Two weeks ago, the 14th annual Phoenix Comicon hit the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Comedians Brian Posehn, Myq Kaplan, and Mike Drucker were there, performing nerdcentric material as part of their Comedy Mutant Tour.
Geeks Are Sexy sat down with Kaplan to discuss comic books, music, and his “accidentally on purpose” fall into comedy.
His 2013 stand-up special Small, Dork, and Handsome is available now on Netflix Instant. He also hosts the podcast Hang Out with Me and was a finalist in 2010 on Last Comic Standing.
How did Comedy Mutant come about?
My manager manages me and Brian Posehn and a few other people. I think it was me who conceived the idea to do these tours, specifically at comic conventions – and other places – but these were places with tons of fans of the kind of comedy that we sort of gravitate toward, at times. You know, Brian is this gigantic figure in sort of the nerd culture and writes comic books. I read a lot of comic books and enjoy them, so I’ve written a lot of jokes about time travel and science-fiction things…the few comic convention shows that I’ve done with Brian and with Comedy Mutant have actually been fantastic.
Who have you loved working with?
I’ve been really fortunate to work with some of my heroes and people that I love, like opening for people like Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins I’ve worked with a few times, Andy Kindler…I could go on. How much space do you need to fill? Reggie Watts, Henry Phillips …I love working with anyone who is my friend and makes me laugh.
Is there someone that you’d love to work with that you haven’t yet?
I definitely feel grateful and fortunate to have gotten to work with so many people that I do love. I guess that one of the other people who I’ve never met who is one of my favorites is Brian Regan. I mean, I’m happy just knowing he’s a person and getting to see his comedy and hear it. I’m not owed anything, I don’t feel entitled; he’s just a guy I love who I’ve never met.
To the best of your ability, let’s talk about women in comedy. Is it still as difficult? Stand-up comedy began as another male-dominated and sort -of “nerd-related” industry.
Obviously, up until very recently, historically speaking, every industry was pretty much a male-dominated one – every job, every profession. So, the patriarchy and stuff was sort of, you know, inherent, except for maybe 50, 60 years ago, women were a nurse or a teacher or secretary or nothing, you know, a housewife or a disappointment. [laughs]
Now, as I understand it, there are more women in college than men. They’re obviously just as capable to do pretty much anything. I mean, there are women who can do way more things than I can, like physically speaking and mentally. There’s no reason, I think, to have this gender binary.
To say that it’s difficult, you know, it has been difficult for women in society and the tendrils of that have gone all the way pretty much through everything, so I don’t know if it’s more difficult in comedy or in comic books – which I’m not that familiar with the politics and such of that – but I mean, I just assume that anything that was an old boys club still has old people in it that feel that way. Joss Whedon is a guy who is, I think, a champion of humanity, egalitarianism, gender equality. I was reading an interview where somebody asked him, “Why do you write so many strong, female lead characters?” and he said something like, “Because people keep asking me that question.” So, I mean, I think that we’re on the right trajectory…somebody saying, “Oh, man, it’s hard,” it’s hard to be a comedian, it’s hard to succeed as an artist or an entertainer, no matter what. You know, when people point to “women aren’t that funny!”, I can give you maybe 100 male comedians who aren’t funny for every female comedian who isn’t funny; there are just more male comedians.
Do you think it’s harder or “easier” to be a comedian today?
I guess it depends on what your definition is to “be a comedian.” Before the ’80s, it was difficult because there wasn’t the job of ‘comedian,’ really; there weren’t as many comedy clubs. You sort of just had to be like, “I guess this is what I do,” and you sought out strip clubs, variety shows, and you know, vaudeville, and you would sort of open for bands and what have you.
But in the ’80s, as I understand it, is when more comedy clubs started opening and then it sort of got to the point where ‘comedian’ was a viable job option – “Oh, should I be an accountant or a doctor or a comedian?” – and you could maybe make six figures a year not even being a headliner, there was just so much demand, just because it was such a new thing; there weren’t comedy clubs before. Now, every bowling alley, bar or restaurant that could have a microphone did and people love comedy, but then that bubble burst in the early ’90s, I’d say, as I understand it, and then a lot of people left and then it was harder again to be a comedian, just statistically, numerically; there’s just less work.
And then obviously, in the 2000s, which is when I started doing comedy, I didn’t have all this experience to compare to, I just knew about it, but it’s always hard to start being a comedian, because you don’t know how to do it. You’re starting from scratch. Like, if you start playing the violin, you can be horrible at home, alone, for a while, before you even get out there in front of audience. But for comedians – before you’re even a comedian – you have to be in front of an audience being horrible, learning how not to be horrible, hoping that you GET not to be horrible, and ultimately, you know, keeping on achieving that. But if you want to and you love it, then you do, so I think it’s always hard to start being a comedian.
Now, there are so many more avenues for success. It used to be you would just try to get on The Tonight Show, so it was easy to maybe make a living in the ’80s, but hard to maybe become a star. Now, it’s probably harder to make a living, because there are more people vying to be comedians. There are so many, probably, hundreds, thousands – I don’t even know – you know, all the people aspiring in New York and L.A., in any city that has a comedy scene – or doesn’t. Now there are so many more avenues – it’s not just The Tonight Show – there’s all the late-night shows on the networks, on cable, you know, there’s Last Comic Standing, there’s YouTube, there’s web series, there’s podcasts…there’s so many ways to, let’s say, “break through.” Most people still won’t break through to that upper echelon of the biggest fame, but there are so many ways to make a living that are different: There’s viral YouTube stars, there’s people with Twitter followings and Vine stars. You just have to do what you want and hopefully, figure out the best way that works for you. So, I would say that it is harder and easier.
How did you become a comedian? Was it something you purposely set out to do?
It was more of an accident for me. I was actually trying to become a singer-songwriter – and I was a singer-songwriter – but not my dream job situation.
Before I was a comedian, I was going around Boston, where I was in school, playing at coffee houses and things like that. I was trying to perform anywhere and found a comedy club and was like, “I have some funny songs. Can I play them there?” And that’s when I started performing at a comedy club and I sort of enjoyed, in between the songs, talking and making people laugh without the guitar, and I was like, “Maybe I could see if I don’t even need this guitar anymore?” and it just sort of gradually happened. I started getting longer and longer between songs, I stopped bringing the guitar eventually, (and) I was pursuing more comedy clubs and less music venues. I still love music. I feel like I’m married to comedy now but sort of in an open relationship that allows me to have music as my mistress. I definitely sort of organically, naturally fell into comedy.
What do you “geek out” about, besides music?
Probably comic books is the first thing that comes to mind. I started reading Archie as a very young child and then a little later on, as a young teenager, I got into Marvel comics first. I think I saw this comic – Secret Wars - at the time that had, like, every Marvel hero and villain, maybe, on the cover, it was the X-Men and the Avengers and Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, and I was like, “That’s great! I can just get one comic that has everybody in it!” And then I started really getting into that and sort of got out of it.
But then in grad school, I started working at this Barnes & Noble and got a discount and I realized, “Oh, I can get all these really cheaper collections of comics,” and sort of got back into it and started really learning who was writing comics and I started loving it again. I still, to this day, buy a lot of comic books.
I love used book stores – books, in general, reading. I like ping pong a lot. Music, as well. I still play the guitar, write songs. I have a musical comedy act I do with a friend of mine, Micah Sherman, and that’s sort of more for fun. So, I guess those are the main things: Reading comic books and non-comic books.
Have you thought of a web comic series?
That’s a fine idea. I used to be a visual artist more, but now I am more of a writer. But I do have a friend of mine whose name is Joe Karg. He’s an animator an illustrator who lives in Athens or Atlanta, I forget which. He loves comedy , and so he was a fan of mine, and then we became friends,. Because we’re both vegan and he sort of reached out to me and was like, “Do you want to do a project where we both write a comic book together and I’ll draw it?” So,we’re sort of in the works doing that.