certainly more intimate.
I’ve watched Brian Regan specials that have been taped in theaters and I really enjoyed them, but his first one was I think just in a club. I know it didn’t look as snazzy but it seemed like a greater response from the crowd. But that might just be because the ceiling is lower and it is a smaller crowd.
TSJ: Is it more difficult performing in a theater?
MK: I wouldn’t say harder because theaters are usually nicer. If somebody is coming to see you in a theater it’s because they generally want to. If you can have 2,000 people come see you at a theater, why not do it in one night as opposed to five nights in a smaller room with 400 people?
TSJ: But some comics rather the smaller room, no?
MK: That is absolutely true. And I don’t know if I’ll even ever graduate to having to make that choice. Don’t get me wrong; I would love to have that problem. Ugh, clubs or theaters?
There are people who can do theaters on the weekends and then do an off-night during the week. Or people like Chappelle, who can just stop in and talk because he can. Also, he does it because he loves it. He loves performing at clubs. He can do theaters or he can do clubs. They’re both great to me, honestly.
The difference in the CD is that ACME has a very loyal clientele so it wasn’t all people there just to see me. I was the headliner, yes, but I think people just love going to that club to see comedy. At the theater, they knew I was there and were coming to see me.
TSJ: How does this album differ from “Vegan Mind Meld?”
MK: Different jokes. [laughs] Well, I’ve been doing it longer now so ideally, hopefully, I’m a “better” comedian. I’m certainly in a more advanced place in my career. At the time, I think I had just gotten a manager and an agent. I only did one recorded TV experience. The ball was rolling but I didn’t know it at the time.
But one of the main differences is that with “Vegan Mind Meld” I only did one set. I did it, recorded it, edited out little things, and that was that.
TSJ: And what was the process with “Meat Robot.”
MK: This was four shows: Two Friday, two Saturday. I was also there during the week, however, just getting prepped. I sort of wish I recorded one of those shows because they went incredibly well.
To go to a comedy show during the week you have to be a comedy fan. They know what’s happening. On weekends, people are looking to unwind. That’s not to say there aren’t comedy fans there on the weekends but it just seems the weekdays are a little different. Regardless, the shows we taped were really great.
But doing four shows, it was easier for me to pick which joke from which show I wanted to use and to see which would eventually get paired down to the forty-six minutes that the album is.
TSJ: That editing process must have been very time consuming.
MK: It is! I know a lot of people don’t like to listen to themselves. They get sick of it. By the end of it, I’m happy I don’t have to listen to it again for a while. But yes, I listened to over four hours of myself for quite some time in editing this. In that respect, doing “Vegan Mind Meld” was nice. If I would have had the opportunity back then, however, I would have done it, but I didn’t.
I think one of the major differences is that at that point I was just starting to allow myself to go off book and riff. I think there are two or three moments on “Vegan Mind Meld” where I did that. But for this, whenever I do something for posterity, I’ll know how to get from point A to point Z, but if something happens I’ll continue riffing. I’m able now to psychologically figure it out onstage.
Also, with this album, I had a basic framework of about an hour and twenty minutes, which gave me freedom because I could decide late in editing if I want the album to be an hour, and hour and ten, or fifty minutes, or something.
I’m lucky too because I went into it with a lot of material. I put in material that I felt “done” with, and I still have a lot more. So the forty-six minutes that the album ended up being I’m very happy with. I’m thrilled it’s recorded and I can move past it but still do it, of course. The stuff I extracted was material I felt I could still stretch or I just really still enjoy performing.
MYQ KAPLAN ON “CONAN”
TSJ: So when do you decide you’re going to record an album?
MK: I think it’s different for every comedian. For somebody like Bill Burr, I’m assuming he knows he can do a special a year, but he chooses to take his time because he doesn’t have a deadline set. For him, I imagine he’s like I keep writing; I keep honing and performing until I’m ready. Then he thinks it’s good, it’s where he wants to be, and then he records. I don’t know if that’s exactly what Bill Burr does but you get what I’m saying.
For me, I certainly could have recorded earlier. I knew I wanted to do an album or a special but it got to a point where I knew I was more than ready to do another CD.
With the first one I basically gave my best set. That was my best material. With this, I had so much more material to choose from. But I definitely knew I wanted to record as much as possible and then hone it down to one final product.
TSJ: The last time we spoke for The Smoking Jacket was about a year ago. In that time you started your podcast “Hang Out with Me.” How’s it going?
MK: It is really exciting! One of the more recent exciting developments is that it’s on the “Keith and the Girl” network. I’m friends with Keith and Chemda and they’ve started turning what they do into a network, so now I am on their extension. I love being there. It’s really fun. As of this interview, we’ve released two so far.
TSJ: Are you surprised with how much it’s caught on?
MK: I never have real specific expectations. I don’t even know how many listeners I even have but I do know that having since started with “Keith and the Girl,” that has really bumped up the number of listeners. They have massive following.
TSJ: This is true. Plus they also have a loyal following. If they say that you’re quality material perhaps their listeners are more inclined to give you a listen.
MK: Exactly! They have a very loyal following. I’m so happy to be associated with them. Plus they are my friends and it’s great to be with them. I hope I can somehow benefit them from being on their network. But I love doing the podcast. The fact that people choose to listen to mine is very thrilling.
TSJ: Is it at all more enjoyable than stand up?
MK: I wouldn’t’ say that. I do enjoy them both greatly.
TSJ: Do you go into each episode thinking we have to churn out some funny? Or do you go with whatever happens happens?
MK: I understand that it is a “comedy podcast” but in the same way that Louis CK’s show is a “comedy show.” But there can be long stretches that are not funny and are not meant to be funny. The way I put the description is that we have a “conversation that is fun, meaningful, both, or neither. “
I like to think that in every conversation there are some funny things, but I do also hope there are real things. Whether they be getting to know people, something poignant, or even emotional. If I’m getting to know someone it’s a slower process but ideally it does then grow into something substantial. But again, it doesn’t have to be funny.
TSJ: Do you see your future venturing out of stand up? Maybe more into writing or TV?
MK: First and foremost, it’s always stand up. I love doing stand up. Mitch Hedberg had a great joke, something like you work so hard at doing stand up, and people then ask, “Can you write? Can you act?” They ask you to do things similar to comedy but that aren’t comedy. If you become a great chef they don’t ask you, “Can you farm?”
TSJ: That’s a great piece. I never thought of that.
MK: It is a great point. For me, I love doing what I’m doing. I know how to do stand up. I love doing it. It could be whatever I want it to. I don’t have to submit a writing packet to try and be a stand up. I don’t have to look a certain way. The best part is I can be myself completely. I can say what I want, do what I want. I love it! The fact that I’ve been able to make a career out of this is amazing to me. I’ve reached my goal so everything else is a bonus. If I get the chance to write on a show or act, that’s great. Like I just saw Baron Vaughn in “Arrested Development.” Maria Bamford in the same thing. That’s so thrilling.
The fact that I’ve been on “Louie” is crazy. He emailed me asking if I could be at the Comedy Cellar at 9 and that day I got to be in his Emmy-winning show. The fact that Louis CK knows who I am, has me open for him, talks to me, is one of my favorite things. But getting back to my stand up, it’s what I do. I love it; I can control it. Anything else that comes – gravy!