INTERVIEW

One Witty Woman,
12 “Fangry” Songs

 

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INTERVIEW Cynthia Kaplan C’85 rocks comedy in Fangry

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Whether she’s describing her pre-schooler’s lingering trauma over a fire drill or asking the musical question, “Who do I have to fuck to get laid around here?” writer, comedian, and singer-songwriter Cynthia Kaplan C’85 is sharp, observant, and really, really funny.

Kaplan has written two books, Why I’m Like This (2002)—which our reviewer praised for its “unique brand of humane observation and wit” and for its author’s “deadpan voice and her fearless honesty”—and Leave the Building Quickly (2007). She also acts and performs in various venues in New York and other cities, most recently touring with the revue Jewmongous in December. When we learned she had released her first comedy-rock CD, Fangry, Gazette editor John Prendergast caught up with her via email.


How long have you been performing these songs? How did the CD come about? Why now?

I’ve been performing some of these songs since around 1990. There are only two brand-new ones on the CD, although I reworked a few and buffed others up to a bright and twinkly sheen.

When I started doing comedy, some of the jokes I came up with just seemed as though they’d be funniest if they were the punch lines of songs. Up until then I had only written a number of sad, break-up-inspired folk tunes, which were not, as it were, “ha ha” funny and which, understandably, I played for no one. I’ve wanted to make a CD for a long time, but wasn’t sure how to go about getting it done. I didn’t want a live, plinky-sounding recording that you might listen to once or twice for the jokes only. I work hard as a composer, and I wanted the full rock treatment, which takes time, talent (mostly that of other musicians), and some money. And 2010 turned out to be the year I didn’t have anything else on my plate and thought, “What I really want to be now is a middle-aged comedy rock star.” And lo, my band, the Cynthia Kaplan Ordeal, was born.


You’ve written two volumes of personal essays, or “true stories,” as the book jackets put it, which are also very funny. Do you approach that writing and your songwriting differently? (Aside from using more profanity in the songs?)

I approach all of my writing the same way: What is the point I am trying to make? I am usually angry or worked up about something and want people to understand why. Also, I have a short attention span and both songs and essays are time sensitive. You say what you have to say and then you get out. If you don’t, you lose your audience.

Let me address the subject of profanity, if I may. First of all, profanity is useful when a person is worked up. Also, when a swear word comes at the right musical moment in a song, it can be funny and surprising. Conversely, when you know it is coming, or think it might be—because it rhymes with the word that ends the previous line—that can be funny, too.


Talk about performing with Jewmongous. Do you do this every “holiday season”? Is that your main performing gig, or do you do other shows, too?

I met Sean Altman of Jewmongous right after drama school, rehearsing and performing in a backers’ audition for a new musical entitled “Bikini Girls from the Vibrazone.” Shockingly, it was never produced. Nevertheless, Sean and I kept track of one another and in 1999 he asked me to appear as a guest in his holiday variety show at the Knitting Factory, which is a rock club, not a knitting factory. I became a regular and now we tour seven to 10 cities every December. I have other gigs throughout the year at various New York venues and also host (with comedian and CBS Morning Show correspondent Nancy Giles) a monthly show at the West Bank Café called The New Jack Paar Show. Jack’s estate doesn’t know about it. It’s like an old TV variety show where we talk with the audience, perform our own stuff, and present other writers, comedians, and musicians. It’s very loose and jolly.


Most of the songs on the CD are not seasonal, but the first video from it posted on YouTube is “Merry Christmas To You,” which is kind of a Jew’s lament at being left out of the good cheer and the cool presents. Christmas has become a touchy subject lately. Have you gotten any criticism for the song?

No more than Sarah Palin got for her use of the term blood libel. No, actually, that’s not a song that offends people. (There is one on the album; see if you can find it.) Besides, I’m mostly making fun of myself and my fellow Jews, which I am allowed to do, according to the Torah. As far as Christmas goes, what we should all be ticked off about is the fact that our society has become so PC that our kids don’t learn Christmas carols in school anymore. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is a great song. A great song. And, frankly, the dreidle song sucks. There, I said it.


Where did the title Fangry come from? Wikipedia says it’s a Transformers character.

Fuck Wikipedia. I thought I coined it. Well, I may have. I started to use the term on postcards for shows years ago. It was a fusion of funny and angry. Some people think it implies a cuss word, as though there should be an apostrophe after the f. Like s’mores.


Anything else you want to add?

Why do only famous actors win the Emmy award for guest appearance on a TV show? What’s the story with that? Also this: please visit me at www.cynthiakaplan.com and buy or download the CD at www.cdbaby.com.

     
©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 2/24/11