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Brandeis comedians take smarts to the stage

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.


Interview with Myq Kaplan
Interview with MC Mr. Napkins

MYQ KAPLAN<br /><i>PHOTO  by Neil Reynolds</i>

MYQ KAPLAN
PHOTO by Neil Reynolds

Neither Myq Kaplan ’00 nor Zach Sherwin ’02 thought they’d pursue stand-up comedy after graduation. Kaplan studied philosophy, psychology, math, and linguistics, while Sherwin tackled politics and legal studies. To the outside eye, each seemed to be following the typical Brandeis career path. Kaplan jumped on the graduate school bandwagon, enrolling in a linguistics Master’s program at Boston University right after Brandeis, but Sherwin made the break with the Hiatt-endorsed trajectory earlier, electing to pursue sketch comedy with a group he started on campus. Now, nine and seven years after graduating, Kaplan (né Michael) and Sherwin (aka MC Mr. Napkins), may not be doctors or lawyers, but they are paying the bills.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Kaplan made the logical leap to Brandeis for his undergraduate education. Between hitting the books and working at Usdan, Kaplan dabbled in sketch comedy with Boris’ Kitchen, but expended most of his performing energy as a musician, playing his guitar at Chums, and singing with VoiceMale.

Kaplan began taking his act into Boston during his senior year, but at that point, he still wanted to pursue life as a “singer-songwriter with legions of fans.” But The Comedy Studio in Cambridge offered him a performance slot, and so he began performing what he called “comedic music” during his final year at Brandeis.

Even then, Kaplan still wanted to be the next John Mayer. “I was in grad school before I decided to do stand-up for its own sake,” he said. In 2002, Kaplan began making the shift from aspiring musician to aspiring comic. He found himself seeing more stand-up than concerts and writing more jokes than lyrics. Then, in the fall of 2002, Kaplan made the switch complete. For nearly seven years, he’s lived and worked as a comedian, performing in clubs and at colleges, earning enough money to make comedy is sole pursuit. And after six years working and growing in Boston, Kaplan made the move to New York last August.

MC Mr. NAPKINS<br /><i>PHOTO by Keith Pierce</i>

MC Mr. NAPKINS
PHOTO by Keith Pierce

The son of a single mother (who happens to be a rabbi), Ohio-born, and Missouri-raised Sherwin found his footing in comedy before Kaplan. While at Brandeis, he formed a sketch group called The Late Night Players with a group of his best friends. Sherwin described the group’s sketches as “very absurd and whimsical, and sophomoric, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way.”

Though Sherwin cites The Late Night Players’ last show on campus as one of his best Brandeis memories, he wasn’t convinced that he wanted to pursue comedy post-graduation. While the other guys in the group wanted to test their comedic mettle outside the Brandeis bubble, Sherwin wavered.

“When I was graduating I was really at a loss of what to do,” Sherwin said. “I was looking at joining the navy and learning cryptology,” but after receiving a phone call from a fellow Late Night Player offering encouragement and a place to crash, “I was like, ‘I really like these guys a lot. If they think we can do it and they really want me in it then it seems like an opportunity is presenting itself.’ So I decided to do it.”

After starting in small venues around Boston, The Late Night Players jumped on the college circuit, touring full time for three years. The group parted ways in October, freeing Sherwin to pursue his one-man comedic rap routine full time.

Like Kaplan, Sherwin started in music. He began writing raps at age ten.

“The raps I was writing were about what a thug criminal I was, which was funny because a) I was ten, and b) I was me. So that didn’t really pan out.”

While Sherwin abandoned his “gangsta” aspirations, it was criminality that brought him back to rap. A few years ago he received a ticket for riding his bike on his way to work. Feeling angry and defensive, he wrote a funny rap. His friends’ positive feedback convinced him to put more time into comedic rapping. And it was encouragement from Kaplan in 2007 that lit a fire under Sherwin. He’s been working on his Napkins act, writing and performing in the Boston area, since December of 2007.

Though their paths to comedy differed, Kaplan and Sherwin share many similarities, starting with weird names. Kaplan’s parents had more sense than to spell his name M-y-q. His birth certificate says ‘Michael,’ as does his driver’s license. “It was me as a teenager right after Prince changed his name to a symbol,” Kaplan explained. “It sort of stuck and it works well as a stage name. It’s easier to Google myself.”

Sherwin’s name takes a bit more explaining. In the real world, Sherwin goes by Zach, but on stage, he’s known as MC Mr. Napkins. As an aspiring teenage rapper, he’d gone through a series of unfortunate monikers, including “Zach the Ripper.” But in his twenties, Sherwin decided to go for something more dignified. “I sort of had an epiphany one day and just sort of thought of the name and liked the sound of it,” he said.

“Sometimes people think it’s a cleaning thing or that I write my raps on napkins, but none of those are true,” Sherwin added. Indeed, there’s no beautiful story behind the name, it just “signifies that I don’t take myself overly seriously as a rapper.”

While Sherwin may not take himself too seriously as a rapper, his subject matter is not exactly frivolous. He raps the anagrams of news headlines in a weekly video post on his website, while also writing raps about fascist dictators, and medical equipment. Presidents and chemistry are fair game too. “I like doing raps now about either a) embarrassing things that happened to me when I was a little kid or b) topics that are…humorously inappropriate to be writing a rap about,” Sherwin remarked.

“I’m glad that the side effect is that they’re sometimes educational,” he said. “I’m not trying to be geeky or dorky…the things I write raps about are the things I find interesting.”

No less the intellectual, Kaplan’s comedy makes smart funny. Amidst jokes about Prohibition, his veganism, or gay marriage, Kaplan will throw quantum physics concepts into his routine. And while he doesn’t censor himself when he writes, (“I like to write whatever I think,” he said), he’s wary of calling his comedy intellectual.

“I’m just trying to be myself,” he said, “I’m not trying to sound smart.”

Kaplan may not be trying to sound smart when he’s trying to sound funny, but after all, a liberal arts education is a terrible thing to waste.

Check out Myq Kaplan and MC Mr. Napkins Mar. 20 at 7:30 at the The Oasis Coffeehouse & Gallery at the First Presbyterian Church of Waltham. Tickets are $8 with a Brandeis ID.

To hear more check out interviews with Myq Kaplan and MC Mr. Napkins at thehoot.net