One liners with Demetri Martin
Comedian, actor and New York Times best-selling author Demetri Martin will bring his Wandering Mind Tour to the Ridgefield Playhouse on Feb. 16. He’s been a contributor to The Daily Show, hosted his own Comedy Central show called Important Things with Demetri Martin, wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and wrote, directed and starred in the 2016 indie film, Dean.
Martin grew up in suburban New Jersey and is known for his unconventional comedic style. The 1995 Yale graduate and author of three books recently spoke to Brad Durrell.
Brad Durrell: What should people expect at the show?
Demetri Martin: I love one-liners so I’ll have plenty of these in my show, but I like experimenting and am always willing to play with the formula a bit. Over the years, I’ve done a couple of these one-person shows. They’re like theater shows, with a narrative structure and more story-based. I incorporate drawings and play music.
The tour should be my chance to put the pieces together — new jokes, drawings, musical bits and stories — so the whole is greater than the parts.
BD: What else are you doing these days?
DM: I’m working on a script for a TV series. I have a script deal but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily go anywhere. I’m really hoping it does. And I have a new movie I’m writing. So I’m in the rebuilding stage, you could say.
Compared to stand-up, it takes a lot longer to write TV shows and movies because so many more people are involved, such as the production company, TV network or streaming service you're trying to sell it to.
Dean was an independent film. I wrote the script, found the money, convinced actors to do it, put together the crew. You do everything — it’s like starting a business from scratch. That’s where I find myself with my new film idea. It’s an independent film and I’ll end up directing it. This can feel like pushing a bunch of boulders up a hill as quickly as you can so you don’t get crushed.
BD: How do you like performing live compared to writing, acting and directing?
DM: I still like performing live. It’s the travel part — and I’m sure a lot of comics and musicians would echo this — that’s really hard, especially in the post-TSA era. It kind of gets exhausting. I have two young children now and it’s just harder. When I’m on stage, I love it, but the other parts can be a drag.
BD: Who’s your favorite comedian?
DM: Growing up in the 1980s, Stephen Wright was my favorite. He was the first comic I saw that made me see stand-up differently. He really intrigued me.
When I was really young, I didn’t know any of Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines — only knew him from movies. Then over the years I finally caught up with him and, wow, I can see why he’s one of the greats. Chris Rock — he’s a guy I’ve always admired. People really respect him and how he does his work. Also, Ellen DeGeneres — growing up, I remember her great material and rhythm — as well as Andy Kaufman and Bob Newhart’s stuff, although he wasn’t really from my generation. I feel like I’m always discovering new people.
BD: What’s the best job you ever had?
DM: Looking back I’m so grateful for the opportunities and breaks, such as when I made my TV series for Comedy Central and my own film. But in some ways I was miserable at the time due to all the work.
So perhaps it’s when I got to write for Conan O’Brien. It was 2003 and my first show business job. Conan was still at Late Night, at 30 Rock. He was a great guy to work for, with excellent writers, staff and crew. This was after struggling for awhile, with temp jobs and trying stand-up. It was validating to get a paycheck for writing jokes, like I was finding my way in.
I only worked there for a year because I took a risk and quit. I wanted to go out and do stand-up by myself again.
Of course, I’m not super successful or famous, just grateful to be working in comedy. It took me a while to get even a TV spot. No one ever says you’re officially a comedian, so a lot of us look for those things that provide validation, like getting paid for writing or performing jokes.