From Steve Martin to Eddie Murphy to Bill Hicks, some of comedy’s heaviest hitters knew what they wanted to do—or were, perhaps, destined to do—from a very early age.
The same cannot be said for Kyle Ploof.
While he was growing up in Weymouth, Ploof despised stand-up comedy because he didn’t relate to grown men in suits telling jokes about their wives, and it wasn’t until he watched a Maria Bamford special on Comedy Central during his junior year of high school that he became interested in stand-up.
“Maria was the first one who actually made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘wow, there actually are funny comedians.’ I just wasn’t seeing the right ones,” Ploof told Spare Change News. “Right around that time, the Chappelle Show came out, and he was actually the first live comedy show I ever went to, at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset. In college, I started taking girls on dates to comedy clubs, where we saw guys like Myq Kaplan and Shane Mauss, and a bunch of other guys who were just killing it, and I just started thinking, ‘I wanna do that.’”
This was back in the MySpace age, so a 19-year-old Ploof used the social media vanguard to scope out open mics around the area and came across a show hosted by Needham native and local comic Rich Gustus at the now-defunct Emerald Isle in Dorchester.
“I was so nervous that night that I almost passed out, and as [Gustus] was introducing me, I was off to the side of the stage trying to tell him, ‘forget it, I don’t want to do it!’ But I went up anyway, told a bunch of horrible jokes and now, 12 years later, here we are,” Ploof said with a laugh.
That night of nerves and horrible jokes has sent Ploof across the country to Los Angeles, where he’s found more avenues to hone his craft—not only in stand-up but also as a comedy writer for the comedy game show “Funny You Should Ask.”
At first, Ploof worried he wouldn’t be able to hold his own in a room full of comedians, until he met up with fellow Bostonian Dwayne Perkins. As the youngest writer on the staff, making Perkins laugh was a seal of approval on his joke-writing ability, which significantly boosted his confidence as a comedian.
While he cites Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle as among his favorite stand-up comedians, he doesn’t necessarily take after them or their delivery.
Ploof considers himself lucky to have been raised in a Boston family, as the experiences and stereotypical absurdities of Hub families make for great material on stage.
“My delivery isn’t really derivative of any outside influence,” said Ploof. “We all just have these crazy, messed up families, and on stage, if I’m inspired by anything off-stage, it’s my own messed up family.”
In the past, Ploof has riffed on stage about his father’s history of addiction to Oxycontin. A carpenter, his father suffered a serious back injury after he fell two stories down an elevator shaft during a job over 25 years ago. The pain led to an addiction, a familiar story for many people hooked on opioids.
In February 2016, James Ploof passed away at the age of 57 after what his son describes as a “slow slide” into addiction. While it hurts him to talk about it, Ploof doesn’t want to sit on his hands and stay silent, and he’s made a point of telling his father’s story as a way to bring awareness of the dangers of the drug—and of Big Pharma companies like Connecticut-based Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Oxycontin.
“Nobody should be on Oxy for more than 25 days, let alone 25 years,” Ploof said. “And as tough as it is to get a spot on Conan talking about your dead father, I think being an advocate in the community is important.”
Ploof also said he hosts talks on college campuses where he performs. These talks focus on anxiety, depression and suicide, and Ploof hopes to add addiction to the discussion as well.
“Oxycontin and Adderall are the two worst things to happen to my generation. The fact that we are giving kids amphetamines and opiates is the most screwed up thing I’ve heard of in my life.”
Ploof has seen the epidemic take the lives of high school classmates and ravage the lives of many people in his hometown.
“Massachusetts has double the national average for the fatal overdose rate when it comes to opioids, with Weymouth—where I grew up—and Brockton being the two worst cities for that,” said Ploof. “I’ve lost at least five people from my graduating class every year, and three within the last three months. It’s to the point where I’m more surprised to hear about someone not being on it than I am when I hear someone died from it.”
Ploof also aims to destigmatize the topic of opioid abuse and help start honest conversations on the topic.
“Growing up in Weymouth, I’d see all these people dying, and then I’d see their families sweep it under the rug because they were embarrassed for whatever reason… but if you do come out and talk about it, you’ll see, very quickly, how many people have gone through the same thing,” said Ploof. “In addition to getting my dad’s story out there, I wanna talk about my hometown and everyone that has been affected by opioid-related deaths. You have to, because it won’t become a stigma anymore. You’ll start to hear people going, ‘holy shit, this is a real problem, how can we fix this?’”