BROOKE: Myq – that’s M-Y-Q – Kaplan is the comedian that competed with Manatee, the computer. He was chosen in part for his, quote, “robotic delivery.”
MYQ KAPLAN: - had some other jobs. I –
- talked to a street musician once, found out that he can make up to $60 an hour being a street musician, or up to $60 a minute robbing a street musician.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s hard, isn’t it, just standing there alone on the high wire?
MYQ KAPLAN: I mean, it’s a subjective thing. I’ll do a show for military and they’ll come up after and say, I could never do what you do. And I’m like, well, that’s ri – you know, it’s not-
I, I could say the same. You know, like, worst-case scenario for me is a roomful of people who doesn’t like me. That’s something I dealt with in high school every day.
BROOKE: [LAUGHS] Some say your comedy has been described as robotic, and your new album is called “Meat Robot.”
KAPLAN: I definitely understand that. I like relationships and friendships, but I don’t always necessarily outwardly manifest those emotions, as much as other people do. So people like, for example, when I was married I remember my wife would call me “Husbot.”
Now it’s ex-husbot, perfect.
BROOKE: [LAUGHS] Some comedians might have been afraid that they would lose to a robot.
KAPLAN: I mean, comedy is subjective. There are, I’m sure, people who think that this robot is better than me. Either way, I was excited to be part of the story. If I win then hooray for humanity and if I lose, then we’re the ones who made the computer, so it’s still a win for humanity, at least.
BROOKE: So the structure of this was very simple.
BROOKE: “I like this like I like this.”
KAPLAN: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE: Was that a structure you’d used before?
KAPLAN: It’s sort of a comedy trope. The robot can find oh, these two words mean the same thing but in different situations people might not have thought of that, so here is an incongruity. Is that a joke? That’s my impression of the robot.
BROOKE: So how do you think the robot did at that?
KAPLAN: I think it did great. I don’t think they were the most sophisticated jokes of this type, even, but I think they made sense. Most people are not the best when they start doing comedy, and I think this robot is off to a great start.
BROOKE: Let’s grade some of Manatee’s jokes.
BROOKE: I like fingers like I like my notes, sticky?
KAPLAN: Yeah, that – that one, I guess, now thinking about it, that one could use – could use some more work, I guess.
Like I like fingers didn't really – oh, why do you like fingers? Like, nobody would ever say, I like fingers” unless there's some real specific great payoff of why they like fingers. But in that situation it seems like he just thought, oh, it’s seen the term “sticky fingers” and “sticky notes.” There’s no real like, you know, depth –
BROOKE: Resonance there.
KAPLAN: Yeah, like yeah.
BROOKE: It’s just about words. I like periods like I like my verbs, irregular?
KAPLAN: This robot is talking about a woman’s cycle.
That’s if a robot were to perform, I think that would be – the sort of the same way that, you know, Betty White – she’s been funny for her whole life but there’s a specific thing that now is even like more incongruous about our idea of what an old person is supposed to talk about. It’s like she doesn’t even have to say a specifically funny thing, but people will think it’s funny because it’s an old person talking about sex.
BROOKE: Given the state of artificial intelligence these days, do you think this had any meaning? We can’t really learn anything about humans by making a computer make a joke. It’s still purely technical.
KAPLAN: I guess the ideal is like I don’t want, you know, robots taking my jobs, but as long as I keep working and as long as every other comedian can, like maybe robots can be trained enough to, you know, go into hospital wards and, you know, the 23 hours a day that there’s not a comedian there, they’re like oh, what do you think about these jokes, robots? Or like, you know, into an old folks home or, you know, doing a, a benefit for veterans. Literally, I have no idea what people are planning on doing with joke robots, if anything, so no, no greater meaning.
BROOKE: So what advice would you give Manatee?
KAPLAN: Write and perform as much as possible. You know, figure out what works. Bring it to the people. You’ve got a great avenue right now, being the only joke robot.
But I would say try to take a lower profile initially. Just write a lot and then try things out on smaller crowds. Then I assume you’ll get to a point where, you know, you might overtake me, and I don't want that to happen, so I'd say, you know, just try to live a more fulfilling life. You know, become – become a service robot, if you would.
What do you want? What do you really want, Manatee?
BROOKE: Can I tell you this joke?
KAPLAN: Of course.
BROOKE: Okay, you may have heard this before.
KAPLAN: It’s possible.
BROOKE: If you have, just stop me.
BROOKE: Okay, so there’s this guy and he sees an old friend of his he hasn’t seen for a long time, and he has a big orange head.
KAPLAN: This is my favorite joke.
BROOKE: It’s your favorite joke!
KAPLAN: I love it, so much.
BROOKE: Sometimes the smartest people just don’t get it.
KAPLAN: Do you want to – hear my theory?
KAPLAN: If you hear it for the first time, why did the chicken cross the road, you’re expecting some grand answer but the answer is, to get to the other side. You know, the expectation is it’s something, so the dashing of that expectation is that it’s nothing, which is the same thing here. You probably had heard so many jokes about genies where people wish for something and it goes slightly awry: I didn’t say “a 12-inch pianist,” you know, I didn’t say “a million ducks.”
KAPLAN: You know, your brain has become practiced in the art of understanding that that's - that's what's going on here. These other people who don't get it, they’re just people who, I guess, led lives full of not enough jokes.
BROOKE: It’s so funny ‘cause the big orange head joke is, is my favorite joke too.
KAPLAN: It’s wonderful.
BROOKE: I always thought it was because the answer is, is that human beings just do stupid – things -
- just really idiotic choices.
KAPLAN: I mean, your interpretation is by no means incorrect, like –
BROOKE: But it’s true that in, in the moment, which is where you live as a comedian, it would be, well, we all know, you know, the genie trope.
KAPLAN: Yes, you bring this greater human meaning to it. But I don't think anyone could not have heard any jokes like them and still feel that exact same way about it. So it’s, it’s certainly not the only thing at play but it's definitely a portion of it.
BROOKE: I have this brilliant friend - I think you're right. A) She doesn’t have enough jokes in her life, even though she laughs a lot but not at jokes, and B) I don't think that she immediately goes to the place that human beings just make completely illogical choices.
KAPLAN: So you say, well, “Wished for a big orange head” and she’s like, why would – why would he do that?
That doesn’t seem like the thing to do. What, what’s the rest of the joke?
BROOKE: [LAUGHS] Thank you so much, Myq.
KAPLAN: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.
BOB: That’s it for this week’s show. On The Media is produced by Kimmie Regler, Meara Sharma, Alana Cassanova-Burgess, Kasia Mychajlowycz, Jesse Brenneman and Sam Dingman. We had more help from Maya Brownstein and this week we bid farewell to two people: our most excellent intern, Jenna Kagel, and assistant producer Kasia Mychajlowycz. We will miss you. And our show was edited by…Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Greg Rippin.
BROOKE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for news. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.