Comedian John Caparulo on being smart to appear dumb
A lot of comedy audiences have an Us vs. Them attitude regarding what standups to like; they feel they have to decide between David Cross or Larry The Cable Guy. And while this attitude would usually push comedian John Caparulo into the latter category (he's critical of healthy eating and people who read, and appeared on The Blue Collar Comedy Tour), a thoughtful glance at his onstage persona reveals a provocative intelligence in the vein of loveable oaf Homer Simpson, whom Cap cites as one of his biggest influences.
John Caparulo will be performing six shows at Comedy Works.
In anticipation of his upcoming six-show run at Comedy Works that starts tomorrow, April 24, we caught up with the apathetic comedian to chat about how smart you have to be in order to appear dumb, as well as what it was like to work the door at the now-legendary Comedy Store in Hollywood.
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Westword: Both you and your buddy from Chelsea Lately, Natasha Leggero, are from the Midwest, and when I spoke with her recently, she said that being raised in that part of the country gives you a different perspective than someone who came up in metropolitan L.A. Was that your experience coming from Ohio?
John Caparulo: Yeah. I mean, people talk about the elections and how "so goes Ohio, so goes the nation." When you get into the Midwest, before you hit the cornfields, it is a blend of small-town sensibilities, but you're not a bunch of rubes. I don't think it's a coincidence that a lot of comics come from there. I grew up in a place where I was like, "Oh, man, I do not want to stay here." So it was either New York or Los Angeles -- and I figure I'd rather be broke and warm.
Coming from the so-goes-the-nation state, I imagine politics were everywhere. Yet you talk in your standup about how you really don't care about politics and don't follow the news.
When I was a kid, my dad always watched the six o'clock news, so I was up on things. But now that I'm an adult with my DVR, I'd rather just watch old episodes of The Simpsons. But things like not following the news come with a feeling of guilt, where I feel like I should know about politics, I should read more, all that stuff. And then there's this moment where I pop and I'm like, "You know what? Fuck them. I don't want to read and watch the news, I'm just going to do what I want."
And I think a lot of people feel that way. It's like not wanting to go to school. My wife is constantly on Twitter and things like that, and so she'll be like, "Someone set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon," and I'll turn on CNN. But if she wasn't here, it could be days later and I'll be like, "What happened in Boston?"
But almost anything can be made political. You have a bit about not wanting to eat healthy food, which is an issue some conservative pundits have latched onto after Michelle Obama's school-lunch campaign.
I was just talking with somebody about this yesterday. You know, up until I was thirty I was a really skinny guy -- obviously, I overcame that. But I ate what I wanted all the time. And now my body matches my personality, someone who really doesn't care.
But it's not like I have a platform, like I'm taking a hard stance against healthy eating and literacy. "We've got to stop these things!" No, I look at it like I have this inner child who wants to be petty, and doesn't want to deal with all the crap that reality gives you. The person I am on stage is tapping into my most base, primal instincts. I want to shun all these guilty feelings of "I should eat better, read more, know more about politics" --but I don't wanna.
Correct me if you disagree, but to me your material comes off as very anti-intellectual. And it's common for comedians to not respect intellectualism, and intellectuals to hold no regard for standup. But to me, there's an irony in that they both often serve the same purpose, but through different means. Observational comedy is really just sociology.
Yeah, people often ask me who my influences are. And my biggest comedy influence is Homer Simpson -- that character's ability to make big things very small is something that I've always pursued. It's like, there's all this big stuff happening in the world, but when it comes down to it, it's all about how it affects me.
It takes a lot of intelligence to make myself sound so dumb.
Exactly! And Homer Simpson is such a great illustration of that, because the people who wrote that character were mostly intellectuals. A lot of them went to Harvard and other prestigious universities.
Yeah, I'm not anti-intellectual. People can take it that way, but it comes from an intelligent place. I actually do like to read. There's more to it than what you see.
I understand as an individual that there's a big picture to life, things I should be aware of and think about -- but like most people, I just want to get through my day. So I bring out that inner child that doesn't want to be socially conscious. When I'm doing a standup act I'm not running for office, I'm just bitching about my life. And I'm boiling it down to be as simple as possible. The world can be overwhelming, and there's an impulse to minimize it.