Not My Job: New Yorker Cartoonist 'BEK' Gets Quizzed On Burger King
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we invite people who've done a lot to do a little more. It's called Not My Job. Bruce Eric Kaplan has been a writer and producer on some of the most successful TV shows of the last 20 years - "Seinfeld," "Six Feet Under" and "Girls". But he's best known for his distinctive, hilarious cartoons for The New Yorker. He's got a new memoir out called "I Was A Child." Bruce Eric Kaplan, welcome to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
BRUCE ERIC KAPLAN: All right.
SAGAL: So I want to say first about your memoir, Bruce, you do seem - it does seem to be true. You were a child.
SAGAL: And I read your book and I noticed something - that it was 60 percent television.
KAPLAN: At least.
SAGAL: At least. Maybe 70 percent.
KAPLAN: Yeah, it was like the third parent for me.
SAGAL: I know.
KAPLAN: And the primary parent.
SAGAL: Right. And you had very...
PETER GROSZ: So first - it was the first parent.
SAGAL: You had some very, very distinct feelings about TV.
KAPLAN: Yeah, I just loved it. It was just like - it's like where real life was. It's like whatever I was living in my actual house was not real. The TV was where, you know, like that girl was real on "Get Smart."
SAGAL: Wait a minute - did you - were you disappointed in your father, for example, because he did not talk on the phone via his shoe?
KAPLAN: (Laughter.) I - yeah, totally. I actually thought, like I was sure "Get Smart" and like "James Bond" movies, I was sure that that's what real life was like. Like that was what - when - if you were an adult, I felt like that's what happened. You became "Get Smart" or "James Bond."
KAPLAN: When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was crawl in that TV. And now, I seem to have done it. You know, when I'm on a set, you know, like a fake room like in "Girls" or like the diner in "Seinfeld," there's the Fisher House in "Six Feet Under" - I couldn't be more at peace.
KAPLAN: I'm more at peace in a fake room than I am in a real room.
SAGAL: So when you sat down to write your memoir, I notice you didn't really draw any big lessons of it. It's just like, these are the things I smelled, these are the things I saw, this is what I did.
KAPLAN: No, I never - no one ever - I never learned anything when I was a kid. Honestly, my parents had nothing to tell me, like no wisdom, nothing.
KAPLAN: You know, no adults did. I don't know if it was just the ones I came into contact with, but - the people, the adults I knew knew nothing. They literally knew nothing.
SAGAL: We also wanted to talk to you about your career as a cartoonist. When did you start drawing cartoons?
KAPLAN: Well, I always doodled as a kid while I was talking on the phone or watching TV. And then I started drawing single-panel cartoons when I was out here in my early twenties, not succeeding at being a TV writer and movie writer or book writer. So I thought, you know, I would fail at another thing, so I tried doing cartoons.
SAGAL: Oh, I see. And how long - I'm sure you were an overnight success, right?
KAPLAN: No, I read in a book that I got out of the library called "How To Be A Cartoonist." There was a chapter on The New Yorker. I read The New Yorker, had an art meeting once a week. And I sent them ten drawings every week for a few years until they finally bought one.
AMY DICKINSON: You know, I actually worked at The New Yorker probably at around that same time - I was like a receptionist, probably around the same time you were sending those in. One of my jobs was to open those envelopes.
APARNA NANCHERLA: Oh, no.
KAPLAN: I always...
DICKINSON: I feel so close.
KAPLAN: They told me to send a self-addressed stamped envelope and I always remember thinking, there's some person there who's just taking my cartoons out of my envelope and sticking them in my self-addressed stamped envelope to send them back.
DICKINSON: And you know, you know what I say to that? You are welcome.
SAGAL: Do people ever look at you and either consciously try to pitch you amusing lines for your next cartoon or say something unconsciously and then look at you and say, is that going to be a cartoon?
KAPLAN: Yeah, they say - I'd say the second of the latter, you know - people say like oh, that's going to be a cartoon, isn't it? And I'm always like, no. No.
GROSZ: No, don't flatter yourself. It wasn't that interesting.
SAGAL: So - and you write for television now. You've written for - you actually did the great New Yorker cartoon episode of Seinfeld, right?
SAGAL: And that was obviously based on your own experiences?
KAPLAN: You know, one would think. And I'm sure I came up with the idea, I was in tune to it because I'm a cartoonist, but the actual truth is I was on a plane reading Time Magazine and I saw a little piece in Time Magazine at the beginning. And it was about a cartoon that had been in the New Yorker a few weeks ago that had gotten such an enormous response from the readers of I don't get this.
And so I'm sure I was interested because I was a cartoonist, but it didn't actually come from people not understanding my cartoons. Although, believe me, I get tons of people in my life who come up to me and say like, you had a cartoon last week. I really didn't understand it.
SAGAL: Are these people angry? Are they argumentative? Are they like, you have to explain this to me now?
KAPLAN: A little bit. And there's also like, when I give the explanation, like it's never good enough - clearly.
DICKINSON: Can I just ask a quick question?
DICKINSON: What's - do you have one cartoon that you've drawn that just sticks out in your mind as being like really successful, like really hilarious and you still think about it?
SAGAL: Fair enough.
GROSZ: That's great.
SAGAL: I appreciate that.
DICKINSON: If I had a self-addressed stamped envelope now.
SAGAL: Yeah. Well, Bruce Eric Kaplan, we are delighted to speak to you. We've invited you here to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders do not upset us.
SAGAL: So you like to go by your initials, BEK.
SAGAL: And if you say that fast or you just don't care very much, you get BK - Burger King. So we're going to ask you three questions about the monarch of ground beef. And if you get two right, you'll will our prize, Carl Kasell's voice on your voicemail for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Bruce Eric Kaplan playing for?
KURTIS: George Baker of Shawnee, Kan.
SAGAL: All right. Ready to play? Here's your first question.
SAGAL: Fast food gets a bad rap, but there was one instance when Burger King really did some good for someone. Was it A, when Robert Downey Jr., high on drugs, ordered a Burger King burger and found it so disgusting and sad he realized he had to get sober? Was it B, a chocking man who was saved by a quick thinking off duty nurse who used a stale Burger King french fry to perform an emergency tracheotomy; or C, a woman who was mugged by a man in a mask was able to identify her attacker by the quote, "thick cloud of Whopper stank around him"?
KAPLAN: All right, so it's either A, B, or B.
SAGAL: That's the choices.
KAPLAN: Wow. They're very compelling. I know it's not A.
KAPLAN: I have to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B, a choking man was saved by an off duty nurse who used a stale french fry?
KAPLAN: No, no, no. That's bad. Wait a second.
KAPLAN: I got to go with C. It's the Whopper stank.
SAGAL: The Whopper stank?
SAGAL: It was actually Robert Downey Jr.
SAGAL: He says this is how he got sober is that he realized my life has come to nothing. I'm sitting here in a car filled with drugs, eating a terrible hamburger. I need to get straight. And he says he drove to the ocean, threw his drugs in the water and went into a program. And further, if you remember in the first "Iron Man" movie, he gets back from captivity and he says, I would like a Burger King burger. And he eats it and he says that's a tribute to Burger King for the role they played in his life.
DICKINSON: Oh my God.
SAGAL: OK, here's your next question. Like all fast food chains, Burger King has to find creative ways to advertise. Recently, they put an ad where? A, they inscribed it under the bones of ski racers, so when they get injured, it'll show up on the x-rays; B, written onto the breasts of Russian models on a service that, well, shows ads on the breasts of models; or C, they put ads on the formal suit of one Gustav Reichblau, who is actually the ancestral King of the country of Lichtenstein.
KAPLAN: All right, this one I got. I feel very confident it's C.
SAGAL: You're confident that it's on the suit of an actual king of principality of Lichtenstein.
KAPLAN: And yeah very confident.
DICKINSON: Not on the breasts?
KAPLAN: No, it's not on the breasts, it's on the suit.
DICKINSON: Wow. He knows this. It's like...
SAGAL: What is your - you seem very sure. What is your reason here?
KAPLAN: It's just instinctive.
SAGAL: I understand.
SAGAL: It was actually the breasts. Yeah. It's a service in which if you...
KAPLAN: I was determined to get everything wrong today.
SAGAL: You've done - you've done it amazingly well.
KAPLAN: All right.
SAGAL: But it's a service where they will Magic Marker your message on the cleavage of a busty model and put the picture on Twitter.
All right, let's see if you can get them all wrong. Last question, just this month, Burger King offered to pay for an Illinois couple's wedding, why? A, he attempted to propose by hiding the ring in her favorite sandwich, a Whopper with cheese, but she swallowed it; B, the couple met when he accidentally rear-ended her in the drive-thru line; or C, their names are Joel Berger and Ashley King.
SAGAL: A - you're going to go for A, he attempted to propose by hiding the ring but she swallowed it?
SAGAL: That would be romantic and beautiful, but it was actually their names are Burger and King.
KAPLAN: All right, I give up.
SAGAL: As well you should. Bill, how did Bruce Eric Kaplan do on our quiz?
KAPLAN: He did badly.
KURTIS: He Bruce, the cartoon looks like this - is zero and three right or wrong? In our case, it would be wrong, Bruce. We're sorry.
SAGAL: Hey, speaking of competitions, I wanted to ask you about the caption for The New Yorker - caption contest, which is very popular.
SAGAL: Could you give us any tips for winning the caption contest?
KAPLAN: I would say be honest. I mean, to mean, the most hilarious things are the most honest.
SAGAL: That's no fun.
SAGAL: Bruce Eric Kaplan's new book is "I Was A Child: A Memoir." Bruce Eric Kaplan, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
KAPLAN: Thank you. My pleasure.
KURTIS: Thanks, Bruce.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIDING WITH THE KING")
B.B. KING: (Singing) Don't you know we're riding with the King. Don't you know we're riding with the King.
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