Why So Serious, Demetri Martin?By John Wenzel | February 1st, 2012 | No Comments »
Demetri Martin’s thin frame, quiet demeanor and thoughtful jokes don’t exactly cast him as a burly, cold-weather type.
But he’s embracing frosty locales as part of his “Cold Places” tour, which kicked off in Canada earlier this month and which takes him through the northern U.S. (with a few exceptions) through late February.
Best known from “The Daily Show” and his Comedy Central series “Important Things With Demetri Martin,” the 38-year-old New York native has carved a niche in the comedy world with wry, quasi-philosophical one-liners and an unusually calm stage presence, providing an antidote to the screaming maelstrom of stand-ups on the late-night circuit.
We caught up with Martin via phone in advance of his Thursday, Feb. 2nd date at CU-Boulder’s Macky Auditorium to chat about his new TV special, the lessons of his canceled show and why he still thinks he’s too loud.
|Important Things with Demetri Martin|
|Lines – Break-Up Lines|
It seems like every kind of themed tour has been done by now, but I can’t say I’ve seen one marketed quite like this. What was the inspiration for it?
I got this chance to do a new hour-long special for Comedy Central and I’m shooting it in February in New York, so I wanted to do a bunch of shows leading up to it to prepare. When we put together the dates and the first stretch was in Canada, I was like, “That’s definitely going to be cold” in Edmonton, Ottawa, places like that. Of course, Austin (Texas) was the one exception, but 19 of the 20 shows are in cold places.
And that’s probably underscored by the fact that you’ve been living in Santa Monica, Calif., for the last couple of years.
I’m no stranger to cold, being from the East Coast and growing up in New Jersey, but I haven’t worn a winter coat in so long.
What did you learn from doing your Comedy Central show for two seasons (from 2009-2010)?
I learned a lot about the practical details and often difficulties of really producing something. When I was involved in other shows I got to focus more on writing and the creative comedy content. Once I got the show that really changed things because that was so much more about building each production day, where we were going to shoot, were we were going to eat lunch, those kinds of decisions. I had to make those constantly and stand-up doesn’t prepare you for that.
How did you react when it got canceled?
It wasn’t so tough because even after the first season I was exhausted and wasn’t sure I wanted to keep doing it. It was 80 hours a week and I made it harder for myself because I wanted to put so many segments into each episode.
When you tour, do people ever gravitate toward you because of your Greek heritage?
In some cities it’s kinda cool, like in Melbourne (Australia) there’s a big Greek population and I’ve done shows there. In Chicago, it’s a big Greek city and in New York where my family’s from, and in other cities like Toronto. I grew up in such a Greek-American family because my father was a Greek priest and I was president of the Greek Orthodox Youth Organization and state president of GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America). I was in Greek folk dancing, and I was an altar boy at church until I went to college. It was a big part of growing up, but at the same time I’m not drawn to doing Greek material. I think when I meet those Greek folks in the city it’s nice, like meeting somebody from my church. But it’s nice to keep it separate. The things that I find funny tend to be more generic, simple ideas I’m drawn to that aren’t tied to a specific race or any political persuasion.
Do you feel like a certain type of person is drawn to your comedy? If so, who?
I think the audience when I started was a little closer to a specific college age, somewhere around there, and if it’s grown it might be not only in that area but on the ends a little bit. So some older and some younger, and sometimes older couples, with gray hair. But I don’t know if there’s anything consistent when I meet people after my shows. I genuinely like the people that I meet. People seem pretty mellow and warm and they’re not too snarky. I don’t know if that’s a type as much as a feeling I get. People similar to what I was friends with in college.
You’re very mellow compared with most stand-ups, let alone most entertainers in general. Where do you get that from?
I think I’m wired to be kind of quiet. Often in my interior and in my head I feel probably a little bit louder. I guess restless would be the right word. So sometimes I’m surprised at how some things come out because I don’t feel so peaceful in my head. Sometimes I wish I were a little more calm inside and less loud outside. I was told when I started, “You’re low-energy and cerebral and these are liabilities,” but that’s just how I am. I’m still pretty productive!
John Wenzel is an award-winning A&E reporter and digital media editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.