What do Daniel Kitson, Eugene Mirman, John Oliver and John Benjamin have in common?
Demetri Martin's a master of one-liners. For a little more than a decade, he's built off that trade, starting with his first big segment of standup on Comedy Central's "Premium Blend," then touring and fulfilling stints on "The Daily Show" and writing for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." You could say now he's a renaissance man of comedy, writing books, launching his short-lived sketch show "Important Things with Demetri Martin," acting in "Contagion" and "Taking Woodstock," penning and selling screenplays and other TV concepts.
However, this week, he's circled back into being the quick, clever standup comedian for the moment -- and wouldn't you guess, it's called "Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian," aired on Comedy Central and out now on CD/DVD. It's his first since 2007's equally dry-titled "Demetri Martin. Person," and it contains the drawing segment and musical interludes that have snuck their way into his usual act. Whatever that is.
But the "Standup" version will last just this little while, as Martin finishes another screenplay and book, the latter due in March, dubbed "Point Your Face at This."
Below is an abridged conversation with the comedian and writer, who's still studying to find a balance.
You’ve worked on a few different kind of shows for Comedy Central now, how was making this new special and the experience different?
Now I have more creative control over the specials, when I did my first one on the network for “Premium Blend,” it was four minutes on the show. That was in ‘99. In 2003, I shot a “… Presents” and in both of those cases, I show up and they edit. I would go to the tapings, do my live set, and then I’d see the special on TV and it felt like the show had totally changed. Ever since I started doing the drawings, bringing in the boombox and the guitar, I’ve felt like I’d be able to control those segments, and when we go to commercial. From [Comedy Central’s standpoint], it’s hard to edit those things, so what airs is pretty much what I performed.
This one just has one segment with the guitar, while some comedians like Reggie Watts and Flight of the Conchords try to integrate music in to all parts of the show, like a musical. How has your relationship to music in the show changed?
I started to play music because of the one-man show aspect. It’s like scoring a movie. That’s why I started doing it. I can’t sing so well. I wanted music to do to the pace of the comedy.
When I’m doing a headlining show and I’ve got 90-minutes, I can tell when I can bring [the guitar] in. And I’m improving, trying to get better at playing it. I even try to have a guitar on the road, and have Garageband there and ready, so I have this library of my own music. So if show producers ever need music to fill in some spots, I’ve already got some there, and they don’t need to clear music through some other place.
As for Flight of the Conchords and Reggie, those guys are real musicians, to their core. If I were that good at that stuff, that's would I would do too.
You’re releasing another book in March, what was your approach to it?
For me its about finding stories with some surprises in it... [“This Is a Book by Demetri Martin”] had a lot of single panel drawings, poems, one page musings… the next book is going to be a collection of short stories, I’m aiming for things that are a little bit longer. I’m learning how I do it. I really like being a beginner at something., like finding your edges or your limits. The books are informed by stand-ups and pushing those limits.
What did you take away from your experience doing the “Important Things” show? Did it help define for your what success or failure in comedy is?
I heard this guy give a talk, about there being a difference between being happy and being happy about something, like the experiencing self and remember self. The experience can be feeling really happy lying on a raft in a swimming pool and it’s a hot day and you’ve got a drink and it feels nice. Now, if somebody does a cannonball and you fall off and your drink’s ruined…then your remembering self didn’t have such a good time.
So with that, I’m happy about doing the series. While I was doing it, I wasn’t happy. I bit off too much, as a producer, writer, actor. I got everything I wanted in terms of the show, sans marketing. I worked as many hours as I could handle, jammed in as much content as I could, I could act and do a lot of things... I can only do my best. When I’m overwhelmed, I think of that idea of experience and remembering self. I’d love to win trophies, be in movies, have a body of work I’m proud of and find a way to enjoy it along the way. Success is probably a more of a complicated thing than that. As a creative person you want to have a foothold and sense of progress.
You’ve already mentioned working in more movies – do you want more work in front or behind the camera?
I’d like to make my own movies, and then act in them. That way, I’m pretty sure I’ll be right for the role.
I like stand-up. But I’d also like a family and house and a yard. I want to work with a lot of people, have colleagues, and on good film sets, there’s people there that work with the same people for years and years. I love that collaborative spirit in that medium. Comedy is a lot more solitary. Again, its that dichotomy: what I’m experiencing along the way. I’d like to have a little bit more of that balance, writing books, be home and have a regular life and see your friends at night, and not at airports walking through scanning devices. I’m constantly trying to strike the balance.
Tell me about some of the most inspired people you’ve been around. What other comedians do you think have struck some balance, or have shown you a way to do things?
There are some good friends that I just don’t see often kno how I love standup and I love how they do it. Daniel Kitson, Eugene Mirman
, John Oliver, John Benjamin… whether you’ve been in TV spots, or played a festival, or if you’ve bombed, had good shows, got into a long term relationship or had your heart broken, in Scotland or New York… it’s like, You guys get me. None of the guys I listed are “club” comedians, they’re a different kind. The composite of these kind of guys is an understanding of the moment. They remind me about that balance, that it’s not all about comedy, it’s all about the season of a person’s life.
You can buy a fat bundle to of "Standup Comedian" on DVD, CD and a T-shirt and print here.