In March, as the panic was setting in and the fear of the Coronavirus was finally hitting the U.S., comics were left with the same question everyone had. “What do we do?” Throughout quarantine, comedians have been trying to find new and different ways to reach their audience. This is something unprecedented, and nobody ever prepares for what happens if one day nobody is going to be able to leave their house. It’s one of those things you can’t imagine or plan for, and you just have to roll with the punches. This is something that John Caparulo would soon find out.
John Caparulo has been a mainstay in the comedy world for years now. After coming to national exposure as part of Vince Vaughns’s Wild West Comedy Tour, Caparulo has been on The Tonight Show, as well as becoming a frequent guest on Chelsea Lately. And for the past few years, he’s had his own residency show at Harrah’s in Vegas. Of course, that all temporarily changed back in March.
Caparulo turned to animation as a way to get his own unique brand of comedy out to the masses. He started turning his Cartoon Comic from comic books into animated clips on his YouTube channel, based on what we’re all going through as well as whatever else he feels like talking about. It was a way to stay creative and funny and also presumably busy during this. The clips are short, but definitely capture what we have grown to all love about Caparulo as a comedian.
We recently chatted with Caparulo about these animations, why he feels he was always destined to work within this format, performing on the road during the pandemic, what he feels like the future is going to be like, and what exactly it’s like to have your own residency show in Vegas.
To start with, I love the animated bits you’ve been doing lately. I love seeing comics, because of the circumstances, have to think outside of the box as to how to deal with it. What made you want to go in this direction?
Well, for me, when all the shutdowns started happening, like I have a residency show in Vegas. So I was like doing five nights a week in Vegas and occasionally going on the road. And when they shut it down, I’m like the last guy to complain about, you know, a snow day. So I was like “Cool! I can stay home for a few weeks or whatever.” And they closed it down in March, so once we got in the first part of April, I was like [sighs] “OK”. I’m like not able to do anything. I mean, that’s kind of how I justified my existence for the past, you know, 23 years doing comedy.
But I’ve been writing and developing Cartoon Comic for years now, writing scripts and stuff like that. But I can’t draw or animate myself. So it’s been an uphill climb trying to get it off the ground. But I thought it’s kind of perfectly suited for this sort of situation where it’s like “OK. I’m not allowed to have a live audience for who knows how long really. And I could actually, you know, do some standup, do new stuff and record it at home. Basically I use my car at this point as a sound boost. But I just thought “OK. I can record stuff.“ And then I had an animator that I had been connected with, Xeth Feinberg, who’s done the animation for me. I was set up with him by a chance meeting with somebody from The Simpsons. And it was it was just like “OK, Let’s see if this’ll this’ll work.” So that’s kind of how it came about for me doing these clips. I wanted to call it Cartoon Caplets at first, but I got overruled on it. But it was sort of like what I used to do with Caplets. And, you know, it was trying to just keep churning out new stuff, but do it with my cartoon character. So that’s sort of how it all started.
And I don’t think there’s anyone who didn’t want to see themself animated as a kid.
Right, right. And I went through all kinds of like sitcom developments and stuff like that. Around 2003, 2004, and 2005 I got developments with a couple of networks. And I don’t know why it never dawned on me back then, but it was like all of my favorite comedies and all of my favorite shows are cartoons. And there’s just so many advantages to doing animation versus live action because it’s like the characters can get away with more and you can just really let your mind go wherever with the comedy. So, yeah, it surprised me that it took me as long as it did to realize I needed to make an animated show. But yeah, it made sense for me because that fits my sense of humor.
And that’s really it right there. There’s no limits or rules in animation. You can basically have your character do anything.
Yeah, that’s what’s so fun about it. Like when I write, especially when it comes to screenwriting, the type of comedy that I tend to write is… I like exaggeration. I like making things kind of crazy to sort of emphasize my point. That’s sort of like how I illustrate my point, with the idea of just going to extremes. Like the whole idea of monsters attacking cities and talking animals and stuff like that. That’s where my head is at with that stuff. So it’s a fun space to be. And I wish I could actually execute it myself. I wish I could draw and I wish I could express myself that way, but I can’t. As a stand-up comic, you kind of become accustomed to relying on yourself. And, you know, it’s sort of like me and me alone. I write my jokes, I perform them. I live and die with that. But when you can’t draw or do any of the artwork for this, you have to be able to communicate with somebody who can and have them bring your ideas to life. Which, you know, it’s not as easy as just plugging in somebody who can draw. It’s like somebody who gets your sense of humor and gets what you’re trying to, you know, express.
And speaking about extremes, I never expected to see the words “You are cordially invited to be peed upon” written out in something animated. That might have been a first.
[Laughs]. And the thing is, if you do that stuff live action, it’s creepy. It doesn’t work. But in a cartoon setting, the cordial invitation to be peed on is funny, because it’s just stupid cartoon characters. You know, there’s there’s no consequences in that world. So it’s easy to laugh it.
And since you had this going on, were you consistently writing throughout quarantine?
You know, it’s tough because as far as my standup goes, I tend to write on stage. I take sort of a seed of an idea and I start to work with it. It’s like if I could find one punchline that I can rely on, then it gives me the confidence to start a topic and then I can build upon that. But with with this whole thing happening, there’s only so much material I can work out on my wife and kids. So it becomes stifling artistically. But then when I when I had the idea to start making these clips, it gave me that outlet to go “Ok”. It’s a different delivery and it’s got a different rhythm to it because, you know, I’m not feeding off laughter energy that’s coming back to me. It’s basically like a one sided rant. But I do like the ability to write in that sort of format because it’s different than the way I’ve done it for years.
And that’s good and bad. I mean, like I said, it’s tough with not having the energy come back at you. But it’s also cool because like we’re talking about with cartoon characters, you can be a lot more uninhibited in this sense because it’s like I don’t have to worry about [negative reactions]. Like the time the Trump supporter threw a glass at me. Like, you tell certain jokes or bits or whatever, and you don’t have to worry about anybody’s sensibilities because it’s prerecorded. So it’s a different dynamic, but at the end of it, it’s still my voice and it’s my comedy and it’s my thoughts. So that’s what’s fun about it.
I can tell you’re having fun with it. And by the way, you’re the second person I’ve interviewed who’s been back onstage since March. What was that experience like going back? Were you nervous about it?
Yeah, it was pretty nerve wrecking for me. I mean, in 23 years, I’ve never I’ve never gone a stretch of four months not going on stage. I think for me it’s like, even when I was doing like five nights a week on stage, by the time the show rolls around every night, there’s still a voice in the back of my head to second guess me that goes “Maybe tonight’s the night that it all falls apart and you’re not funny anymore.” So it’s a real thing anyway. But then when you add in a four month layoff and it’s not like it’s as if I decided to take a break or if, I don’t know, I had an accident or got sick or something like that and had to take my own four month break from comedy and then come back in and you might be rusty, but you pick up where you left off. It’s different in this situation because it’s like not only did I have four months not on stage before I went to Cleveland last week, but it was like the whole the world has changed. So it’s like we’ve all gone through this this change. It’s like you can’t just pick up where you left off and start telling jokes and stuff like that or start doing bits just as if everything’s the same as it was four months ago. It’s not. So as a comic, I mean it’s your job to sort of acknowledge the elephant in the room and talk about what we’re all going through sort of. And so it really felt a lot like starting over as a standup comic for me, because it was like… I don’t know if you remember the documentary Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian.
Of course I do.
Well remember where he’s like “Alright, I’m throwing out all my old material and I’m starting from scratch.” And he’s like “I have no go to jokes or anything like that.” That’s kind of how it was for me going to Cleveland, where it was like… I mean I have a few flashes of bits that I sort of remember and went “Oh yeah. Okay. There’s that punchline and there’s that.” But it doesn’t feel the same because everything’s so different. And, you know, factor in also the fact that the room’s are at half capacity or less than half and everybody’s so spread out. I had to wear a freaking mask walking on stage, you know, just pat elbows with my feature act. So that’s all awkward, too. But yeah, it really does feel for me like kind of starting over as a stand-up.
And how is that feeling of starting over? Is there a cathartic nature to it, where you can use starting over to your advantage to evolve as a comic? Or is it more a thing of fear?
I think it’s both. I guess it’s fearful until, you know, I actually walk on stage. Because for me, it’s always been there’s nothing that gets me happier or more excited as an artist than writing something new or doing a new bit or something like that. You know, it’s like “I found something else”. And it really just gives me a charge and it makes it makes all my other stuff feel funnier when I’m able to write something new. I guess I’m definitely trying to use it as a positive to evolve. Because that’s the best part, proving to yourself when you go on stage that the talent that I had when I started is still there and I can still, you know, develop it and expand it and and rely on it. And so that is a positive for me. Getting the chance to go, “OK, I can’t just go on autopilot as a comic. I have present and get on stage and actually live inside what I’m talking about. And that’s really fun for me. So I do love that part of it.
And I gotta ask, because you’ve been doing your residency in Vegas for a bit now, is it weird to get back out there and go back on the road again?
Yeah, a little bit. I’ve had my residency for, well we were coming up on two years before they shut down. It was it was May of 2018 when I started. And we’re supposed to go back whenever they start shows again here, but who knows when that is. But when I went on the road anyway, even when I was doing so much time in Las Vegas, it’s sort of like my set started to conform to that format. Because it’s like when you go on stage in Vegas, everybody else is from out of town. So you sort of have that mentality. Your approach to the audience is “Where are you guys from?” And you can sort of get into that where as it’s a different thing when you’re coming into a town like Cleveland last week or whatever. And I was I was kind of going through that anyway. Whenever I went on the road, even before the pandemic. When I went to, I think, Jacksonville a couple of weeks before the whole shutdown happened, again it forces me to be more present in the situation than to go on some sort of autopilot mode. Because it’s like I can’t go to Jacksonville or Cleveland or whatever and be like “So where are you guys from there?” They’re from Jacksonville and Cleveland. That’s where they live. So you have to really adjust yourself anyway. So artistically, it’s all it’s altogether different.
And you’re actually the first person I’ve interviewed who has had a Vegas residency, so I’ve got to ask what is that room like? What’s the vibe there?
I guess what drew me to the opportunity when it was presented to me was just, you know, Vegas is the only place in America at least where you can you can perform on the same stage every night and make a decent living. Because if you go to New York or L.A., yeah you can perform for different crowds every night at the same place. But, you know, you’re not going to make much of a living that way. But in Vegas, it’s like you can actually go back to your to the same spot, which is my showroom at Harrah’s It’s sort of my clubhouse or whatever. So, you know, people are coming from all around in the country to see my show. So that was always really cool and what made me, you know, jump at the chance. And I’ve always loved doing shows, but I always hated to travel. And then especially once I became a dad, it just became like really imperative that I spend more time, you know, at home and not on airplanes.
But the actual vibe in the room, that’s the thing. It can be different every night. And so you really you have to learn to adapt to that. Plus I don’t have an opener at all in my Vegas show. So the whole format is just they play an intro video of like my career highlights, you know, being on The Tonight Show or Chelsea Lately or whatever. And then basically it was like me opening for me. So I had to adapt to that by actually sort of slowing down my whole delivery and sort of like, you know, getting acquainted more with the audience, the front row, because I don’t have an M.C. or a feature to do that for me now. So it just because a different delivery for me altogether, because it really made me, like I said, slow down and become more acquainted with everybody in front of me. But yes, every night you don’t know exactly who those people are going to be. You know, it’s a different set every night. I mean, there could be a bunch of big fans of mine one night and then the next night will be a bunch of people who just ended up getting free tickets or something like that through a timeshare thing or something. And they come in and are like “Who the hell is this? Why is he cussing so much?” So it’s definitely a challenge. But as a comic, I just think that’s what makes you sort of grow and develop is having to go through all those different experiences and different ways to basically manufacture funny and laughter out of it. And I’m always glad that I’ve been able to, you know, survive and hopefully thrive as well.
And so the last thing I want to know is what can you take away from everything that has happened this year as a comedian?
You know, I guess for me, you become a lot more appreciative of what you’re able to do. And I think it’s like with anything, when you have that taken away from you, you stop taking it for granted because it really is a pretty cool way to go through life and a pretty cool way to make a living and to exist just being able to, you know, live as a comedian. Live as what I wanted to be since I was 12 or 13. So I’m a lot more appreciative of what it is that I do. And I’ve had a chance to have it taken away for a while, so I appreciate just the the opportunity to be a comedian again or will when I can actually fully do that again, like on a consistent basis. But I think it’s just not taking it for granted anymore.