COVER: A Word With Arie Kaplan
Detroit Jewish News, 10/18/2006
Special to the Jewish News
Arie Kaplan, a writer for Mad magazine, is author of Masters of the Comic-Book Universe Revealed! Kaplan, who also writes his own comic strip, Dave Danger, Action Kid, for Reform Judaism magazine, will present workshops at the Janice Charach Epstein Gallery in the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center from Nov. 3 through Nov. 8.
JN: How do people react when you say your job is writing comedy?
AK: People are very, very suspicious. They can’t believe this is actually a way you can earn a living. You learn not to take it personally; it has nothing to do with you. People would say that to anyone, unless the person was very famous, like David Letterman.
Another response I hear a lot is: “OK, then say something funny.” It’s almost like you’re Clark Kent, and you’re telling them you’re Superman, and they’re telling you, “If you are really Superman, then fly. Fly! Fly or I won’t believe you!”
Sometimes people say, “My life would make a great magazine piece!” or, “You write for Mad. Wow! Here, I’ve got an idea for you.” Usually, these are atrocious.
JN: What, exactly, does a comic-book writer do?
AK: The writer is the one who makes the story, like a screenplay. You write something, and it’s interpreted by the artist, the way a play is interpreted by an actor.
A lot of really otherwise intelligent people say, “Oh, so the artist does all these drawings and you just sort of write in the words?” Actually, the writer creates the plot and the whole structure.
JN: Do you wait for inspiration or just sit down to work?
AK: It’s very hard for me to get out of work mode. I’m constantly thinking of ideas. I bring notebooks with me wherever I go, in my man purse. I have them with me in the subway, when I’m out to dinner with my wife, because you never know when inspiration will hit.
For me, there’s precious little time for just daydreaming. When I’m writing – the Mad piece on Paris Hilton (“The Scarlet Letter as told by Paris Hilton,” Mad #464, April 2006) for example – there has to be a certain amount of daydreaming. I’ll start thinking: What if Paris Hilton is living in the time of the Salem witch trials, or maybe she’s updating the book for modern times or what would be her take on the story?
Then I write everything down – in longhand because for some reason that makes it funnier. Then when I type it up, I revise it. By the time I send it out to Mad, it’s this tight, musical, sinewy, sexy piece.
JN: How do you know when something you’ve written is funny?
AK: It’s hard to gauge unless you test it out on other people. I’ll try stuff out on my friends, fellow writers and my wife, who’s a screenwriter.
One time I did this piece for Mad that became fairly popular; it was called “What if Chris Rock performed at a bar mitzvah?” It started when a friend of mine, Josh Malinow, and I were coming back from a bar mitzvah and we started doing impressions of Snoop Dogg – this was when that whole “fershizzle” thing of his was really popular: “Welcome to Jacob’s barmizzle; he hasn’t had this much fun since his circumsizzle.”
We pitched the idea to Mad, and they said, “These sound like jokes Chris Rock would do.” So Josh and I rented a lot of Chris Rock videos and started copying his comedic voice and the types of jokes he would tell so we could write this piece. It’s sort of like the thing a method actor would do.
JN: Do you read a lot of comic books?
AK: A favorite of mine is the Flaming Carrot. I’m obsessed with this comic book. It’s about a genius who, on a dare, reads 500 comic books and then becomes simple. He wears a giant carrot mask and flippers and fights crime.
JN: What would be your dream job?
AK: I’d say a prime-time series. It would have a science fiction, horror element, but it would be funny, too. I really like shows that have a rich, dense mythology to them.
It would star Adam Brody, Seth Green, Topher Grace and Tobey Maguire as leprechaun policemen. The show would be called LepreCOPS. Each week, the LepreCOPS would solve a different mythological themed crime, like maybe a Minotaur who murdered the bullfighter trying to tame him. It would be like CSI meets Darby O’Gill and the Little People. And just to spice things up, Aisha Tyler would play a female leprechaun who is ostracized because she’s way taller than any of the other leprechauns, but the Seth Green character is secretly in love with her. Maybe she carries him in her pocket when they go on patrol together. Tell me you wouldn’t want to see that show, because I would.