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What Myq Lyqs

I hope you all enjoyed my bit of Last Comic Standing obsessing the last time I posted. As your “Comedy Nerdist” I thought it would be lame to just talk about the show. Nerds can do better. I wanted to take something interesting and pick it apart, gutted-clock style. But that wasn’t really enough for me. The last post was just observations, and I have actually met Myq Kaplan, the comedian so picked apart, when he’s passed through Chicago. And I knew that like me he is a nerd who enjoys how things work.

When I was first telling him about my wanting to write the first piece he was game to chat, but was on a bit of a press blackout. Now that voting is done with, he very generously agreed to talk with me about his riffing on the show, some interesting insight into Last Comic Standing, and improvising within stand-up as a challenge. I hope you will all enjoy reading the discussion as much as I enjoyed provoking it!

Dan: So, I have relatively limited TV experience, but I have had to type all my jokes out word for word to run by the Standards and Practices department at a network. Your riffs that you did- was there any level of screening them outside of the editing room?

Myq: Good question. My transcripts did not include in-the-moment things, because most of those were genuinely created in the moment or moments leading up to the moment. In the semi-final round, when the sets were edited, the beginning of my set was edited out, but I had received positive feedback from the judges on it… also edited out… as well as several of the producers and higher-ups on the show.

That gave me a reasonable amount of confidence that if I were to do such things again, I would not run into much trouble, provided I maintained the spirit of what Standards and Practices would aim to accomplish. Obviously, if anyone said anything unplanned that was not fit for broadcast, it would either be edited or bleeped, so I was prepared for anything like that to happen as well, depending on circumstances.

Dan: So, since you’d done TV before, and since this had “competition stakes,” did finding this niche/loophole give you confidence that say, another nerd comedian who has anxiety issues might not find in this kind of situation?

Myq: Talking about yourself? Nerd! I mean, another good question, nerd. Fellow nerd. This niche has always made me feel comfortable. Whether in competition or not. Also, I usually do well with managing anxiety. My anxiety normally manifests itself, oddly enough, AFTER my performance. I generally try to keep in mind that, ultimately, nothing is of the utmost importance. We are all going to be dead someday.

So, whatever happens before then, it’s all bonus. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my nerves have been wracked variously throughout the past several weeks. What I strive for and what I accomplish are not always in exact harmony. But… To get back to the question, I do find that this niche is comforting to me, even though it’s a matter of creating something new as quickly and effectively and interestingly as possible. Which is not necessarily the ideal approach to a high-stakes competition.

Dan: Much of my anxiety also manifests afterwards, when adrenaline drains away. But when I had to put that set together for S&P I would have loved to think “you know what, I’ll transition into these with something loose and semi-improvised at the top.” It would have been freeing, more so than I ever expected from stand-up on TV. So did you plan on specifically writing off of people who went before you? Or has everything about the show been fair game?

Myq: I didn’t really make any specific plans. The first time I did it was a part of a long show, and the person who went before me happened to tell some jokes that lent themselves fairly simply to the process. So it’s always a combination of very quick planning, trusting yourself, and luck. Most of the time, it can be risky to go too far back in the memory of a show, because the reference has to be clear in the minds of the audience. So, the preceding comic does seem to provide the best logistical potential. But if something memorable had happened before that, certainly it would be fair game.

Dan: Have you ever tried improvising half-way through a set? More than just a one-phrase callback, like talking to the audience or riffing off of something and writing almost entirely on your feet?

Myq: I definitely do. One thing, in my most recent set on the show, one of the things I called back to happened in the middle of one of my jokes… Which isn’t the same thing as what you’re asking, other than the chronology… It doesn’t always have to be at the top of a set. But if a set is planned… as TV sets often are… it makes sense to do one, and then go on with the act proper, as planned.

Obviously going off book has its advantages, but its potential disadvantages include having to get back ON book. When I’m performing regular shows in general, my ideal situation is to be loose, and riff and add new things to planned stuff or create whole new stuff whenever possible. Whether it’s based on stuff happening in the room, interacting with the audience, or just thinking of new things about my own material. Especially when I’m workshopping newer stuff. Rarely are my jokes written on the page exactly as they end up in the act. It’s always a collaborative process with my brain, the audience, my digital recorder, my brain again, my notebook, another audience, and an infinite loop of these.

Dan: Have you gotten much longer, headlining sets before Last Comic Standing? Have you already thought about the doors that might open because of that? I know NYC and Chicago city limits have this in common: lots of places to experiment, not a lot of stage time per night. Do you think/hope that LCS will let you do more long sets, perhaps go on the road more, and give you more time to experiement? Are you already at that point?

Myq: I did comedy in Boston for about six years before moving to NYC. It was a great place to develop, it had plenty of showcases and open mic spots for people starting out, and for more experienced folks to work out new material. It also had its own plentiful world of roadwork what with Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and other areas of Massachusetts all being within a reasonable driving distance. So, before I came to New York, I never felt like I was at a loss for places to perform, either shorter or longer sets. Especially because a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to start performing regularly at colleges.

So, I might have been opening for big headliners coming through Boston a few years back, but then I was going on the road and doing an hour at colleges as well. Which gave me a variety of experience, and the chance to work on my long set, as well as be more open and loose and have the chance to experiment more, when an audience was up for it and circumstances allowed. And since moving to NYC, that general idea has been maintained.

In the city, most of the spots are anywhere from 5 to maybe 20 minutes… with exceptions, but generally speaking, I’d say most sets would fall somewhere in the middle of that range… but I have still been going on the road, both to colleges and, starting in this calendar year, to a lot more clubs on the road. I would say in my ideal month, I might go out of town to do two weeks headlining some clubs, and then have two weeks doing sets in NYC, with some colleges and/or other gigs thrown into the mix. I still go back up to Boston whenever possible as well. There are a few clubs there that I consider my home in comedy still, and I love going back, whether to do a set and try to make a good new tape, or just to work out a bunch of new stuff in front of crowds that I know will be receptive. Though obviously I have opportunities like that down here as well.

In short, I have been doing longer sets on the road for the past few years, specifically in clubs most recently in larger volume this year, but certainly Last Comic Standing will give me the opportunity to do even more. And for more people who know and care who I am, which is even better.

Dan: I definitely think your visibility has exploded, and I hope you get to enjoy some of the perks. One thing you brought up earlier that is something I am fascinated with is “getting back ON book.” That is indeed a tough one, and even though I love improvising I’m never sure what to do with that part. They often want more loose stuff at that point. This is my last question, but what do you think it is that makes audience love both prepared and spontaneous material, but makes that gear shift so clunky?

Myq: Hmmm. Then I will make it the best! Or at least good. Or we’ll see.

I’m opening the answer with riffing. Let’s see if I can get back on track with the actual answer, in a reasonable way that you, the audience, will enjoy as much as this. Maybe if you don’t enjoy this, that will be easy.

I saw Paul F. Tompkins at Comix a year or two ago, and he was doing, as he does regularly now, about 15 minutes of riffing up top, followed by the drudgery of his material. I’m paraphrasing his assessment thereof… He made a big hilarious deal out of having to eventually get to the prepared stuff, and most of the people were eating it up, because he is such a strong in-the-moment guy, as I am sure you know. It was, however, Saturday night, and there were some people there who were just there for “comedy” and not him specifically, and at one point a lady responded vocally to his saying he would have to get to his material, with her agreement that that would be a good idea. As though she felt her time was being wasted. Like, this guy hasn’t even started the show yet? He’s been on for ten minutes! Get serious, funny-maker!

So, one thing is clear, or maybe not one thing, and maybe not clear, but here is a thing: people like different things. Even fans of the same comedian might love different aspects of them. Some people hate riffing. Some people hate material. Some comedians have a natural flow of going back and forth between the two. Todd Barry is great at this I think.

Honestly, it seems like two different muscles are being exercised. Riffing is basically a kind of improv. And standup is essentially the opposite. When done well, they’re both enjoyable comedy, but they’re not always a natural fit for one another. I believe that improvised stuff resonates with people more because it’s guaranteed to have that “this is happening RIGHT NOW!” quality. Which is the same sort of thing that great standup material can do as well, when you’re not thinking or caring about the fact that someone honed this act for months or years. So, ideally, it doesn’t HAVE to be clunky. When an audience is good, I think even planned material can have an electric vibe to it, maybe with the occasional new tag added in the moment. And sometimes riffing can lead a comedian naturally into a bit to MAKE that bit seem improvised as well, and keep riding the wave of the “in the moment” excitement. Sometimes that wave can prove too large to follow with material. But sometimes not. Hopefully mosttimes. But that’s not a word.  But who cares about what words are? People listening to them or reading them? Sure, maybe.

Just coming out of this thought-out answer with some non-thought-out riffery. To give us some cyclical closure, or lack thereof.

Dan: Ha. Well I like ending on that. Thank you sir.

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  1. Ian Perez says:

    Enjoyed the article. I can certainly appreciate a finely tuned set, but it’s great to hear some improv during a set – I feel like I can better appreciate how naturally funny someone really is, and it’s an exciting change of pace. I would have never thought that switching back to planned material would be difficult after going off book, but it was great to read your and Myq’s thoughts.

    And a quick comment about some of the comments. I don’t understand how some people can expect comedians to have completely brand new material every set. Tell a joke once and then throw it away? That’s ridiculous, plus I imagine it’s pretty hard (and takes a while) to write and perfect a killer joke. And the great thing about jokes is that they can change a little bit each time or be weaved together with different material to create drastically different sets. If you like the joke once, why is it not funny ever again?

  2. Roxanne Flores says:

    See, the great thing about reality shows is that everyone is an at-home expert.

    Anyone who watches can have an opinion and worthless criticism without knowing what they’re talking about.

    Thanks Andrew!

  3. smartbunny says:

    I’m monumentally bummed that Myq (or Tommy J) did not win. They are both fantastically funny, super-nice guys and they have terrific careers ahead of them.

    I’m not a performer of any type but I find hearing about the craft endlessly fascinating. Apparently notebooks are very important!

  4. Jenn Zuko says:

    Oh, and about the comedians-doing-the-same-funny-stuff thing? I’m in live theatre, and I see the same shows being produced over and over again, and there’s a lot of complaints tossed around about nothing original happening…it’s been talked about since Brook’s The Empty Space.
    It’s a similar thing, I think–if I were a comedian and I had a bit that was super-successful, I think I’d probably do it as much as I could. I’ve never done stand-up, but I can see how one would want to do one’s “greatest hits” if one had them. And yet at the same time, maybe it ends up being like the bands I see on those shows that hate doing their big hits because they’ve done so much better original work since then. But then there’s the fans that want to hear I Ran. So I don’t know. Maybe there’s a happy medium?

  5. Jenn Zuko says:

    You know what I like? This post reminds me of it–on the Nerdist podcast, it always ends up being about the creative process–Chris always bring it around to “So how do you write? What are the steps you go through to get to the product?” It’s awesome. This post is illuminating in that way as well.

  6. Dan Telfer says:

    It’s true, comedy isn’t easy! If you think I’d use this blog to call out who is lame or coolest, you can stop holding your breath. There’s a billion catty, condescending showbiz sites that already do that. I’d rather talk shop!

  7. Andrew says:

    I see where the confusion is. When I said I wish it did, I was referring to how I would run the show, not how I would vote on the contestants with the rules being as they are. I thought it was ridiculous that Norton was almost a contestant but other than that, these people are mostly all “unkowns” including Myq.

  8. Andrew says:

    Ben, it really is “Let’s Make an Amateur Famous.” If it wasn’t, the hosts and judges and more famous comedians would be contestants. However, I didn’t say Myq shouldn’t be on the show because he already had a special. As Hardwick says often on his podcasts, you hit a certain point in your career where something’s wrong with you if you haven’t done some of this stuff. However, him using the same 20 or so minutes of material that he used on his other special makes me wonder if he has any other decent material. Its like hearing somebody’s comedy album, going to see them, and them doing nothing but the stuff that was on the album. Sure most of the crowd is entertained by the material but you’ve put the stuff out nationally, you can at least have some new material. Remember Season 1 when all the other comedians knocked Dat Phan for constantly using the same material when Ralphie May was doing new stuff each time?

    Dan, thanks for clarifying the purpose of your blog posts. May be its because I’m not a comedian but I didn’t think his “improv” of using other people’s material was that impressive as a difficult thing to do.

  9. Ben says:

    It’s a bit imprudent to write Myq and his jokes off because he had a special. It’s called Last Comic Standing not Let’s Make an Amateur Famous. Comedy Central is but one station, it’s definitely not a career maker. It makes complete sense that the jokes in his special are in his sets on LCS because it’s a competition, so he’s going to want to use his best material. Most likely he composed a 20+ minute set of his best material so he could have a great special and if uses that material on LCS, good for him. Plus who cares if he told a joke about Final Destination it was still funny and comedy doesn’t have to be topical. Also this season doesn’t have any of the reality tv aspects to the show which makes it loads better in my opinion.

  10. Dan Telfer says:

    The rules or general competitiveness of the competition for competition’s sake don’t really have any interest to me. I mean, there’s nothing in the rules that states what kind of material you can use, and generally speaking the people who watch LCS can be a whole different audience. Imagining fake sub-rules for the sake of being subjectively “best” just isn’t what I find interesting. And, sadly, you will have to be content with what I find interesting. So there suckers!

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love it if more semi-finalists actually lived outside of NYC and LA, or didn’t have managers. That would include me! Maybe. If I was lucky and blew $500 to fly out and audition. Which I didn’t even do.

    In short, I am not writing these articles to say “Hey, look at Myq! He’s the best competitor!” I have been a fan of Mike Destefano and Tommy Johnagin for some time and it would be boring to me personally to rank them. But I know Myq a little, and I like picking things apart. That is the simple premise here. You are entitled to your opinion, but I also like to participate in the comments here, and if one openly admits they’d like to “bash” my “irritating” writing, I’m going to bite. And I think there may be some discrepancy in why I bothered to write this.

  11. Andrew says:

    Normally I’m not one to bash but the praise for Myq Kaplan irritates me. Not really because I think he’s a bad comedian. Some of his stuff I do like. However, he’s had a Comedy Central special. I’m not saying that should DQ you from Last Comic Standing (although I wish did), but the special was pretty much all of the material he’s been using so far. I couldn’t believe it last week that he actually used a joke about the original Final Destination in theaters. That movie came out 10 years ago!

    That’s probably why I liked the older seasons of Last Comic Standing better. You could really tell if a comedian had a lot of good material or was just using their best 30 minutes spaced out well.

  12. Dan Telfer says:

    It may be worth pointing out that there are multiple contributors to the site- I did not submit the Jedi video (that was the hilarious comic/writer Jonah Ray). While the site was started and is still managed by Chris Hardwick, he’s been kind enough to invite other Nerdists on board. Since my focus is Comedy Nerdery and since Chris (and several other contributors) is also a stand-up comic I can easily see the confusion. Glad it was enjoyable!

    And for the record, I’m a big fan of many of the finalists/semi-finalists!

  13. Sean Trank says:

    That was good stuff, I’m a bit of a Nerd myself and my fried referred me to your blog with the Jedi video. Wow, very clever, the stuff I write may be of interest to you, check out my youtube channel to have looksy. Keep up the good writing.

    Two words Jewish Chins = Very Funny

  14. Stacy says:

    I lyq Myq and his riffing, and his nerdy jokes. I hope he is the last comic standing this year!

    I’m not sure why, but I even think it’s funny when he says “I appreciate the noise that you make.” Funny in a good way, or course.