Joke Robots and the Idea Machine: The Freerange Interview with Myq Kaplan

by Shara Morris
June 26, 2013

In the wake of the acidic Louis C.K. and the brashness of Amy Schumer, is comedy getting nicer?
John Mulaney’s suit-and-tie look (borrowed from Justin Timberlake?) dates back to Jerry Seinfeld’s glory days…ahh Bee Movie. And Jimmy Fallon’s feel good humor is finally getting a shot at The Tonight Show before Leno changes his mind. Myq Kaplan (pronounced Mike) is the latest comedian who is good enough to bring home to mom on YouTube. Kaplan regularly jokes about chivalry and his preferred diet: veganism. Not to say that he’s just bland tofu. A graduate of Boston University’s master’s program in linguistics , Kaplan plays with words and drops punch lines before you can even process his previous pun. His humor is elevated, fast paced, and sharp; he dissects numbers and languages with equal verve (¡Kudos to his “a pollo”/ “Apollo” Spanish joke.)
Kaplan’s latest comedy album, Meat Robot, continues his complex syntactic jokes that are clever, and yes, funny. Like most comedians, Kaplan’s Jewish, but he’s also a bit of a grammar Nazi. I decided to interview him in a land where commas are overlooked and run-ons are rampant to see how he’d fare: G-chat.
Shara Morris: So just out of curiosity, as someone who loves wordplay and grammar rules, do you use gchat? Or what do you do when you text?
Myq Kaplan: I do use gchat from time to time. I usually type with no capital letters. I will do that starting…now!
SM: I just was wondering if you corrected friends during texts or something.
MK: oh, no. i’m not about correcting people.let me correct you there.
SM: Haha fair enough. So how did you initially get into comedy?
MK:my parents were music teachers. i started playing the violin when i was 4, and didn’t love it. in high school, i started teaching myself the guitar, and DID love it. i started writing songs, some of which were funny, and my initial dream career was to become a singer-songwriter. towards the end of college and the beginning of grad school, i started looking for places to perform my music. one such place was the comedy studio in harvard square, cambridge. i went there and played some funny songs and found that i enjoyed making people laugh with talking just as much as doing the singing. if not more. so i started doing less music and more talking, until eventually i was talking for a living. doing comedy.
SM: Very cool. Going from songwriting to linguistics to comedy, how would you describe your relationship with words?
MK: i use them. or they use me? i’m a big fan of words. saying them, hearing them, singing them, etc. a friend of mine once told me something that a friend of hers had said…about buddhism, and words. and i forget the exact words (which is noteworthy, considering the content of what i’m about to say, without those words) but it was something like “words are merely a means.” and there was an analogy, about how words are basically just like fingers pointing to the moon. the moon is the thing. reality. the word-fingers are merely pointing to it. of course, fingers are real as well. and so are words. and they’re fun to play with. (but also the moon is pretty substantial.) and that’s how i feel about words. in my own (and someone else’s) words.
SM: Well what is your writing process like generally?
MK: i don’t sit down to write in general. i carry a digital recorder, and i speak into it when i think of ideas, things that could be funny. then i say those things on stage, and record those performances, after which i listen back and see how they went, if i added anything new, riffed or improvised, in which case i’ll add THOSE things into the idea machine as well. when the joke robot gets full enough, or whenever i have time, i sit down (maybe once a week? sometimes more, sometimes less) and transcribe those spoken jokes into my physical notebook. and once a notebook is full (maybe once or twice a year), i sit down at the computer and transcribe its contents. at each stage of the process, new thoughts/ideas/perspectives/phrasings often get introduced and the cyclical process continues until i’m dead, probably. so far that hasn’t happened.
SM: Well that sounds pretty disciplined then. You clearly have a life comedy transcribing plan. How do the joke robot and Meat Robot, the title of your new album, interact?
MK: the joke robot is sometimes just called “Robot” between myself and friends. for example, i’ll be chatting with my friend zach and if i say something funny, he’ll say “go put that in Robot.” one time, he said that and i told him Robot was out of batteries. so he said something like, “i guess you’ll just have to remember it with Meat Robot” (referring to my brain) so that’s where the album name came from. (in addition to referring to my brain, i like the idea that “Meat Robot” could just refer to me, a human.) i am a robot made of meat. also i have a tattoo of a robot with a heart. more information than requested!
SM: Being so immersed in this comedy world, where do you think comedy is heading?
MK: i have no idea. i know a lot more about the present than the future. the future has so many unknowns.
SM: Well you’re doing the podcasting, and that seems to be something that is certainly gaining traction in the comedy world. Do you think this trend is going to continue?
MK: absolutely. i think there will be more and more podcasts. and more and more people listening to them. i heard an estimate that right now (or recently), about 15% of americans (or earthlings maybe? 15% of someone) was listening to podcasts. i presume whatever that number is, whether bigger or smaller, it’s mostly comprised of young people. and as old people die off, and more young people are created, there will be more and more new podcast listeners. the same way you can’t watch (or even KNOW about) every TV show right now, it will be like that with podcasts. it probably is already. because anyone can have a podcast. maybe everyone will. certainly a lot of comedians do. and anyone can be a fan of whichever comedians and podcasts they want. it’s pretty great. so yeah, you had the answer all along! podcasts are the future of comedy! or part of it.
pod of it.
SM: For sure. How would you describe your personal brand of comedy?
MK: i’ll give you multiple choice answers for this one:
A) i wouldn’t. no one should describe their own comedy.
(i read an alan watts quote once that was something like “categorizing yourself is like trying to bite one’s own teeth.”)
B) my style of comedy is a thing i call “hilarious.” whenever i think of something that’s not hilarious, i think “that’s not me.”
C) that’s personal. my personal brand of comedy is personal. by definition. you said it was.
D) another funny answer. or the real one. you decide!
E) all of the above.
F) none of the all.
G) some of the none.
H) buddhism!
SM: Hmm that’s a tricky one… I) Both A and B?
MK: and H! you’re right about it not being personal. you’re good.
SM: Ha thank you. So your Wikipedia page says you were born Michael Kaplan. Why did you change your name to Myq?
MK: i was maybe 14 or 15, at summer camp, when i found out that prince changed his name to a symbol, and i thought it was cool and weird, and was weird and wanted to be cool. so i changed mine. less weird than eschewing the entire alphabet like prince did. only he had a reason and then switched back, and left me alone and weird. (fortunately i was at an artsy summer camp full of weirdos, so not totally alone at all.) in any event, it just stuck as a nickname that i liked, and eventually was useful as a stage name, especially given that there are a ton of michael kaplans and mike kaplans already.
SM: I’m sure I know five at least off-hand. How is Meat Robot different from Vegan Mind Meld?
MK: mostly different words!
(a joke.)
(but also true. though some will be the same. probably “and” and “the” and “vegan,” for a few.) i was a different comedian back in 2009 when i recorded “vegan mind meld,” compared to 2012 when i recorded “meat robot.” i don’t know exactly how, but i think/hope/feel better. i have more experience. more time and work in comedy under my belt. so hopefully, this album bears the fruit of that experience.
SM: Comedy belt on the meat robot. Anyway, those are all the questions! Any final thoughts you’d like to leave our readers?
MK: thanks for reading! i appreciate it! and please buy my new album “meat robot.” and listen to my podcast “hang out with me” on the Keith and The Girl network. and consume everything else i’ve ever done. give me all your money! (keep some for yourself, and also donate to the needy. but then give me whatever you want to.)


Shara Morris is a radio producer and writer living in Los Angeles. A graduate of Barnard College, Shara’s work has appeared on VH1, New York Public Radio and The Daily Beast. For semi-witty musings, follow her @sharamorris.