At the top of his new album, Small, Dork, and Handsome (recorded at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston), Myq Kaplan gets right into the analytical stuff, setting the tone for the rest of the show: “Does comedy have to be funny?” he asks. More to the point, “Why’s comedy the only art form, or form of entertainment, that must be good just to even be the thing that it is?” If one sees a bad film, Kaplan explains, one doesn’t leave the theater thinking “Was that even a movie?” So why’s comedy the exception? It’s an interesting question, and one most comedy fans probably haven’t considered.
Kaplan’s third stand-up album (he released musical-comedy pairing Please Be Seated in 2012 with Micah Sherman) doesn’t find him veering dramatically in style or tone from 2010’s Vegan Mind Meld or 2013’s Meat Robot. This isn’t a bad thing, though. Kaplan, who holds a master’s in linguistics from Boston University, boasts an uncanny and fairly unrivaled ability to turn words upside down, tossing around rhymes, puns and the like at a dizzying rate. That said, he’s not afraid to inject a frivolous, purely amusing joke every now and then. After referencing a horse, for example, Kaplan exclaims, “That’s a joke for the Wiiiiiilbur Theatre!”
If there’s one salient difference between SDH and Kaplan’s previous work, it’s that some bits seem a bit broader in scope, like his closer on Hitler and time travel that’s not worth spoiling a word of. Kaplan also proves himself more than just a linguist deft at manipulating meaning; he’s able to take common items and everyday thoughts and concoct alternative theories that spring from a grain or two of truth and are magnificent to behold simply for the logic in which they’re grounded. Kaplan’s thoughts jump at lightspeed from A to B to C, then wrap back around to A before the listener even realized he was at C, as it does in his explication of why gay parents are viewed as better than straight parents. In one instant, he’s providing sound logic and a fresh perspective to the issue, and in the next he’s three universes over, diving down a rabbit hole concerning genetically impossible babies before bringing it back around to a new reading of the military’s former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It’s bizarre, crazy, heady, priceless stuff.
What’s most intriguing about Kaplan’s comedy is that while he’s obviously got his voice and style down pat, those vehicles don’t ever limit his reach. Kaplan talks about himself, religion, society, sex, jobs and a whole lot more. And he’s able to filter nearly any subject through his particular lens. It’s what all good comics do, but Kaplan’s orbit often seems wider than most, without sacrificing depth or originality. Given his ample body of quality work at just 35, charting his evolution going forward will be equally exciting.