Myq Kaplan

Veganomics: A Conversation about Creation & Consumption with comedian Myq Kaplan

After seeing him perform a year or so ago a fundraiser for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (an organization Freerange holds dear) I just couldn’t stop talking about Myq Kaplan: not only is he hilarious, he’s vegan! Not only is he clever, he’s book smart! That’s right—with a master’s degree in linguistics from Boston University, it’s fair to say that Myq Kaplan is one cunning linguist. A few days before his appearance at Freerange Nonfiction’s July 6th installment, Mr. Kaplan and I sat down in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to talk about summer camp, hippos, and the essence of “funny”. –- Mira Ptacin, July 10, 2011




MP: What is your creative process like? When do you feel like it’s time to start a new project, whether it’s a joke or a new big project?
MK: Most of the things I create are either jokes, or joke-like things. I used to be a songwriter, and I still write songs sometimes. Also, sometimes I’ll create rhymes or raps and things, but I don’t think I’ll ever create a rap album, but I have played some music [violin] on my friend MC Mr. Napkins’s album.
I carry around a digital recorder and I carry around a notebook. I think of things and I record them. After a week goes by, I transfer stuff from the recorder onto my notebook, and then every six months, I transfer stuff from my notebook onto my computer. At each stage—when I’m talking into the recorder, when I’m writing into my notebook, when I’m typing into the computer—I feel like each is sort of operating a slightly different brain space, so every time I do that, more ideas come forward. It’s sort of like a process that feeds itself: put ideas down, speak them out, listen to them, and just keep building and building. Some friends of mine just sit and write, (ie ‘I’m going to write 10 pages today!’), but my stuff is just more spontaneous, more happenstance. I also try to balance having new experiences and try to balance creation and consumption, too. But my answer to the question of when to start a new project: whenever it occurs to me.
MP: What would your profession be if you weren’t a comedian? What would you like to do?
MK: When I started doing comedy, I wanted to be a singer songwriter. I also thought about teaching (both my parents are teachers), and I’ve taught music lessons, over the summer I teach standup workshops at a summer camp in New Millford, CT. It’s called Buck’s Rock ( I went there as a kid, since I was 11-years-old. I went every summer, became a counselor, all the way through my mid-twenties at least then I would go back and do standup workshops. That’s where I became and learned how to be a person, basically. Before I went there, I was a shy, introverted loner, mostly. I had a few friends but then moved in 8th grade and through the schoolyear kept to myself. Except at the camp, there were a bunch of other outcasts, sort of hippy, commie, arty-types for performing creative arts. I think being creative is important. I figured out at this camp that performing is what I love to do. But if I had to do something that wasn’t creative? I guess I’d teach. In a way, when we interact with other people and share, we’re all kind of teachers and creative.
MP: Will you ever write a book?
MK: If I had to guess, then the guess would be YES. Do I think I’ll ever publish a book? That I don’t know. But, I think I’ll definitely write a book. I was actually just talking with someone about it. How about being a vegan, and in this economy it could be cheaper to be a vegan, and you could trick people into being a vegan that way and you can call it ‘Veganomics’” . . .but it turns out there’s already a book called Veganomicon, which sounds like a cross between being a vegan, and a Comicon convention. How about a book about a vegan who gets bit by vampires? Is that too late? Zombie Vegan? Would that sell? Maybe if I get on it right away . .
MP: What books are you currently reading?
MK: Currently reading GALAPAGOS by Kurt Vonnegut. And RADICAL SIMPLICITY by Jim Merkel.
MP: Do you identify yourself as a “vegan comedian”? Did anyone ever advise you not to let that one out of the bag?
MK: I didn’t set out to be the “vegan comedian” and I’m not pandering or catering my act to them. What I’m doing is talking about my experiences—the things I do and want to do. I understand that I’m living in a mainly non-vegan world, and I don’t try to come across as patronizing. I’m just sharing my experience. I understand how vegans are perceived and I try to be more accessible than that stereotype. Most people who are vegan, you probably wouldn’t even know, if you met them outside of a vegan restaurant. The ones that people know are like the loud, angry-about-everything. So I try to be like, “yeah, I know some things are wrong and could be the other way, and here’s why . . .” I don’t even think everyone has to be vegan. My problem is with the animal treatment in the big meat industry factory farms. A few hundred years ago, there weren’t even factory farms. There were no factories. It was the Industrial Revolution that kicked it into high gear, and basically capitalism that said, “How much money can we get out of this? Just put them in here, make them not be able to move, who cares about their feelings?” And now we’re so far removed from the process of where food comes from, we’re just sort of like, “Yeah, just give me that box and I’ll eat it.” Whereas years ago you’d go to the butcher shop. Or you hacked the animals yourselves. I’m just pro-knowledge. I want people to be aware of what goes into their bodies, and what consequences their actions have. For anything. For everything. The reason I went vegan is because the treatment of them. You can’t really untangle the meat industry from the dairy industry. The way you get milk is when a cow gets pregnant. And when the cow can’t get pregnant anymore, they kill it. They basically keep the cow perpetually pregnant so that it can keep giving milk. And the cows that are born will often be raised for veal, which is, you know, one of the cruelest ways to treat an animal. Let the record show that the interviewer is cringing right now.
MP: Is there anything you don’t find funny? Have you ever been offended by another comedian
MK: People should be able to say whatever they want. And people should be able to feel however they want about whatever was said. Comedy isn’t always about getting a meaningful point of view across. Sometimes, it’s just about being funny and silly. But when people are trying to say real things about the real world, too, I think it’s important to hear stuff from people who you disagree with. In that respect, I just don’t like it when comedy is lazy, when’s it’s aimed at easy targets, jokes that have been done before, thievery. If people have jokes that are from a racist or sexist or homophobic point of view, and there’s no irony and it seems clear that they actually might believe the things that they’re saying–that might be comedy that I don’t enjoy as much. Unless it’s hilarious . . .either way, I’m not likely to be offended. Also, I’m not a huge fan of jokes that are racist, homophobic, sexist, etc. Unless they’re hilarious. There are definitely some great comedians whose jokes don’t represent my way of thinking, but if they’re good jokes, they’re good jokes. And if they’re NOT good jokes, then it still doesn’t offend me, I would probably just like it less.
One other thing: I think it should be clear that just because someone is talking about race or gay people or gender issues, doesn’t mean they’re a racist or a homophobe or a sexist. Though they might be. Which they’re allowed to be, and I’m allowed not to like.
Bottom line: I like funny and I don’t like jerks, but sometimes jerks are funny.
MP: What do you consider to be the difference between fiction and nonfiction?
MK: Comedy is interesting because it deals with both. Jokes will start in a real place and then end in a fictional place. The commonality in comedy is that fiction and nonfiction can both be funny . . . but, well, who knows? What is the difference to you?
MP: Well, I don’t see color. But, I think that if you’re straight up lying, and you’re saying something really happened, obviously that’s not truthful. But it doesn’t matter—you can get to truths through fiction.
MK: Yes. Here’s the thing—in comedy, if you’re presenting yourself as though what you’re saying contains some kind of truth . . .
MP: Right.
MK: Exactly.
MP: Ok. How about favorite food?
MK: Peanut Butter.
MP: Favorite animal?
MK: Human.
MP: Second favorite animal?
MK: Hippos. They are awesome. They can run really fast. They are vicious, so don’t stand in front of them. Also, don’t stand behind them because they can pee backwards, which is called “retromingent”. I learned that word recently at the San Diego Zoo. Retromingent.




Myq Kaplan is a comedian named Myq Kaplan. He is a 2010 Last Comic Standing Finalist and has appeared on the Tonight Show, Comedy Central Presents, and many other places that you might not care about. His CD, Vegan Mind Meld, was one of iTunes top ten best-selling comedy albums in 2010.
Mira Ptacin is the founder and executive director of Freerange Nonfiction.