Splitsider

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The Absurd Musical Comedy of Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman's 'Please Be Seated'

When heard without context, the song “Bop 25” sounds like it belongs on modern Top 40 radio. The track has all the earmarks of a contemporary chart-topper. It’s short and catchy; the vocals in the chorus are auto-tuned; the bridge is drowned in a cacophony of digitized instruments; and, perhaps most tellingly, it’s utterly and profoundly ridiculous.

In truth, the 13th track on Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman’s new musical comedy record, Please Be Seated, is a polemic of sorts against the state of modern pop music. Over the course of the song’s one-minute runtime, the duo sings the word “bop” 96 times. The rest of the tune consists of a single bridge built upon lyrics about dwindling natural resources and American wastefulness — though Kaplan and Sherman might as well be singing about anything, which seems to be the point.

“If Bop 25 makes it onto the radio I’ll lose all my faith in humanity,” Sherman says to Kaplan as the three of us partake in a few beers on the patio of a zeitgeisty Brooklyn bar. “I’ve heard the song so many times now, the word ‘bop’ no longer has any meaning.” In response, Kaplan laughs and leans in close to the tiny recorder I’ve placed on the table between us. “Yep,” he says. “In fact, that should be the tagline to this article: ‘Bop. The word that no longer means anything’.”

Those that have heard “Bop 25” can likely relate; the song sticks stubbornly in the mind. Clearly satirical, it’s nonetheless a true toe-tapper. It’s also a perfect example of what its writers can bring to the world of musical comedy.

Kaplan and Sherman — who have been writing and performing together since 2007 — both have reputations as “comic’s comics”. Both men are well-schooled in the mechanics of humor, and both have spent a great deal of time studying and observing what makes people laugh. Kaplan is a famously fastidious standup. He’s known to test and retest his material until he finds the perfect delivery for each of the jokes in his lengthy canon. Similarly, Sherman is viewed by many in the New York City comedy community as a dedicated philosopher of improvisational comedy— a man who teaches the subject with a near Stanislavskian intensity at The People’s Improv Theater in Manhattan.

Both of these sensibilities seem to be at the core of Please Be Seated — a goofy album that is simultaneously heady and, in its own weird way, insightful. Whether the duo are calling for an audience to chant the word “holocaust”, as is the case on the song “Bad Idea”, or rattling off barbs at homely celebrities, like on “Movie Star”, Kaplan and Sherman routinely buck their audience’s expectations with an interactive commentary on today’s pop culture. In doing so, they rely as much on riffing and banter as they do on scripted material—though there are times on the album where it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

“One of the great things about group improv is that, by nature, it's not governed by any set of rules,” says Sherman. “After a group has been performing together for awhile they develop a style together that may or may not be influenced by a set of spoken guidelines. What you hear on the album is the product of that collaboration. Myq and I have never really created guidelines for our process.  We just get together and do what works. In that way, our show is some parts improv, some parts stand-up, and also, there's music.”

And for Kaplan and Sherman, the music is the real kicker. Before becoming comedians, both men originally wanted to be musicians. Sherman was in a band in high school. Kaplan—the son of music teachers—began playing the violin at the age of four. At 15, he shelved the instrument in favor of the guitar, which itself fell victim to comedy shortly after college.

Kaplan’s affinity for music may come as a surprise to fans of his debut standup album, 2010’s Vegan Mind Meld. Some may even view Please Be Seated as a calculated risk for the comedian. While much of the condescension toward musical comedy has attenuated over the last decade, many of comedy’s elder-statesmen continue to view music as a comedic failsafe — a crutch. Kaplan himself admits that he dislikes more musical comedy than he admires. But to level a wholesale indictment, he says, doesn’t make sense. To illustrate his point, he paraphrases Patton Oswalt: “90 percent of everything is crap. So pointing at the crap and saying you don't like it is not meaningful. Don't take a whole category and dismiss it.”

With this in mind, Kaplan and Sherman aren’t trying to win over any cynics with Please Be Seated. They prefer to look at the album as something they’ve always wanted to do—a way to dispel the niggling regret of an unfulfilled aspiration.

“I originally thought I was going to marry music,” Kaplan says. “As it turned out, comedy was my soulmate. But then comedy is like ‘We can have an open relationship. You can still see music if you want’.”

To which Sherman adds: “Yeah. We fuck music like all the time.”

Daniel is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter here.

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