Q&A with Myq Kaplan, 'Last Comic Standing' Finalist
Stand-up comic Myq Kaplan has a knack for winning comedy contests: The rising comedian won NY's Funniest Stand-Up Competition as part of the NY Comedy Festival, and "March Comedy Madness" at Carolines on Broadway. He was a finalist in the Boston Comedy Festival and Comedy Central's "Open Mic Fights." Earlier this year, Kaplan was given the "Emerging Comic Award" at NYC's ECNY Awards. He has also performed on the New Faces show at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, as well as Comedy Central's Live at Gotham and Comedy Central Presents.
Which is why we think Kaplan, one of five remaining finalists on the seventh season of the NBC reality competition series Last Comic Standing, has a good chance to win America's vote and take home the title. The voting has now ended, and he has already outlasted hundreds of other funny people from Los Angeles, New York City, and between. But Kaplan's toughest comptetition remains: fellow finalists Mike DeStefano, Roy Wood, Jr., Tommy Johnagin, and Felipe Esparza are all in contention to be named "Last Comic Standing."
We spoke with Myq (pronounced "Mike") Kaplan before the winner of Last Comic Standing is revealed in the finale episode on Monday night on NBC. Read our Q&A to learn more about Myq's comedy career, his experiences on the show, and the other reality show he auditioned for before Last Comic Standing.
Blog Stage: Are you surprised to be in the top five finalists on this season of Last Comic Standing? When you set out to audition, did you honestly think, "I can win this. I can be the 'Last Comic Standing'?"
Myq Kaplan: I honestly, from the beginning, had no expectations, because I know that comedy is subjective. If you talked to me beforehand, I would have said: “I’m as optimistic as you can be. I’ve been doing stand up for seven or eight years, and I’m happy with what I’m doing, with the way my career and my creation have been going.” So I was as cautiously optimistic as possible.
The best part about every contest that I’ve been in is, if they’re run well – obviously only one person wins, officially – but you're in front of managers, agents, booking types from clubs, TV shows, that type of thing. Those people are there and seeing you do well. Regardless of who the "winner" is, everyone there is talented, hard-working, and wins.
In the case of Last Comic Standing, I guess it’s less about who’s in the audience in front of you live than it is about who’s watching you on TV. And this would be, I’m assuming, your biggest audience ever, correct?
Yes, I think about five million people watch the broadcast, and then I think another five million view it on DVR, and Hulu, and Primetime OnDemand or whatnot. The Tonight Show, I think, had two million-ish viewers – and that was one time.
Did you watch past seasons of Last Comic Standing?
I watched the season that Doug Benson was in. When I found out that he was in it, I watched all of the episodes that he was in, because he’s one of my favorites. I thought he was hilarious on the show, but also in all of the offstage challenge stuff that they had to do.
I don’t know specifically why I didn’t watch the show other than, when it first came out, I didn’t know many of the comedians that were on it. Now, looking back, there always have been great comics in every season, plus people that I might not have known, and people who were unknown completely but now are doing great.
I think the show is now especially striving to put on a straight comedy competition, but it still does have its limitations of, you know, five people are performing in an hour, the judges have to talk, there’s a special guest, there’s intros, there’s outros, and we end up having a less than three-minute set.
Have you already started seeing any benefits from your appearance on the show, bookings-wise?
Certainly. Once you get on the show, more people know who you are. While I was headlining some clubs before, now I can headline clubs where people trust that audiences will come in because of me.
Is there significant editing between your taping on Monday afternoon and the final product we see on NBC that night?
Since it became the top 10, from the first episode where the 10 finalists performed to the present, there is no editing. It is live-to-tape, and takes about an hour to tape. They do say that some editing can happen, like if somebody makes a misstep or a misstatement, not like in a performance. There are a few stops and starts.
"Portions not affecting the outcome of the show…"
Yes, exactly. And I think then with the audience voting on everybody’s set, it's fair with everybody’s set being the same length as one another. In the semifinals, you might’ve noticed, some of the people’s sets have more air time than others.
Have you been writing a lot of new jokes in the middle of taping the show, or do you have to rely on your more polished material throughout the season?
Mostly it is stuff that I have already created. It could range from stuff I wrote five years ago to stuff that I wrote in the past year that has made it into my positive, almost-100-percent-accuracy rotation. That’s the most important thing.
You’re putting together such a short set, it’s hard not just to have it flow naturally – or as naturally as a two-minute set of comedy can – but even just to remember each bit, going from one thing to another. There were a couple segues that I wrote that actually turned into new funny lines. Basically it’s tried and true [material], but I always try to keep some spontaneity in being able to react to what’s going on on the show, or what’s come immediately before me, at least.
Obviously you don’t want to get on stage on national television and try new material you just wrote that morning, before testing it out in front of an audience first. And your jokes are also so tightly written and so meticulously structured that they seem to need even more fine-tuning than most of your competitors.
Yeah, I agree with that. When I go up on a show when I’m working on new material, I’ll always have more than just a broad topic. I’m not going to go up there with, "Trees! What do I think about trees?" I’ll go up with, "I have a thing that I think about trees," but then maybe I’ll try to parlay that into a longer thing in the moment, see how people respond, riffing as much as possible.
But definitely, I have the most fun in front of a good audience trying out newer things, because finding new things that are exciting, good pieces of comedy is sort of the ideal – that’s why it’s enjoyable. I mean, obviously it’s enjoyable doing things I’ve perfected in a way in front of a large receptive crowd, but they’re both good things.
Had you performed comedy much in Los Angeles before competing on this season? Filming Last Comic Standing each week in L.A., have you now spent more time there than you ever had before?
I went to L.A. for a weekend or a three-day period, and did a show, and then left. In the past year, I started going out there a bit more for different reasons. Sometime in November last year, because I was with my girlfriend’s family for Thanksgiving in Arizona, and her sister lived in California so we drove back there with her. So yeah, a few times now, but certainly being there for three days a week for the past couple months is definitely a more concentrated time.
So the answer to your very brief and simple question is, Yes.
Do you get the chance to perform stand-up at comedy clubs while you're on the West Coast, in addition to the show itself?
Zach Sherwin is a comedy rapper who I actually went to college with, and then he did stand-up comedy in and around Boston. Then he started working on his solo comedy rap career recently, and he moved out to L.A. And he and a friend run a Sunday night show, partly to promote a restaurant but also to get some cool comics at the shows. Since we are friends, he has been helpful in getting me some warm-up sets. I perform there Sunday night, then do the same set in front of an audience taped on Monday. And it’s similar with Saturday. I do a couple sets at the Improv, and smaller shows.
One of the benefits [of being a contestant on Last Comic Standing] is people know that I’m in town, and if they have a show then they’re like, “Hey, can you come do the show?” If we’re not busy rehearsing or taping or doing something with the show, then I enjoy not going too many days without doing stand-up.
And now people are calling you and saying “Can you come perform?,” versus you having to say “Do you have a spot open for me?” Has that been a major change you've noticed since appearing on Last Comic Standing?
That is definitely – I’d say even over the past year. I moved to New York a few years ago. It’s a matter of scale. I got to Boston about eight years ago. And when you’re starting initially, obviously you’re calling, you’re going to open mikes, you’re signing up, you’re bringing people if you need to. You’re doing all the work, you’re hanging out, you’re meeting people. Until you eventually prove to people that you’re good enough, then you get the booker's number or you ask them to put you on shows.
And then eventually, little by little, I think by my fifth or sixth year in Boston, I had established myself enough that then there were people who would sometimes ask you when you’re available, sometimes they’ll give you specific dates for new shows. And then sometimes you can just show up places as well.
But even though I did achieve that level of comfort and success in Boston, when I moved to New York – I think I had just done Live at Gotham on Comedy Central, which was a big deal in my career so far. I taped it in March and it aired in June, and I moved around July or August. But then you get to New York and you show up at clubs and they’re like, "Well, hundreds of these people have done Premium Blend and Live at Gotham and Comedy Central half-hours."
So there are many more shows and many more opportunities, and there are also new people to meet, new places to hang out, new bookers to impress. So it was, at least in the beginning for the first couple months, starting over and figuring out who to talk to, where to go, how to spend my time.
Who were some of the first people that you met and got connected with when you moved to New York City? Which comedians would you say have helped you on your way up?
Well, I had a lot of friends who moved from Boston to New York previously, so they were a big help. [Fellow stand-up comedians] Jon Fisch, Joe List, and Dan Hirshon are three good friends of mine who were living here when I got here. I remember before I moved, one of them introduced me to whoever was booking Comix – the club, with an "x," not random vague comics. So they introduced me to her and she gave me some spots immediately. Even when the bookers switched, the new booker said, "Oh, I see that you’ve worked here." So that was sort of the first club I really officially worked at.
Then a couple months after I moved [to New York City], there was an open call for a contest for part of the New York Comedy Festival, where I got to perform in front of the bookers for Carolines. They have been probably the most generous. They really liked me right away, and that gave me my first sort of "home club advantage" there, where they initially said, “Hey, you’re great. We’re going to book you.” And that was November or December. And you’re like, “Okay, well, that’s really nice.” Regardless, it’s nice of them to say, even though you don’t know if they’re saying that to everybody.
But then they started booking me by January . And then I hosted a weekend for Patton Oswalt in February. Every couple months, they would give me a few weekday spots, and they let me host my own shows eventually. They really supported me. I opened for Louis CK last summer, for example – so a lot of legends and, you know, heroes of mine.
In last week's episode of Louis CK's FX series Louie, you’re featured in one scene, hanging out with Louis and other NYC comedians – Todd Barry, Hannibal Buress, and fellow Last Comic Standing season seven contestant Kurt Metzger – outside the Comedy Cellar. Can you describe how you formed your relationship with Louis CK?
I obviously knew who he was very early in my comedy career. I actually learned this after the fact, but the very first time I performed comedy – I say I’ve been doing comedy for eight years, but before that I had been doing some musical comedy. I was focusing on my musical career at the time, trying to be a singer-songwriter. I had some funny songs. So my first time onstage at a comedy club was about 10 years ago, right at the end of my college career. It was at The Comedy Studio in Boston, and I learned a couple of years ago, from the actual program from that night, that two other people at the show were Jonathan Katz and Louis CK.
At the time I knew who Jonathan Katz was, but I hadn’t known who Louis CK was. But I remembered him after the fact: “Oh! That was a really funny guy.” Talking about blacks and Jews – that’s what really stuck out in my head, I think, from that night. But honestly, at that point I didn’t really know who he was, and he certainly didn’t know who I was. He was just a comic working. Then I learned who he was, bought his CDs, you know, followed his career, his specials. And then once I was finally doing comedy, proper, in Boston, he would come stop in at The Comedy Studio sometimes. One time he recorded something that would’ve been for a new CD at one point. I don’t think it ended up being released, but he did three nights in a row in front of jam-packed houses at The Comedy Studio, and I laughed harder than I ever laughed.
In the year before I moved to New York, I was co-hosting Thursday nights at The Comedy Studio with my friend Micah Sherman. (He's a New York actor, and we’d play songs together. We’d basically write comedy songs, which is different from what I do individually.)
But one of these Thursday nights that I was working, about two or three years ago before I moved, Louis was in town doing a movie with Jennifer Garner. He came in to do just a quick set at the studio. He brought in Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. And he would do that occasionally. And if I was hosting, I would get to interact with him more than I ever had. All the comics would sort of hang out after the show, and he was there for a little while. That was when I started to actually get to know him as a person, and then working with him at Carolines was really the first large, extended chunk of getting to work with him. Usually, if you’re a headliner at Carolines, you can ask for whoever you want. I’m not sure if he did ask for me.
He at least didn’t say, "No, anyone but that guy."
Yeah, that’s certainly the case. I don’t know. For one of the contests that I won, part of the prize was a weekend opening at Carolines, which was not specifically something that was new because I had already been doing that once or twice, but I think that became the official prize – a weekend working with Louis there.
So that was awesome. I feel like after that point, he knew who I was and then this past year – actually a few months ago, like say April – I got an email from his assistant that asked if I could open for him on a few dates at colleges in the area. So I did a show with him in Hoboken – that was at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he had specifically requested me. Then I think it was a week or so after that that I got an email from him on a Monday saying, "What are you doing tonight? Can you get to the Comedy Cellar in an hour?" And I got there and there was a film crew, and then you saw the results.
In your opinion, is Last Comic Standing a supportive and friendly atmosphere among all the competitors? Or is it a more cut-throat, “I’m here to win, not to make friends” type of reality TV competition?
In the semifinals there were about 40 people, and I think I knew at least half of them, if not more, pretty well. I would say a lot of us are actually strictly friends and super happy that we’re all involved, and knowledgeable of the idea that while we are competing with each other, there’s no reason not to be friendly to each other. Especially because we are friends and we’re all in the same business together. We all benefit.
Even if somebody didn’t move on [to the finals], if someone was like, "Hey, who are funny comedians I should book at my club or college?" I would be like, "Well, these people are now fresh in my mind as hilarious people that you should talk to, like Kurt Metzger and Adrienne Iapalucci."
Have you made new surprising friendships on the show, with comedians you didn't know – or didn't know you liked – before?
It never surprises me when I become friends with a comedian, because every comedian has in common with other comedians the passion, the job, the life experience. The point is, just when I was starting comedy in Boston, there’s a very large camaraderie, a very tight community that anybody who does comedy, anyone who works at it for a year or a couple years is welcomed into the fold. There’s comedy softball games and a league every summer, there’s barbecues and festivals and parties, and houses where a number of comedians live and others crash.
But back to Last Comic Standing. There’s definitely comedians that I didn’t know. I had never worked at the Comedy Cellar before, but there are comedians who regularly work there. Mike DeStefano I didn’t know before. I knew who he was, and since we started on [Last Comic Standing] we’ve actually done a lot of shows together. Stand Up NY has been booking us a lot, because I think they’re supportive of the fact that we’re on the show and having us there, helping us out and helping themselves – something for a larger audience.
It’s obviously in their interest as well.
Yeah, it’s mutual. But that’s how it works. We get to perform and they pay us, and they get an audience who sees us and pays them.
Mike [DeStefano] is probably the only one who I think actually said on the show, "I’m not here to make any friends." It’s funny that he said it. In one of my interviews – I don’t think it got used on the show, so maybe if I get any airtime on the finale I’ll try to say, “I am here to make friends.”
We’re here to have fun and make other people have fun. Why not have as much fun as you can? We all have this very similar common value of speaking our truths and entertaining people and entertaining ourselves.
You’re watching all these other comedians every week. Is there anybody among the finalists that stands out, about whom you think, "Well if it’s not me that’s going to win, I’m glad so-and-so could?"
I’m glad for no one! No, but my favorite person in the show right now who is not me is Tommy [Johnagin]. People have pointed out that we are similar in either look and/or style, which may have some truth to it. I mean, we’re white guys with glasses.
If you went to a show with both of us, I don’t think you’d be like, “Rip-off! I just saw the same guy twice!” or anything. There are some distinctions. I knew who he was before the show started, but he’s another guy I’ve become friends with over the course of it, and I think he’s hilarious.
How has Last Comic Standing been a learning experience?
In that every experience in life is something to learn from and try to grow as a person. My life has been kind of put on hold for this. We taped the initial episode, and at the end of April they had taped seven episodes. Then we were kind of back into our lives, limbo style, until the show started airing in June. Then those episodes all aired through July. Then in mid-July we went back out there [to L.A.].
Then it became an all-encompassing thing. Seeing what bloggers are writing, seeing how fans are increasing, how many more Facebook friends I’m getting, positive tweets. On the days of the week I’m out there doing the shows, I’m working on figuring out what the set is, doing that taping, but also, like I said, always coming up with new things. Trying out new things is really my reason for doing this, so that’s always happening. So in a way, my life always sort of remains what it always had been, just doing comedy, but obviously an elevated version with more opportunities to perform places that I hadn’t before.
Now to answer your question: I have Google alerts set to my name. Many comedians do. So today after I perform, I’ll get seven to 10 different sites reviewing it, and then comments on those sites and then web forums of people commenting. You can sort of make a job in these sorts of situations of tracking down any mention of yourself – sometimes to your detriment and sometimes to your advantage. I think the majority of what I found has been positive. When I find negative things, I try to put them out of my mind and be like “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about!”
But the point is, comedy is subjective. I am not for everybody. Some people think my name is stupid; I think they’re fine to think that. Agreed. If people don’t like me and are like “Ew! A Jew!” I can kind of disregard it. If you watch me do comedy live or on tape, like if you watch my half hour [Comedy Central special], or a five-minute set, then you can decide, “Mmm, not for me.” I know some people decide “I like my comics really dark and gritty.” Like Doug Stanhope, Marc Maron, and Louis CK, these soul-searching truth tellers or what have you. But then I also like Mitch Hedberg, who’s one of my favorites.
I can definitely see Hedberg's influence in your writing and delivery style, in your quick punch lines and one-liners. It almost seems like you have an advantage on Last Comic Standing because your style is short joke after joke, meaning more laughs per minute, rather than relying on a 10-minute anecdote to set up a punch line. Do you feel like that’s been an advantage up to this point?
I think that goes back to the question you asked that I probably didn’t answer in full, about the fact that I have competed in a few contests. I can tell three jokes in a minute and get the desired laugh. And some people can tell one joke in a minute that has as big of a laugh or bigger, but it still might be more memorable to that this guy had me constantly laughing.
If Bill Cosby were in a comedy competition, how would he do? It doesn’t matter. He could probably tell one story for two hours and have an audience laugh. There are some storytellers who can tell a five-minute story punctuated with as many laughs as necessary. That’s the way some people operate. I started out just writing one liners because that was sort of what came naturally to me. I think now I definitely try to get more out of a premise. Some of my jokes are a minute long now! Whereas other people are like, "How am I going to cut this five-minute chunk down to two minutes and a half?" And I’m like, "What five jokes am I going to tell?"
I mean, at this point, everybody’s good. Everybody in the competition is funny, and nobody’s doing one bit.
Finalist Roy Wood, Jr., for example, will tell one long story in his allotted time, and he’ll pepper it with lots of jokes so that you’re laughing at throughout until he reaches the one big moment at the end. But you still have to get through the whole story to get there.
True. And he is one of the people that, when timing out his set, said, “I have to do these three bits, but they add up to 2:45 without laughs, and it needs to be under that.” I probably don’t have to do as much editing. Writing my jokes as effectively as possible, I think that’s something that everybody has always strived to do.
The cream will always rise – or the soy substitute of cream – but I’ve been fortunate in contests that my style lends itself to be more memorable in a short setting.
Would you ever audition for another reality TV show or competition series?
I don’t know if it still exists, but one I tried out for a few years ago was Beauty and the Geek. But they were like, “Too beautiful!”
I didn’t watch it, but from what I understood I thought it would be cool. I actually wrote a few minutes about my experience auditioning for it, because it was a fairly fun thing. I think I got a callback. There was an initial audition, then they brought me in to interview me, then I met with the casting company and they brought me in with some of the producers. They liked that I was a comedian. At the time I was married, or divorced. I think I must’ve been married. I’m not sure; I’m one of those now. The point is, it seemed like fun. The people making it seemed fun and like they knew what they were doing.
I’d be happy to be on Jersey Shore, I’m sure. I’m from Jersey, so I think that’s what my answer would be: “Jersey?” “Sure!”
What would winning Last Comic Standing mean for you?
I think at this point being on the tour and being in the top five is really – I’ll be in the finale episode no matter what, so it’s just that many people getting to see me again. If I win, then obviously it’s just having that much more name recognition.
There’s people who know that I’m on the show now, but don’t know that I’m still on it. They’re like, "Oh, that’s still happening. Well great! I’ll vote for you! Oh, the voting’s over? Alright, good luck!" So that said, once the show is complete, like most people in comedy, whether they’re comedians, bookers, managers, TV producers, etc., they’ll certainly take note of who the official winner is, but I’m sure, in just being a draw on the road, and potential casting opportunities.
I got called in to read for a part in a movie based on one of the sets that I did several weeks ago.
What was that for? Can you tell us?
I don’t think it’s a secret. It was for a Todd Solondz movie.
Here’s something else that was of interest to me. I think two weeks ago – two episodes ago – I did a joke about Final Destination, and later that evening the writer of Final Destination emailed me and told me he had watched and he enjoyed my set, even though I had shat upon his movie. He was like "Thanks for the mention." I said, "I actually really do like that series, and the joke really only works in that capacity." In the way that you can enjoy food from a cafeteria, but it’s still, "Cafeteria food’s gross, am I right?!"
On some level, that’s what I’m doing with that joke. It’s perpetuating that this crappy type of movie is a crappy movie, when in fact I think it is a well done suspense movie and I’ve seen all four of them. And he actually came to the next week’s taping.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say to our readers?
Thanks, everybody. Sorry about the spelling of my name, if you want an apology. Thanks for liking my name, if you don’t want an apology. General appreciation.
For more Myq Kaplan, be sure to watch the finale of "Last Comic Standing" on Monday, Aug. 9 on NBC. Also visit www.myqkaplan.com and check out his new stand-up CD, "Vegan Mind Meld."
-- Daniel Lehman