Poplar Spring’s Open House and being flustered by a ten-year-old

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Yesterday was the annual Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary open house. It’s one of four major events Poplar Spring has each year. The first is the 5k run and walk. The second is the Montgomery County Farm Tour, which is similar to the open house except that most of the people that come to the Farm Tour aren’t vegans and may not even have a clue what an animal sanctuary is. While that event offers a lot of opportunity for outreach, it can be frustrating to hear yet another idiot make a joke about bacon when visiting the pig yard. The third event, the open house, is one where a lot of the farm’s supporters and those curious about what Poplar Spring does come out to visit with the animals, eat catered food, and hear a speaker (this year, Jonathan Balcombe, who, I should note, isn’t afraid to get down and dirty cleaning up in the pig yard, either). The fourth event, Thanksgiving With the Turkeys, is probably my favorite, but I’ve talked about that one before.

Yesterday’s open house went really well. It was very well attended this year and seemed to bring in a fair amount of money for the farm. As usual, my job was that of a “floater,” going from animal spot to animal spot to help out where needed. Some of the day’s highlights included meeting one of the guys responsible for bringing the initial batch of 140 pigs to Poplar Spring 12 years ago, watching Rocky the goat charm every single visitor that walked through the gate, and getting to see Rasine hold Alina:

Rasine's new friend Alina, a seabright hen

(Rasine also pet some pigs yesterday, which was a big step for her. She’d been a little tentative on previous visits.)

While I still stumble sometimes with questions that people ask when I’m manning the animal areas (ie. “Shoot! Why do roosters have the comb and waddle? I forget!”), I’m not too bad at remembering animal names and stories and key facts about lifespan, diet, etc. But yesterday, I was completely flummoxed by one little girl who was maybe ten or 11 years old. She came up to me when I was in the goat pasture and started a conversation.

“Are these goats in captivity for their whole lives?”

“Um… you mean here?” I responded.

“Yeah.”

“Well, they have full roam of this pasture and the rest of the farm when the gates are opened up,” I told her.

“But this farm has a fence around it so they can’t get into the woods.”

“So you’re keeping them here so they can’t get into the woods and run free.”

I think I sputtered off some response about how sometimes the animals come in sick and need food and medication so the farm makes sure they’re well cared for. Who knows if she was convinced. The look she was giving me seemed to indicate she was enjoying holding my feet to the fire.

I told Sandy, the farm manager, about this exchange. “I’m glad I didn’t have to answer that question,” he told me.

Every time I leave one of the farm’s events, I make a mental note of the questions I didn’t have answers to so I can find out for next time. Clearly, this question is one I’ll have to give a little more thought so that I’m not taken down a notch by a tween again.

An Interview with Myq Kaplan

31-year-old Myq Kaplan finished in the top 5 of the latest season of Last Comic Standing. Kaplan has appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and had a Comedy Central Presents special. And get this: he makes jokes about vegans that are actually funny. Could be because he’s a vegan himself.

Myq took some time to chat with me about veganism, comedy, and food. And I tried my best not to be funnier than him. I think I succeeded.

What’s your vegan story?

In high school, I remember thinking it might not be necessary or desirable to eat animals, but decided they were too delicious to think about it further. In college, I thought about it and decided to give it a shot, to have my behavior match up with my thinking, and it worked out. Then a couple years after college, I decided to fully align ethics with what I believed, I should give veganism a shot, and that worked also. For me, it’s just about the factory farms and unnecessary horrible conditions that the meat industry raises animals in, for meat and dairy and eggs–I’m a fan of the concept of farms that treat animals nicely, free-range, organic, local, cage-free, etc., if people don’t think they can make the full transition to not eating any animal products (or just cutting back the amount of meat and dairy they eat, because it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing necessarily), but for me, it’s been working out so far.

With every joke targeted at vegans being some lame variation of “PETA means People Eating Tasty Animals! HAR!”, it took a vegan to say something actually funny about being vegan (seriously, “I don’t care about the environment… I eat the environment” was a brilliant line). How have crowds responded to your bits about veganism? Has comedy-as-activism had a noticeable effect?

I don’t know that my jokes have necessarily made people change their minds about eating meat or dairy, but hopefully I’ve at least been able to let people know that vegans and vegetarians aren’t all humorless, patronizing jerks. (Humor-FULL, patronizing jerks, maybe.) Crowds respond to jokes that are funny, and that’s what I aim for in my comedy. I think most people feel like vegetarians and vegans are judging them for eating wrong or living incorrectly, which might make them less open to hearing what they might view as reasonable or legitimate arguments for the lifestyle, and more likely to ridicule it for being different, which I think is a very natural and human thing to do. I try to tap into what people perceive, and come at the issue from a non-threatening, non-judgmental place, finding what’s funny about the concepts from both sides. My aim is just to make good jokes, and hopefully people of all diets can appreciate that. (And if it makes people think on top of that, then great.)

Last Comic Standing has changed a lot from season to season (they used to have the comics live together, they used to do “challenges,” they’ve turned the finale into a show with five people, etc.). What surprised you about the Last Comic Standing process as someone in the thick of it?

I don’t know that much was surprising about it to me. Surprise! As far as what fans might be surprised to learn, I imagine some fans know more than others. Some people think it’s just like American Idol, where people who have never done comedy line up to see who is the fresh new face of comedy, when in fact, standup takes years of doing to get good, in general, unlike singing where someone COULD be great after only singing in their basement for years. I don’t know if that’s surprising to anyone, but if it is, surprise!

The judges on Last Comic Standing were a lot less annoying than on “American Idol.” They weren’t there to cut people down, but to offer some actual advice and point out what worked in each person’s set. They seemed like they probably hung out backstage and talked with you guys as peers versus judges on something like American Idol where you can picture the judges whisked away in their respective limos, far far away from the contestants. True?

Oh, that was all an act. They may have played nice for the cameras, but in real life, our judges were whisked away plenty, in four limos per judge (one for each of their limbs, so you might call them “limb-ousines,” but not limb-os, because that’s a silly game and this is as serious as not getting into heaven) to castles atop a cloud with a moat made of lava full of sharks made of piranhas (in 3D, coming to you this August, or last August, depending when you’re reading this), no expense spared on the dimensionality of the piranha-sharks.

Sincerely, each judge had their own dressing room but certainly they did interact with us like human beings, colleagues in the business of comedy. They are all really great comedians and down-to-earth people, so the answer to your question seems like “yes.” True!

PS I know nothing of the American Idol judge situation, but my acceptance of your assessment thereof is not legally binding.

There seemed to be a period there in the late 90s where stand-up comedy lost the mainstream appeal it had earlier in the decade. What brought it back?

I’m not sure. I imagine the Internet had something to do with it. Also comedians being good and people finding out about it (maybe through the Internet? but also real life?). Uh-oh, a question I don’t know the answer to! I hope that’s all right. I mean, I’m not sure that I would say comedy today DOES have “mainstream appeal.” There are still plenty of people who have never been to a comedy show, compared to almost no one who has never been to, say, a movie. Or a concert. Stand-up doesn’t have the respect that the visual arts get, I’d say; even if people don’t go to museums that much, they probably PRETEND to go to them more often than they go to comedy shows. But there certainly HAS been a resurgence in comedy in the past decade, with at least some subset of the population caring about it, and I honestly don’t know what all the reasons are. I’m just happy it’s happening, because I started doing it in the early 2000s, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m selfish and appreciative to the forces of the universe. (To answer a question you didn’t ask.)

What’s next?

I just put out a CD a few months ago called Vegan Mind Meld. It’s available on Itunes, Amazon, and at www.myqkaplan.com (which is my website–you can tell, because it’s my name). I’ll also be on tour with the rest of the top 5 finalists from Last Comic Standing, for the next several months. And hopefully I’ll be on your TV some more as well.

I know you probably hate this question, but I feel I have to ask… “Vegan Mind Meld”… what inspired that title?

I do not hate that question. I’m not a big fan of hatred. (I don’t hate it, though.)

The title came from a joke that I have, and I like it because it represents a lot of what I and my comedy are about–sci-fi dorkery, my dietary lifestyle, words, connecting with people, thinking, etc. You know, hilarious stuff.

PS. What inspired this interview question?

Favorite meal (either made yourself or at a restaurant)?

I like a lot of things. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC is a place called Blossom, and I like pretty much everything I’ve had there. I’m also a huge fan of peanut butter. And other things.

(Below is a video of Myq’s performance on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. There’s some not-appropriate-for-younger-kids stuff in there, just so you know.)