Comedian Demetri Martin Gets Real in his Point Your Face At This Tour
by Johnny Monsarrat
Most comedians try to be big personalities on stage, but Demetri Martin just wants to be real. There’s no need for the standup comic and former Daily Show correspondent turned actor and author to become larger than life, shouting at the audience and shocking them into laughter. Instead, he sneaks jokes into dry one-liners that make you feel he’s just speaking – in a way that bends your mind. Events INSIDER caught up with Demetri Martin in advance of his appearance at the BU Bookstore and Wilbur Theatre this Friday, March 22, 2013, part of a tour to promote his new book, “Point Your Face at This: Drawings”.
Events INSIDER: So there are people who know you and people who don’t–
Demetri Martin: Yea. The second group is bigger. The second group is the big one I’m trying to get to.
Events INSIDER: *laughter* I like to describe you as a modern Mark Twain. He was a dry humor guy. He would say, “Children should obey their parents… when they are present.”
Demetri Martin: Yea, Mark Twain is amazing, prolific, funny, and so far pretty timeless. Mark Twain is unbelievable: that a guy could be that of his time, and ahead of his time, at the same time. [Comic] material that seems to tap into human nature, in its simplest form, is always appealing to me. It’s not so topical, not so specific, not a George Bush joke, but about an aspect of human nature like jealousy, or frustration. That tends to be stuff I like.
Events INSIDER: You aren’t one of those comedians who shouts “WAAZUP! How you DOIN’ tonight?”
Demetri Martin: Yea, and it’s weird. With social media and the rise of the Internet, everything’s gotten even more in your face. People are clamoring for attention… I like to soft sell. But it seems like there are a lot of pitfalls along the way.
Events INSIDER: Is that problematic getting yourself out there, being a mellow comedian?
Demetri Martin: If I could have whatever I wanted, I would want to be known enough to get people to come to my shows, and then if I make a book, to sell the book – enough that I get to do another book. I have a couple of friends who’ve gotten legitimately famous and you have to be a certain kind of person to get that, and then to enjoy that if that happens to you. Maybe in the 1950’s or the 60’s it would have been different? But now there are camera phones, and blogs, everything. There’s an onslaught of ways to be captured and to be reviewed, and it seems like a different ride, a different kind of life. But to be just on the fringes, that’s pretty nice. It’s not like I’m a famous person, I’m not a celebrity, but a comedian. I’ve done some acting, I’ve written one book – this is my second book here [of drawings]. So I’m just on the edge, which is nice. It’s nice to have a hideout.
Events INSIDER: Maybe it’s an act, but from the podcasts I’ve listened to and your appearances, you seem to be just a regular decent guy. How do you become a nationally known act and do that?
Demetri Martin: Aw, thanks. For me, I’m coming up on 16 years of standup, so for the bulk of my standup career I’ve been anonymous. So it’s just about my material, not a celebrity thing or a fame thing… Standup keeps you firmly planted on the ground, because the audience is right there. They’ll keep you where you belong. Even a comedian like Louis CK, who is legimately famous, has been doing it for a while. He’s done his fair share of gigs in all kinds of rooms… [so] I think he was already formed, he was already Louis when no one was looking [before he got famous]. That can work really well in your favor.
Events INSIDER: Am I wrong to compare you to comedian Pete Holmes, who embraces the silly? Some of your jokes would play just as well in summer camp for 10-year-olds as it would for adults – not that you avoid vagina humor.
Demetri Martin: I think that’s true. One of my influences, while I’m very different from them, is Monty Python… They did things that were inventive, smart, but also really silly. Either way it was usually funny to me, but they were just trying stuff. The idea of coolness wasn’t too big a part of the equation; it was just about the ideas and executing them. If you focus on that, sometimes you end up with silly stuff, but have fun with it.
Events INSIDER: For the fans who do know you, is there going to be a twist or a surprise? Are we in the comfort zone or are we going to see a new Demetri Martin in the book and the standup?
Demetri Martin: In the book, it’s my first book of drawings, a new kind of art book, so I think there’s a lot in there that could be surprising to people. [They’re] simple line drawings, 280 pages of drawings I did, and there might be a few that have appeared in my Twitter feed, but it’s mostly all new content just for the book.
Demetri Martin: And in my standup, I’m have one foot in the comfort zone and one foot out. Because I tell short jokes, I’m always putting new things into the act, and I improvise quite a bit more off the page than I used to, so that makes it more interesting, but I’m not telling long stories or anything. I’m still doing jokes. I’m appearing in a bookstore, Boston University, in the afternoon, before I do the shows [on Friday], and I’ll just go and talk. Usually you read from your book, but [my new book is] drawings, so I might hold up the book and talk about a couple of drawings, but mostly just talk to the folks who show up. That’s fun because I get to meet people.
You can meet Demetri Martin at his booksigning at the Boston University Bookstore on Friday, March 22, at 3pm, at 660 Beacon Street, Boston, MA and see his shows at 7:30pm and 10pm at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. See http://bu.bncollege.com and http://thewilburtheatre.com/.