Courtesy of Comedy Central
Demetri Martin is a well-known figure in the realm of offbeat comedy, along with his “large pad” on which he illustrates a pie-chart of procrastination (an empty circle) and his “unnecessary bells,” which he kicks as he’s playing a guitar and harmonica.
Wednesday, he’s bringing his act to Ohio State to the Ohio Union Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom at 8 p.m.
“I’m going to shoot a special in February for Comedy Central,” Martin said in a phone interview with The Lantern. “So I’m psyched that I get to come to Ohio State during this tour, because I’m going to essentially run the special for folks at Ohio State.”
Martin said he is a big fan of the college scene, feeling at home on a campus, where it’s acceptable to be “kinda dorky.”
“I love going to college towns — I find campuses really soothing,” he said. “I also like going to libraries and bookstores. I associate it with what I consider a happy time in my life. There’s something picturesque about it.”
And OSU has a lot to look forward to.
Martin is known for his unusual style and visual tools which accompany his quirky, often one-line jokes, such as “It’s weird the way ‘finger puppets’ sounds OK as a noun.” He is known to draw with both hands at the same time to create humourous illustrations and doing odd physical activities such as unicycle riding.
“Drawing is important because it got me thinking more visually more than I would have otherwise,” Martin said. “There’s just this sense of development and learning. And I found that trying different things, even if they’re trivial, does change my perspective, even if it’s just a little bit, and helps me come up with different ideas for jokes, character ideas and stories.”
Martin took full advantage of this theory in his series “Important Things with Demetri Martin,” which ran for two seasons on Comedy Central. Many of the episodes were produced by Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” on which Martin also appeared as a satirical correspondent.
“Working with Jon Stewart, working with Conan (O’Brien), those were really good jobs,” Martin said. “That was more like working with a professor or comedy teacher. I’m not really interested in politics at all, and my comedy reflects that pretty consistently. So the fact that I was on ‘The Daily Show’ at all was surprising to me, and it was an interesting fit.”
Apart from Stewart and O’Brien, Martin has worked with an interesting assortment of big names in the comedy world, such as Flight of the Conchords and H. John Benjamin, who is a voice-actor in the animated comedy series “Archer.”
“I spend the most time working alone, which I really enjoy,” Martin said. “But over the years, I’ve had a chance to be a guest on somebody else’s project or have somebody work on mine. John Benjamin is an old friend from New York, doing the alternative (comedy clubs) in the Lower East Side. He was always one of my favorites. He would hang out and he always makes me laugh a lot.”
There aren’t too many comedians who have built their career on one-liners, but that hasn’t stopped Martin from becoming successful.
“The first comedian I liked, as a kid, was Bill Cosby,” he said. “I always say Stephen Wright and Gary Larson are probably my two biggest influences because I just like their basic jokes and short ideas. But I love Woody Allen, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin.”
He said he was often compared to the late Mitch Hedberg, who is well-known for his sporadic and strange one-line observations and odd stage presence.
“Many people who’ve never heard of Stephen Wright said that I was like Mitch, which I take as a compliment, because I think Mitch is a great comic,” Martin said. “But it really wouldn’t be honest for me to say that Mitch was a big influence on (me) because it was more Stephen Wright for me.”
But most of all, he said he prefers to be recognized as being uniquely Demetri.
“The further you get into stand-up, hopefully the more people understand that you’re just doing yourself, being yourself,” Martin said. “The first time I ever did stand-up, I did one-liners. So that’s pretty much what I’ve been drawn to. Woody Allen liked doing magic when he was a kid, Steve Martin liked magic. I like just kind of day-dreaming, and doing puzzles was one way to do that when I was in school, it was a kind of escape. I found my brand of comedy pretty quickly, it’s how my head works.”
Martin did not have an active interest in comedy until he began attempting stand up in 1997 while in law school in New York City. It was only four years later that he got his break with an appearance on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend.”
“I never did stand-up or improv or sketch or write anything, so I started pretty late,” Martin said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my law school is right by two comedy clubs, I should try stand-up before I graduate, just to say that I did it because I’ll regret it if I never try it.’ As my interest in law declined pretty rapidly, my interest in comedy started to spike up, until actually dropping out at the end of the second year there.”
Martin attended Yale University and went to law school in New York, and for anyone who has seen his comedy, it’s apparent he is an intellectual at heart. He said he enjoys classic literature such as Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway, and has written a book himself.
“Now I’m doing screenwriting and trying to write books and stuff,” Martin said. “And that’s a whole other learning curve, where I’m trying to figure out how my sensibility works with different media. Now I’m working on my second book. It might be called, ‘Point Your Face At This.'”
Not only is the written word a major influence in Martin’s comedy, but also visual and cinematographic art.
“There was one thing that I did in the series that was influenced by David Hockney,” he said. “It was almost cubic. It was in some ways about reconstructing how a person’s eyes scan an image. I’m kind of just exploring things on my own.”
Martin also had advice for budding stand-up comedians.
“You need to develop your act,” Martin said. “If you want to do live comedy, you need to find out what the audience thinks. If you get up as much as you can, no matter how good or bad the audience is, and then pay attention to what the audience is telling you, you’ll develop faster. But over time, if you’re not careful what audience you’re performing for, you might develop one way or another.”
Martin has big plans for the future, working on a second book and writing a screenplay for a movie with DreamWorks. But in the more immediate future, he said he’s looking forward to making OSU laugh.
“I’m psyched,” he said. “I’ve been to Ohio State a couple times, been to Columbus a few times. I like coming there.”