LEGO writer Arie Kaplan discusses the construction of humor, and why Batman is a natural fit for brick-based storytelling.
Even before writing for LEGO, comedian Arie Kaplan has been around the pop-culture block. (Get it? Block? You get it.) A long-time comics writer, Kaplan has also written for television, film, and video games, and is the author of From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books.
Kaplan has also written in the quirky and clicky LEGO-verse, translating some of our most revered modern properties into the language of blocks and bricks. In honor of The LEGO Batman Movie, we spoke to Kaplan about what it’s like to write in that endlessly funny, and determinedly irreverent realm.
Interview with Arie Kaplan
How did you get involved in writing for LEGO? What is it like to write for their properties?
I got that gig thanks to an amazing editor at Scholastic named Michael Petranek… when the opportunity to write two LEGO Star Wars books arose, Michael approached me about it and I jumped at the chance. The two books I wrote are LEGO Star Wars: Face Off and LEGO Star Wars: The Official Stormtrooper Training Manual.
And to answer your other question, it is SO much fun to write for LEGO’s properties! Writing these LEGO Star Wars books has been an absolute dream come true.
LEGO properties have a very specific tone — irreverent, fast, and very funny. How do you find that tone?
I found that tone in a couple of ways. One way was to watch some of the LEGO Star Wars TV shows, like LEGO Star Wars: Droid Tales. That way, I saw how the Star Wars characters had been parodied. I saw the types of jokes and comedy set-pieces that the Droid Tales writers had used. It gave me a very clear idea of what tone I should go for in my LEGO Star Wars books.
Also, and this is 100% true, I occasionally said some of the jokes out loud (to myself), in my best LEGO Emperor Palpatine voice. I did this while I was all alone in my studio working, but only for the Palpatine character. I could write LEGO Emperor Palpatine jokes (and dialogue) forever. That guy’s a GREAT character!
Do you find that writing for LEGO is different from your other comedy work?
Writing LEGO Star Wars books isn’t that different from my other work as a comedy writer. I’ve written for television comedy shows like TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest. When I was a staff writer for that show, I wrote comedy sketches and jokes for the show’s cast members. The only difference between writing for World’s Dumbest and writing a LEGO Star Wars book is that with LEGO Star Wars, the jokes have to be more kid-friendly. But honestly, when it comes right down to it, a joke’s a joke, whether you’re writing it for a children’s humor book or a more adult-oriented television series.
Also, writing the LEGO Star Wars books is somewhat similar (tonally) to some of the articles I’ve written for MAD Magazine. Incidentally, I’ve written three Star Wars parodies for MAD over the years, and all three of them were reprinted in the 2007 book Mad About Star Wars, which was written by my friend and colleague Jonathan Bresman.
So clearly, you’re familiar with writing for Star Wars! What is it like dealing in such a legendary property? Were there any challenges in adapting the epicness of Star Wars for LEGO?
Dealing with a legendary property like Star Wars is exhilarating. I love the Star Wars characters so much. In adapting the Star Wars characters for LEGO, whenever I was writing jokes about a specific character, it was all about me asking myself the following questions: What do we know about this character? What can we parody and satirize about this character? For example, with Han Solo, you can make jokes about his swagger, his cockiness, his sarcastic attitude, the fact that he’s a scoundrel and a smuggler with a heart of gold, that sort of thing.
You’ve studied the creation of Batman in some of your work. Obviously, he’s a character with a long history, and now he’s the star of The Lego Batman Movie. What do you think the LEGO lens adds to Bruce Wayne? If you could translate an aspect of the character to LEGO, what would it be?
I think that Batman is a great character and one of the fascinating things about him is that he has such a grim world view. That’s why he’s waged this one-man war on crime. But it also means that he takes himself WAY too seriously. So I think LEGO Batman, as first seen in The LEGO Movie and now in The LEGO Batman Movie, is a way to spoof that fact.
It’s also a way to comment on the fact that, you know, it must get kind of lonely being Batman. Much of comedy is taking something potentially sad and making it funny. The subject of Batman being lonely could be done in a serious way where it’d come off as appropriately tragic. It could also be done in a funny way, where you’d also comment on it, but from a comedic perspective.
If I could translate one aspect of the character to LEGO, I think it’d be some of the more bizarre Batman villains from the Batman comics, like the Ventriloquist or Man-Bat or the Joker’s daughter (remember her?) Or some of the characters from the 1960s Batman TV show (like King Tut!).
I also think it’d be fun to take some of the goofier elements of the 1950s comic book Batman, like the gazillion different costumes he wore (ex. a white costume for use in the arctic, a scuba-costume for use underwater, etc.) and translate THAT aspect of the character to LEGO. There was a comic book story in the late 1950s or early 1960s where Batman became Bat-baby. I would LOVE to do a LEGO Bat-Baby story!
If you could adapt a different property for LEGO, what would it be? What kind of story would you like to tell in that medium?
LEGO Buffy the Vampire Slayer — I am actually not kidding. I’d LOVE to adapt the world of Buffy for LEGO. Also, I think LEGO Supernatural would be great, with LEGO versions of the Winchester brothers. Sam Winchester is played by Jared Padalecki, which sounds like “Jared PadaLEGO.” So maybe he was fated to become a LEGO character!
As far as properties that have already been adapted for LEGO, which I’d love to work on any of those, I’d really like to write a story (or a book) featuring the LEGO versions of the Avengers and the other Marvel Universe characters. Or LEGO Doctor Who. It would be so much fun to write a LEGO Batman book too. I think that’d be amazing. I’d be hearing Will Arnett’s voice in my head while I was writing the jokes.
This has been great, but it’s time to get real. You must choose! Marvel or DC?
Oh gosh, I can’t choose! Um…can it be a tie between Marvel and DC? I love both of those universes so much!