From East to West
By Paul Rogers
Though best known as a mop-haired hipster comedian, Demetri Martin has the air (and résumé) of an ultra-intelligent man who could turn his hand to many things.
For starters, Martin’s stand-up act includes not only wry and witty wordplay, but also his playing multiple musical instruments and even sketching on a giant paper tablet. And he’s not just a performer, but also a world-class comedy writer (for the likes of Late Night with Conan O’Brien), and now an author (of This Is a Book, published in April). He’s a contributor to the über-popular Daily Show, and had his own Comedy Central sketch series (Important Things with Demetri Martin).
Oh, and there’s more. The 38-year-old Martin—the son of a Greek Orthodox priest—received a full scholarship to the New York University School of Law, and was an intern in the Clinton White House (stop snickering).
“I dropped out of law school because I wanted to find a job that I could look forward to doing each day. So far, comedy is that,” mulls Martin. “Someday, when it’s not that anymore I will walk away from it to the next thing. Hopefully if won’t be a long walk to whatever that next thing is. I doubt that it will be law, though. That’s too long a walk.”
So Martin is very much a comedian by choice. He didn’t even perform stand-up until he was 24, and never had to endure the lonely life of the struggling touring comic. Following his big break on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend stand-up showcase in 2001, he won a prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at Scotland’s 2003 Edinburgh Festival Fringe for his show If I (which was turned into a British television special). In no time he was writing for O’Brien and had landed his own Comedy Central Presents stand-up special.
It’s material like this that has moved Martin’s career along so fast: “I was on the street. This guy waved to me, and he came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else.’ And I said, ‘I am.’” He refers to his style as “nerd humor.”
“I’ve never really toured that much,” says Martin. “But I like to write jokes and then tell them to large groups of people. Performing stand-up in theaters is a good way to do that. I do tour dates a few at a time so that I can have that experience.”
Sure enough, Martin has just five stand-up shows booked through mid-September (according to his website), including a stop at Pomona’s Fox Theater on Sunday. This leisurely schedule is presumably intended to help promote This Is a Book—a self-illustrated collection of Martin’s comic musings on current social trends; painfully awkward situations; and our common craving for acceptance and recognition.
Given Martin’s prodigious and proven writing talents, it’s perhaps surprising that he even needs to his embellish his deadpan brainiac humor with music and doodling on stage.
“I like playing music and drawing. I am not particularly good at either, but I really enjoy doing both,” he explains. “I thought it would be fun to incorporate things that I enjoy doing into my live show . . . The world of comedy wasn’t over-congested when I started, so I wasn’t thinking about carving out a niche. I was just thinking about doing what I like to do.”
Britain’s Guardian newspaper declared Martin “the funniest man on TV in America” a couple of years back and, following two seasons of Important Things, there was talk of him signing a deal for a new solo television series. That won’t be happening, but Martin isn’t sorry.
“It’s at the stage where it’s not going to get made. It is out of development,” he says. “I want to make films and I’m writing another book. The TV show made it hard to do anything else besides the TV show. So, while I’m glad I got to do Important Things, I’m also glad that I didn’t have to keep doing it.”
Martin has indeed sold a movie concept, Will, to DreamWorks; and a film called Moon People, in which he’s expected to star, to Columbia Pictures. But he’s not about to hang around while these grind their way through Hollywood’s notoriously sluggish development machinery (and politics).
“I don’t know if they will ever get made . . . So, now I am writing a new movie that I will direct. Instead of trying to sell it to a studio I am going to try to get financing and make it myself. It will be small and less expensive to make. That should make it easier to turn the script into an actual movie.”
In the meantime, Martin, who moved from his native East Coast to Santa Monica two years ago, is continuing with what he does best.
“I used to go for walks and sit in cafes in New York when I wanted to come up with jokes,” he concludes. “Now I go for walks and sit in cafes near the beach when I want to come up with jokes. So, more jokes about sand.”
Demetri Martin at Fox Pomona, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona, (877) 283-6976; www.foxpomona.com. Sun, July 24. 6:30PM. $35.