Whether making jokes with punch lines or with pie charts, Demetri Martin's job is directed daydreaming
A few dozen people in the world have likely written for both The Daily Show and Conan. And maybe a dozen of them can express hilarity through pie charts. Maybe a few can even play bells with their feet. But only one has also mastered the lost art of the long-form palindrome. Cue Demetri Martin.
Demetri Martin delivers his good-natured, playful wit through graphs, stand-up, skits, songs, and drawings. Early in his career, he produced his own segments for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and he was a staff writer for Late Night With Conan O'Brien. At the latter, Martin worked primarily on a team of about 10 writers who produced the sketches, alongside a team of five or six writers who penned the monologues. "It was a really good comedy-writing school for me," says Martin. "It was like exercising all these different writing muscles because you had to write on a deadline for everything. Sometimes you just had 45 minutes to go write a bunch of a certain kind of joke, like 'The Year 2000' or 'New U.S. Stamps' or something like that."
After Conan, Martin focused primarily on his stand-up, which landed him an hourlong special on Comedy Central, and then a pilot based on the act, which became Important Things With Demetri Martin. Alongside his stand-up and animation, the show featured sketches, which proved a new challenge for the comedian. "I gravitate to jokes," says Martin. "I like the structure, I like the economy of a good joke – starting to think about how a joke is structured, and seeing how brief you can make something and still say something with it. So, with a story, there do seem to be some other challenges, and the longer they get, maybe the bigger the challenges are for someone like me." Producing the longer narratives for the show's skits, not to mention acting in them, was a little outside Martin's comfort zone. It was helpful practice, though, since he hopes to write and act in his own films.
Translating his comedy to film occupies most of Martin's interest today. "That's why I'm trying to do a book of short stories now," he says. "Because even though they're short stories, some of them are going to be a bit longer. There's a little bit more of an arc – a little bit more work with character." He seems acutely aware that his success as a filmmaker will depend upon developing that narrative voice while remaining authentic to his natural comedic style. "When I think of Woody Allen and Albert Brooks, those are two guys who each have their comedic point of view and sensibility, and each of them found a way to tell stories on film using that sensibility," says Martin. "There's a long tradition of certain kinds of comics figuring out how to do that."
Finding his cinematic voice, while simultaneously writing a book and touring as a stand-up comic may prove no easy task, but Martin doesn't seem nervous. "I think my job at its best is directed daydreaming," says Martin. "There's a lot of other things that go into it – a lot of travel, work, and logistics, sometimes lousy crowds – all kinds of things that can be difficult. But there's still something really great about getting to daydream and think of ideas and stories and characters and jokes, and then write them down and develop them and see where they go."
Demetri Martin performs Wednesday, April 23, 7pm, at the Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.