Wordplay and wisecracks with Myq Kaplan

RAGHAV MEHTA | Updated 9/11/2013

The brainy, word-toying comedian headlines Acme Comedy Club Tuesday through Saturday.

Comedian Myq Kaplan last year at Stand Up NY in New York City.
Photo by Josh Haner, New York Times

It’s hard to dislike a comedian like Myq Kaplan. At 34, the brainy, word-obsessed standup — who also boasts a master’s degree in linguistics from Boston University — is one of the most reliably sharp cutups in the business. “I feel like you guys are going to be my demographic, which is people who know the word demographic,” he quipped on his latest album, “Meat Robot,” which was recorded at Acme Comedy Club last fall.

But for all his rapid-fire wordplay and deconstructionist humor, Kaplan’s no niche comic. He’s crafted an act that is at once shrewd, accessible and remarkably funny. He isn’t afraid to get a little blue at times, either; his set at Acme last year included a short section on various fisting techniques.

Vita.mn caught up with Kaplan, who’ll be headlining Acme Comedy Club this week, to talk about his self-described “word disease," rituals and - for a brief moment - everyone’s inevitable demise.

Q: You recorded your last album, “Meat Robot,” here at Acme last September. Why’d you choose that club in particular?

It is one of the best clubs that I have ever performed at – in which I’ve ever performed – oh no! Before last time I’d been there twice and I loved it. The audiences were consistently great quantity- and quality-wise. It’s really well run and I thought it’d be a great place to make a CD.

Q: You obviously have a gift for wordplay that’s evident in your standup. When did you realize that? Or did someone have to tell you?

A: [Laughs] If it’s a gift, others are cursed by it. I can look back throughout my life and realize it. Like, when I was 12-years-old in math class I was drawing something and another kid said, "Why are you doing that, there’s no point?" And I said "Oh, you’re right I should go sharpen this!" So, I got up and sharpened my pencil. At the time, I didn't know comedy was a thing but I got a good laugh. So, I was like "Oh, interesting." I was just like, "Oh, I just said a fun thing in math class."

I didn’t even start doing comedy on purpose. I was trying to be a musician, I was trying to be a singer-songwriter. In between songs I would talk and say things, before I even tried to do comedy, and I figured I’d at least try to be a little bit funny. But they were mostly word-based or word-oriented. It just was what I was thinking. I don’t know if I became self-aware and was just "Oh, you love this." It’s just that I love this, it’s just that ... it is what happens in my head.

Q: Do you think you’re self-described “word disease” gets out of hand when you’re not onstage performing or with other comedians? Do you ever worry about it being grating for other people?

A: No. I don’t worry about much. I’ve jokingly referred to it as a disease, I’m certainly not clinically obsessive-compulsive. I think there might be a spectrum on which I am located somewhere. But I can just purchase groceries and, you know, if a joke occurs to me and I think the person might enjoy it, I might do it. I think I’m pretty aware of myself, so no worries at all except for the unknown qualities of death that we all have to face one day.

Q: So, you’re more of an existential dread kind of guy?

A: Yeah, and even then I’m not actively worried about that stuff because I can’t control. A thing I heard once was a Buddhist or Daoist thing that I’m paraphrasing: "Don't worry about the things you can't control, because you can't control them. And don't worry about the things you can control because you can control them." So, there is literally nothing to worry about.

Q: Do you meet a lot of fans that are or were linguistics students like yourself?

A: I think a lot would be a generous term to use because I don’t think there are a lot of linguistics students comparatively at all. Linguistics is a fairly new course of study in the grand scheme of the universe. I would say there are fans of mine who say, "I love the thing that you do, I also do that thing!" But they might be explicitly studying what I study officially.

Q: You’ve said before that you like to do puzzles to keep yourself sharp. Do you have any basic daily rituals?

A: That’s a good question. I think about rituals sometimes because my initial reaction to the concept is that I’m not fond of them. Personally, I realized I don’t have specific things I do in the same order every day. But for me, this is what I do for my writing - I carry a recorder around, speak into it and then every once in a while I transcribe all of it into my notebook. So, when my notebook is full - which is where I’m at now, I have 90 pages - I type it into my computer. That is not a habitual ritual, as it were, but that is something ritualistic in my life.

Q: Last year I asked [in an interview with another outlet], "If you if you had to be trapped in a movie what would it be?" And you answered "Big Fish." If you had to be trapped in a sitcom, what would it be?

A: My initial impulse would have been to say “The Simpsons,” probably because, number one: They never age and few people on the show die. I guess the question of "being trapped" implies some foreverness, so I think the question of aging or being canceled ... maybe I’m coming at it from the wrong way. The shows that I enjoy have the people who are the least happy, like “Arrested Development,” “Party Down,” “It’s Always Sunny [in Philadelphia].”

Some of the best comedy comes from bad, miserable people. If I wanted to live a happy life it’d probably be “The Cosby Show.” But I would say “Party Down,” because I understand the people. I worked in food service while working at putting energy into a performing arts dream career. I think I would be positive-minded and certainly, if I was trapped in it forever, it would have to give me some success once in a while.