Comedy & Partisanship: The Transcendent Laugh with Special Guest, Myq Kaplan

Can Stand-up Comedy survive the triple threat of partisanship, political correctness and cancel culture???

Show Notes, Electronic Resources and Transcript

September 3, 2020

Ok, Comedians, make America laugh with surprising, original jokes that offend absolutely no one and work equally well in our very blue, very red and very antagonized parts of the country… 

To the Purple Principle team, that seemed a near-impossible challenge in today’s partisan environment. 

With Episode 8, The Purple Principle begins a series of related discussions with comedians starting with Myq Kaplan, who has performed on Conan, The Tonight Show, The Late Show and put out 7 solo comedy albums, including his latest, AKA. 

Can stand-up comedy survive the triple threat of polarization, political correctness and cancel culture? Myq Kaplan asserts that comedy is up to the challenge and deftly destroys our carefully constructed hypotheses. Tune in to learn, laugh and appreciate the art of comedy in a challenging age.

Guest

MyQ Kaplan Stand up comedian

Guest Album

A.KA.

Original music composed by Ryan Adair Rooney.

Electronic Sources

Source Notes

1 “Watch.” Myq Kaplan.   (official site) 

2 Myq Kaplan (2020). “A.K.A.” Blonde Medicine. 

3 ABC 01/19/85 Fiftieth American Inaugural Presidential Gala (ABC, 120:00). Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. 

4 White House Christmas Celebration 1992. C-SPAN 2.

5 Michael S. Rosenwald (12/2/18). “‘Wouldn’t be prudent’: George H.W. Bush’s unlikely friendship with Dana Carvey.” The Washington Post.

6White House Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner (2000). C-SPAN.

7White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2009). C-SPAN. 

8 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2018). C-SPAN. 

9“Blue Collar Comedy Tour” (2003). Gaylord Films; Pandora Cinema; Parallel Entertainment; “Weekend Update” (10/8/17). Saturday Night Live (NBC);“Christmastime in Larryland.” (2004). Warner Brothers; “Sarah Palin and Hillary Address the Nation” (9/13/08). Saturday Night Live (NBC).

10 George Carlin (1965). The Merv Griffin Show (NBC).

11 George Carlin (1978), “On Location: George Carlin in Phoenix.” HBO.

12 Chris Rock (1999), “Bigger and Blacker.” HBO.

13 Tim Ott (5/19/20). “How George Carlin’s ‘Seven Words’ Changed Legal History.” Biography; “Obscenity Case Files: People v. Bruce.Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  

14 “The Perception Gap: How False Impressions are Pulling Americans Apart” (June 2019). More in Common. 

15 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2006). C-SPAN.

Transcript

Myq Kaplan  (00:02):

I wish I knew whose joke this is.

Robert Pease (host):

That’s standup comedian Myq Kaplan. He’s considering our carefully researched hypothesis that partisanship is dulling the American sense of humor.

Myq Kaplan:

The short answer is no. And the long answer is noooooo…

Robert Pease (host):

I’m Robert Pease, host of The Purple Principle, a podcast about the perils of polarization in U.S. politics, society, and just plain daily life. Welcome to our first episode on the subject of comedy and partisanship with special guest Myq Kaplan.1 He’s a 20-year standup comedy veteran who has appeared on Conan, The Tonight Show, The Late Show, and released numerous comedy albums, including his most recent, AKA.2

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (00:43):

This is Emily Crocetti, staff reporter, and we know what you’re thinking: what does partisanship have to do with standup comedy?

Robert Pease (host) (00:51):

Actually, quite a bit. Comedians need to deliver surprising, entertaining material in venues all over the country.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (00:58):

And that’s not an easy job to begin with, but possibly even more difficult after the past few decades due to political polarization.

Robert Pease (host) (01:06):

Consider that tradition of comedians hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, as well as  inaugural balls or Christmas parties. Way back in 1985, veteran insultologist Don Rickles was introduced to President Reagan as a Democrat by the seven year-old master of ceremonies.3

(Archival Audio)  (01:24):

“I know this is a Republican celebration, but I have the honor of introducing a man who is so democratic, he picks on everybody equally.”

Emily Crocetti (reporter):  

Including that little kid…

Robert Pease (host) (01:36):

And then Rickles turned on President Reagan.

(Archival Audio, Don Rickles) (01:38):

“You’re sitting there looking at the program wondering where does it say he makes fun of me…”

Robert Pease (host) (01:43):

Comedian and impressionist Dana Carvey was invited to the White House Christmas party in 1992 by one of his favorite SNL sketch characters, President George H.W. Bush.4

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (01:54):

The two of them developed a very unlikely friendship from that point on.5

(Archival Audio, Dana Carvey) (01:58):

“Not gonna do it…” 

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (02:02):

In 2000, Bill Clinton took a good hit from SNL impressionist Darrell Hammond.6 

(Archival Audio, Darrell Hammond): 

“If you’d only take your clothes off and let me see you naked, there would be no more racism.”

Robert Pease (host) (02:14):

Then Barack Obama took a few punchlines in 2009 from comedienne Wanda Sykes.7

(Archival Audio, Wanda Sykes) (02:20):

“Well, what’s funny to me is, they’ve never caught you smoking, but they somehow always catch you

with your shirt off.” 

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

But there have been no more comedians at the White House since 2018, when Michelle Wolfe performed at the Trump Correspondents’ Dinner.8

Robert Pease (host) (02:34):

Despite the fact she took some pretty good swipes at Democrats.

(Archival Audio, Michelle Wolfe) (02:38):

“Democrats are harder to make fun of, because you guys don’t do…anything. You might flip the House…  but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.”

Robert Pease (host) (02:57):

But she made some pretty harsh POTUS jokes as well..

(Archival Audio, Michelle Wolfe) (03:00):

“Well, like a porn star says when she’s about to have sex with a Trump, let’s get this over with.” 

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

And over the past 20 years, it seems that many comedians and comedy shows have themselves become more overtly partisan, such as the redness of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

Robert Pease (host):

Or the blueness of shows like SNL, Full Frontal, Last Week Tonight, and others. See if you can tell who’s on which side of the partisan divide. 

(Archival audio collage)

“You are not going to leave this room until you hear some, you might be a redneck… that has sparked a larger debate in America, between people who want common sense in gun control, and people who are wrong… In the hope that a non-discretionary religious figure who distributes gifts said holiday would soon be there…And I can see Russia from my house.”9 

Robert Pease (host) (03:49):

Not too difficult. So we wondered, as our country gets more tribal, how do comedians navigate the minefield? We asked Myq Kaplan for his thoughts

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (03:59):

And he was quick to push back at the notion that partisanship is a unique challenge for comedians.

Myq Kaplan  (04:05):

Sometimes people aren’t happy in various directions, but that’s also a thing that has happened no matter what. I do remember that even 10 years ago, I performed at a club in Madison, Wisconsin, and I thought it went great. I was doing a joke about gay marriage at the time. It was pro-gay adoption. I think it was essentially about how the research shows that gay parents are actually statistically better parents because they’re never doing it by accident. You know? So it’s always people who are prepared and whatever the joke was, and that was the point when I think it was technically true. And a woman came up to me afterwards and she told me, “you’re not supposed to tell me about what you think and feel”, and I thought, “I think we might have a disagreement about how comedy operates”, because in general, a lot of comedians do talk about what they think and feel… In joke form. And there  definitely were jokes, to be clear. 

Robert Pease (host):

Standup is a deeply human communication, very different from video or online messaging.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (05:11):

And that reminds me of what Dr. Abigail Marsh said in Episode Four, on the importance of our senses for real communication… 

Abigail Marsh (previously recorded)

You know, we’re animals. The way that the people around us smell and sound and feel…those are all things that moderate our brain activity at a really primitive level.

Robert Pease (host) (05:32):

Similar to Dr. Robert Elliott Smith, an expert on polarizing social media, in Episode Five.

Robert Elliott Smith (previously recorded):  

The further you get from face to face communication with another person, the more dangerous the communication becomes.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (05:45):

Comedians though, at least on the road, don’t get too far from face to face communication.

Robert Pease (host) (05:51):

Here’s Myq Kaplan on one of his face to face moments… 

Myq Kaplan:

I do remember I went to Fairbanks, Alaska sometime in the past decade, probably 10 years ago. And I remember I went to a few towns within a few hours of Fairbanks. And I remember that one seemed (I don’t know if they identified it as such) like a cowboy bar of a kind. At the time, I probably had a lot of jokes that were jokes about, let’s say, pro-gay marriage and others that were liberal-leaning. And somebody, you know, a cowboy type man, came up to me afterwards and he said something like, “I don’t agree with everything that you say, but thanks for coming, and it was enjoyable.” 

Robert Pease (host):

Can stand up comedy transcend American partisanship? Here’s the first part of our Q&A with Myq Kaplan on that question.

Robert Pease (host) (06:51):

Myq Kaplan, thanks for joining us. These are polarized times. We were wondering if, as a comedian, when you’ve been touring around the country the past 20 years or so, how you’ve experienced that? 

Myq Kaplan:

Thank you so much for asking that. What a great question. The answer is no: I’m a unifier for everybody. I just bring every and any person together. They come to my show and they leave thinking exactly what I think, whatever that  was.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (07:16):

Well, it sounds like you don’t need to customize your material as you travel around, but are there any jokes that you’ve written in the past that you just thought, “Oh, no, I cannot tell this joke”?

Myq Kaplan:

I would say now I have a number of comedy albums that I’ve recorded, but I don’t perform the material on them anymore. There are jokes on them that I wouldn’t tell now because I am a different person, because I am, let’s say slightly less ignorant than when I believed the thing that I was saying at the time. So I’ve had some jokes that are anti-homophobia, anti-racism, anti-sexism. But I’m like, “Oh, am I the person? Like, what do I, a white person, have to say about racism? Am I the person?” For me personally, I want to make sure that what I’m saying reflects…I heard this thing once, I think someone once said, when you’re going to say something, “Is it kind, is it true, and is it necessary?” And in some ways, nothing that I’m saying is necessary.  So I work on the first couple. And for a comedian, you’re like, is it funny? Is it me? Is it true?

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (08:34):

So have you ever turned down a gig because of restrictions?

Myq Kaplan (08:40):

I don’t turn down a lot of gigs. I do like these opportunities. Most of the time, I like the opportunity to do a show more than not do one. And even if (and I guess I never really thought about this before) they said, “come here, and you can’t say any of these things”, well, if I don’t go there and don’t do the show, then I won’t say anythings!

Robert Pease (host):

I hate to throw data into this conversation, but…

Myq Kaplan:  

I’d love it. 

Robert Pease (host):

A lot of data does show that we’re getting more partisan as a society. So we’re just wondering if over the 20 years you’ve been doing standup, have these restrictions increased in any way? 

Myq Kaplan:  

It’s interesting, because one of the ways that things are (in my sort of anecdotal observations) being polarized is there might be some people that say, “Hey, don’t do that.” And there might be some people that are even more like, “we say whatever we want”. The left was the champion of that. And now you might caricature it in the other direction. Not that you shouldn’t say anything, but more like, “Hey, think about what you are saying, who you are, why you’re saying what you’re saying”. And you can say whatever you want, but what do you want to say? And then there’s some people on the right who are more libertarian than conservative, and say, “no, we have the right to say whatever we want”. But  wait,  aren’t you the ones earlier saying the other thing..? So I guess it’s hard to say if it is more polarized. Perhaps part of it is that we know more; we have so much more data; we have more people talking.

Robert Pease (host):

You’re listening to The Purple Principle and our special guest today is Myq Kaplan on the challenges of comedy in a partisan age. Emily, it seems like the best standup comedians have an independent streak. How else can they surprise us? The great George Carlin had his John Birch Society caricature.

(Archival Audio, George Carlin): 

“Thank you very much. My name is Lyle O. Higley. I’m the head of the local chapter at a John Birch Society. I’m what you might call your local chapter head. And that’s a New York chapter that takes in New York, New Jersey and parts of  Idaho…”10

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

But also his Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

(Archival Audio, George Carlin): 

“Al Sleet here, your hippy dippy weatherman, with the hippy dippy weather, man…”11

Robert Pease (host) (11:09):

And in Bigger and Blacker, one of the great performances of all time, Chris Rock combined conservative social satire…

(Archival Audio, Chris Rock) (11:16):

“If a kid calls their grandma “mommy “and his mama “Pam”, he’s going to jail!”12

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (11:22):

With way more progressive jokes.

(Archival Audio, Chris Rock)  (11:24):

“I had a cop pull me over the other day, scared me so bad  I thought I stole my own car!”

Robert Pease (host) (11:30):

So how can comedians retain their independence in the midst of polarization and also political correctness and cancel culture? 

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

The roster of famous comedians who’ve complained about PC is long and diverse, including Jerry Seinfeld, Larry the Cable Guy, Amy Schumer… 

Robert Pease (host): 

As well as Chris Rock who said, “you can’t even be offensive these days on your way to being inoffensive..”. 

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

So then what’s left for comedy? Challenging times for comedians, it definitely seems. Here’s more of our interview with Myq Kaplan on this topic.

Robert Pease (host) (12:11):

What about some of your friends in the business, Myq? Have any of them had trouble on the basis of their personna or the type of material they do? 

Myq Kaplan:  

Oh, for sure, and for some of the things that they say off stage, or on podcasts, or how they live their lives. There are a number of friends of mine who are funny people, and I do know some… let’s say straight white male comedians, who are the ones making this point the most, that, “Hey, I can’t say anything these days!” But when Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were saying these things, they were actually jailed for it!13 Back then, you can say the thing, but then you’ll go to jail. 

Today, it’s, you can’t say anything without there being a consequence. And that’s sort of like physics as well, you know, for everything that happens… Especially if you say, “Hey, freedom of speech, I should be able to say whatever I want but you can’t say anything back.” And then that’s freedom of speech over here too, I think….

 It used to be that, if you were a comedian, you would go on The Tonight Show and people could watch it, then they could send a letter to Johnny Carson and you would never see it, or they could try to send a letter to your house, but you would never see it. But now you’re on Twitter, and people can say, “Hey, I didn’t like what you did”. And you’re like, “man, everything’s changed. I used to be able to just say whatever I wanted and I would never know if anybody was sad.”

Robert Pease (host):

So when you sit down and start thinking about new material, is it a little more difficult in an election year? Are there things you filter out because there’s heightened sensitivity?

Myq Kaplan: 

I would say that I don’t talk on stage that much about direct political things that are happening. Sometimes if I thought of something and wanted to work on that, then I would. Perhaps it’s because there’s such a short shelf life on current events material. If, say,  I wrote an Amy Klobuchar joke, I’m like, “Oh no, too late”. 

Emily Crocetti (reporter)

Yeah, that does make it tough… When we started this podcast, we did a fair amount of audience research. Is that something you need to do?  Or have you been around enough that you don’t need to do that kind of thing?

Myq Kaplan: 

I wouldn’t say that I do quote unquote “audience research”. Certainly over the course of years, I’ve found that there are certain cities that will bring me back to the club because they like me. Like, if I found out that a woman liked me, I believe there’s science that shows that is an attractive quality. I think a person will be more attracted to somebody who they know is attracted to them. So similarly, geographically, if a city is like, “come here”, if a comedy venue is like, “come here”, I’m like, “Ooh, I like that city!” You know what I like about a city? It’s  that they like me!

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (15:00):

That does make sense. So you were just talking a little bit about education and university towns, and we’ve been reading some research that actually shows that people with higher levels of education had less accurate perceptions of their political opponents.14 That made me wonder if you’ve noticed that among different audience reactions to your material, depending on level of education.

Myq Kaplan (15:28):

Interesting question. Well, first I think I need to disclaim this by saying I have a very high level of education, so I don’t think I know what I’m talking about, based on this research that I just learned and trust blindly. I also sincerely don’t know unless I’m performing at a college – I mostly don’t know the audience’s education level. Maybe if you’re in a particular town and you know the general income status of the town. But again, I don’t like to make lots of generalizations.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (16:03):

So going back to that cowboy bar in Alaska, and just the idea of performing for people who appear to have different life experiences, how has that shaped your perception?

Myq Kaplan (16:16):

A thing that is true is… let’s say… I’m starting this sentence without knowing where it’s going to go. But I know that there’s some ways in which we are all the same; there’s some ways in which we are all unique. And so starting comedy was actually one of my first introductions to the fact that not everybody did go to college. Not everybody had a family structure like mine. Not everybody grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey. It was a new learning experience that so many people had started learning way before me and that I would continue and am continuing to have those experiences now…

Robert Pease (host):

So Emily, interesting stuff, considering Myq Kaplan said he doesn’t even do a lot of political humor.

Emily Crocetti (reporter) (17:07):

Yes, but he has some favorite political jokes from other comedians, like this one from a White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Myq Kaplan (17:14):

There’s a great Stephen Colbert line from when he did the White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, right next to George Bush, George W. Bush sometime in  the mid 2000s.15 And he said something like, “George W. Bush is consistent. He’s a man of his principles. He believes the same thing on Wednesday that he did on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.” And there’s a lot of Tuesday happening all throughout our society…

Robert Pease (host):

Seems like Colbert made this point with that joke, but not in an overly partisan way. 

Emily Crocetti (reporter):

Agreed, and Myq explained a joke of his own that I think perfectly transcends the cultural divide. 

Myq Kaplan:

I feel like one of the first vegetarian or vegan jokes that I wrote is, I would say, “I’m  a vegan. Are there any other douchebags here?” And I feel like that was a nice way to connect with people, since I realized that sometimes people just get mad when you are vegan and you tell them, and they’re like, “Hey, what are you, why are you being vegan at me, why are you not eating animals at me?” Nobody ever said that specifically, but kind of that vibe existed. So I felt like people would be like, “Hey, okay. He knows.  He gets it. He’s okay. He’s a self-aware vegan douchebag. I can get on board with that.”

Robert Pease (host) (18:34):

That is a great bit. On the whole though, wasn’t Kaplan just a little evasive about partisanship on some of our questions? 

Emily Crocetti (reporter)

I had that feeling as well. What was my Kaplan hiding?  Or who was he protecting? 

Myq Kaplan (18:49):

My grandmother was living in Florida at this condo complex for the past couple of years. During either the 2016 or 2018 election season, a woman candidate for some public office came to her home and was knocking on doors, asking, “Hey, please vote for me”. And my grandmother invited her in and gave her a drink of water. And then my grandmother told her “I actually voted early, and I voted all Democrat”, but she told me she meant, “yeah, all Democrats, even the bad ones”. So my grandmother said, “so if you’re a Democrat, then I already voted for you”. And the woman said, “well, actually, I’m a Republican”. And then my grandmother said in the story to me, “can you believe I gave her water?!” And I said, “you know, Grandma, I can believe it.” I think that as a Democrat, isn’t that the side of things that wants everyone to have water? I feel like that’s the liberal agenda is the one that includes water for all. Like in Flint, Michigan, you guys don’t have water?  We want…  And that’s not to say that there aren’t Republicans who also wouldn’t want everyone to have clean water.  But they might say, “Hey, find your own water. Build yourself a well… You know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make some water”. And this is an ignorant  caricature  I’m painting here.

Robert Pease (host) (20:02):

This has been The Purple Principle with our featured guest today, stand-up comedian Myq Kaplan, whose most recent comedy album is AKA. There’s more info at Myq, that’s M-Y-Q kaplan.com. Stay tuned to The Purple Principle for our 360-degree tour of partisanship, including more interviews with comedians. Next up from that angle will be Shane Mauss, touring comedian in safer times and also host of the long running science podcast “Here We Are”. Here’s a bit of that upcoming interview with Shane Mauss:

Shane Mauss (20:36):

This whole quarantine has been like a psychedelic experience, a global psychedelic trip. And then all of these interesting cognitive biases are coming to the surface too. Everyone’s the most themselves they’ve ever been. The pessimists are the gloomiest they’ve ever been, the optimists are seeing the most silver linings, and the environmentalists are going, “See, we’ve been telling you that mother nature was going to have her revenge.” And  the evangelicals are like, “see, we said Jesus was gonna come back at Christmas. This is the rapture.” Everyone was right about this, apparently, and everyone called it, but somehow no one saw it coming all at the same time.

Robert Pease (host) (21:40):

This is Robert Pease for The Purple Principle team; Emily Crocetti, staff reporter; Kevin A. Klein, audio engineer; Janice Murphy, marketing and audience outreach; Emily Holloway, research and fact-checking. All of today’s music was composed and created by Ryan Adair Rooney. We have some questions about partisanship: How did our grandparents get so partisan? How could we all get less partisan? And can independent-minded Americans help bridge the divide? Join us for more insight and discussion. We’d also love to hear from you via social media and our website, purpleprinciple.com.

1994
2017

In 1986, 34 Democratic and 29 Republican Senators signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, creating a citizenship path for illegal immigrants while making it a Federal crime to employ illegal workers. The House also voted in favor, 238 to 173. The bill was signed into law on November 6, 1986. 

congress.gov

In 1972, 17 Republican Senators joined 35 Democratic Senators to override the Nixon Administration veto of the Clean Water Act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation. The House override vote was 247 to 23, including 96 Republicans and 151 Democrats in the majority.

govtrack.us

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