Comedian Myq Kaplan is known for wordy stand-up that’s as charming as it is complex. He’s performing a release show for his new Netflix special and album Small, Dork and Handsome at Union Hall this Thursday, May 29th. Whether you’ve seen his smooth staccato delivery kill on Conan or heard him charm and disarm on his podcast “Hang Out With Me,” Kaplan’s connection with comedy crowds is one of instant trust that allows him lead listeners through all sorts of subject matter, from veganism to time travel. We spoke to Kaplan about his new special and his love of language.
An overarching theme of the new special seems to be Time Travel. Do you recall the first time you were introduced to the concept of time travel?
That’s a great question that I don’t think I know the answer to. I saw Back to the Future when it came out and I was about seven, so it might have been then. I feel like I used to play superhero games, I definitely like the idea of stopping time. I saw a “Batman: The Animated Series” episode where there was a villain named Temple Fugate who could stop time. I feel like throughout time, my experience of time travel has been timeless.
As a variant on the go-to time travel question, if you could go back in time and stop any one piece of media from being created, what would it be?
Oh my God. I’d try to help kickstart Hitler’s painting career [by stopping] whoever got into art school over Hitler. All time travel roads lead there [to stopping Hitler]. There’s certainly songs I wouldn’t listen to and movies I would not see, but I would rather not see them. I’m not gonna “Nazi them,” I’m going to “not see” them.
You’ve mentioned your love and obsession with language itself. Given this new release is coming out as a Netflix special and a CD, do you prepare your jokes differently depending on if they’re going to be seen live or in a different form of media?
I would say, overall, not necessarily. The only thing I would say, some jokes may have a visual component that makes them unreadable in audio if there’s a gesture or face that’s key to the understanding of the joke. I think most of my comedy, live stand-up is the epitome of the artform and the way to take it in and these recordings are the best way to capture these moments for people who aren’t there or can’t be there. For the most part, I think in my comedy the audio is more emphasized than visuals. I’m happy people look at me, but I’ve been in comedy clubs were people have an obstructed view and I tell them “Look at me, remember what I look like, listen to my voice and you’ll basically still get everything.”
What made you decide to record the special at The Wilbur Theater in Boston?
Well, I started doing comedy in Boston in the early-2000s. I lived there for many years, it’s sort of my comedy hometown. The Wilbur is the biggest game in town, I’ve opened there for big headliners and such. It was a thrill to have my name on the marquee and have my name up in lights.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you don’t believe a joke is ever truly finished. That in mind, do you ascribe to the philosophy that once you put a joke to an album, you stop doing it live or as it keeps changing do you keep it in your sets?
A little of both. My goal is to ultimately not be doing the material that is out available to purchase or for streaming. After I recorded it, I didn’t automatically have another hour of completely new stuff immediately, but since it was recorded over a year ago, now I have. Now I’m touring with material that’s pretty much exclusively different from anything that’s out on any of my albums. But, there’s still times that jokes that are “Retired” may come out again if there’s the right call for them. There’s no absolutes, no guarantees. There’s actually some jokes on the album that I’ve now improved, and it’s too bad that one’s done because I’ve come up with a better line for the ending. For example, there’s a part on the album where I say “man-horse penis,” and now, when I do it live, I say “centaur penis.” Why didn’t I think of that sooner?
The album/special’s called Small Dork and Handsome and you have a penchant for peppering your comedy with nerdier, dorkier references. Is there any reference you wanted to put into a joke that was just too esoteric to include?
I definitely don’t leave things out if I think they’re funny and anybody laughs at them. There’s definitely jokes that some people will get and some people will not get. On my last album, Meat Robot, I make a joke that the Scarecrow wanted a brain, but when he got one he terrorized Gotham City with his fear gas and nearly murdered the Batman. That’s one where if you haven’t seen the new Batman movies or know that Scarecrow in a Batman villain in addition to being a Wizard of Oz character, then that joke won’t make any sense. I definitely know when I’m performing for audiences at a comic book convention or a Patton Oswalt show, that this joke will work. If not, I won’t know if it will. When I recorded that album, I thought enough people will enjoy it, and they did. I will always try things. I don’t know what everybody knows, I’ll always err on the side of hoping and thinking people will be on board with everything, even knowing that’s statistically improbable. There’s a sign at the People’s Improv Theater that says “Always Assume Everyone’s a Genius and Everything’s On-Purpose” so, I like to do the same thing with my audiences. Everyone’s the best and will get all the jokes.