Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin — author of “This is a Book” and star of “Important Things with Demetri Martin”— is on his “Telling Jokes in Cold Places” tour. He took some time to speak with the Oregon Daily Emerald about his ongoing tour and his career in comedy.
ODE: What can fans expect from the “Telling Jokes in Cold Places” tour?
DM: I usually do between 75 and 90 minutes. I have a lot of new material, and I think the show is all new material. Yeah, it’s been a while, but we are doing new stuff, getting ready to tape this stand-up special in February. And I have been writing a lot of stuff, a lot of new bits to try and figure out what I want to put in that special. And I have some new drawings and play a little bit of guitar, and I talk to the audience, but it is all new stuff.
How did you end up going from law school to writer, comedian and artist?
I hadn’t tried anything when I was in school, and it took me a while to realize I even wanted to push to showbiz. Stand-up was really the reason I left school. Luckily, I was in New York and there are a lot of comedy clubs in New York. When I finally decided to try it at the end of my second year of law school, I decided I wouldn’t go back to law school. And then by July of that summer, I finally got on stage for the first time, and then I kept going up each week wherever I could get up. Then I did different temp jobs around the city to pay my bills. I had a couple roommates, so my rent was really low. So, what started out as a plan to go to law school and then work in the field as my career turned into letting me get a job just to pay my bills, and I’ll push through stand-up. Immediately, I enjoyed it. I said, “OK, this is for me.” Once I could pay my bills, I figured “OK, let me just stick with this and see where this leads.” Along the way, I became more interested in writing other kinds of things and acting, but I never took an acting class, so that is a slower trajectory for me. Eventually, I’m hoping that I can just do something that I have written, and then as an actor, I will be perfect for the part.
Is your new special going to be as structured as your last two? Or is it going to be more straight stand-up?
I’m still trying to figure it out. It is going to be more straight stand-up, but I might still have some drawings in it in one segment. But I’m getting back to straight stand-up. I started with just straight stand-up, and then the first time I got a chance to do something on TV that was longer, I thought it would be cool to try different things. When I did the hour, I thought it would interesting to put in animation and drawing on that screen and everything. But this will be much simpler and just a curtain, maybe a few segments with different stuff, but mostly straight stand-up.
Are you still doing five to 10 minutes of requests?
I haven’t done that in awhile, but depending, maybe in Oregon I might do that if folks are into that. But I don’t know. It is like a balance. I used to not do it at all, and then I started to do that because sometimes people would want to hear an older joke, or they brought a friend and went “Oh yeah, do this joke.” But now, I’m kind of focusing on building this act, so I’m not doing that as much. Sometimes, I come out and just talk to the audience, and if they want to hear a couple of them, I do it.
Are you doing the same show at every stop, or are you changing it up depending on where you are going?
I’m changing it up. In some cities, I’m doing two shows in one night, and even in the same night, I make changes, and the second show is different from the first show.
I don’t usually tape my shows, but I’ve been recording them. I don’t really like it. Listening to them is very helpful, but I don’t enjoy it that much. But because I have been improvising a bit more, I’m trying out different tags on jokes and trying different ways way to explore certain bits. I been recording them and trying to go through and listen to what I said and how I said it. Between now and my special — I think about 20 shows — I get, like, 20 chances to fix whatever jokes I think need fixing, try out what new jokes I’ve come up with.
Is the show going to be mostly one-liners or are you going to do more longform?
It’s mostly one-liners, that’s what I like writing the most. Some of my jokes have led into larger bits, but I am not doing stories like I did. I’ve done three one-man shows that had very structured narratives, and those had personal stories in them. But I still like writing jokes.
You have written for many different media (books, TV, and stand-up). Is there a medium that you would still like to write for?
I’ve written a few screenplays and sold a couple of them, but none of them have been produced. I’m interested in writing one that I can get financing for and direct on my own. I’m also doing this book of drawings. It will be mostly single-panel drawings and some short, page-long bits — like little scenes or poems — but after that, I will write a book of short stories. Down the line, I would like to write a longer book like a novel or one long story. But I figure I need to get better at writing and learn how to do that.
On the “You Made it Weird” podcast, you said that your career is like a highway and that each project is an offramp. Would you say that stand-up is your final destination?
When I started — to be able to do stand-up in theaters around the country — that for me was really the dream and the destination. I still really enjoy that it is, like, a lucky privilege to get to somewhere and do your own material for 90 minutes and have that freedom. I guess I’ve found a connection to the road. Although I’m really interested in making films when I’m ready, and when my scripts are in a place I want them to be — it is a whole different set of challenges. A few years ago, I remember thinking, “I would love to write at least one book, try and make at least one movie and maybe do an art show one day if I have enough material to show people.” Stand-up is still really where it all starts for me, and it’s where I like to go back to, but I guess getting a little bit older and doing stand-up a bunch … it is fun to try and find different outlets for certain point of view or comic outlook.