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The Art of Being Demetri Martin

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Demetri Martin is a man of many hats: comedian, actor, artist, musician, writer and humorist. He is best known for his work as a stand-up comedian, contributor on 'The Daily Show' and for his Comedy Central show 'Important Things with Demetri Martin'. He also is uniquely popular amongst kids and adults alike. Through his wry sense of humor, along with child-like drawings, he easily traverses philosophical questions along with awkward situations of daily life. He recently released his first book, entitled "This is a Book" and is currently on a North American Tour. Two of his biggest fans, Jacob, 13 and Claire, 11 Brooks, caught up with him for an interview:

Jacob Brooks: I'm 13 years old. I'm a big fan. I'll sit in front of the computer for hours looking at your videos on youtube. My first question is: What inspired you to write this book, "This is A Book"?

Illustration by Demetri Martin.

Demetri Martin: I started being a comedy fan when I was, I'm going to guess, like 5 or 6 years old. My dad liked Peter Sellers and Bill Cosby a lot. Mostly I do jokes. I like doing stand up. Stand up is really fun because if I think of a joke or a funny idea, then I can just go and tell some people and if they laugh, they laugh right away. I think, "Great! and I know it works." If they didn't laugh, I just say "Okay, they were quiet. It didn't work, I'm not going to do that anymore."

But with a book it was a different challenge because I thought, "Allright, I've been doing stand up for a while, let me see if I can get my ideas to work just on paper, then I can tell jokes without being there. Then I can just send them the book, then they can read it whenever they want and I can go out to dinner with my friends and I don't have to be there. That was, in a weird way, the genesis of it: Can I get my sense of humor to work just on paper? and have it almost be like a show but instead of it being in front of a large audience, it would be more one-on-one, between me and the reader because they're reading it in their head.

Claire Brooks: Hi Demetri, I'm also a huge fan and I love your show. In fact, I have the whole first season on my iTouch which takes up a lot of space but I watch it a lot.

DM: That's so cool! I worked so hard on that show. I was the producer and I had to do all this logistical stuff and half way through the show I thought "Wow, this is WAY harder than stand up. Why am I doing all this stuff?" So it's great when, even when the show is gone, I hear "Hey, I really like your show". I put so much work into all those little transitions, and I drew with two hands and all the music stuff and every little detail, it seemed to matter so much at the time, and then all of a sudden the show was over and I thought, gee I don't know if that was worth it. Then when people stop me, they tell me "Hey, I have it on my phone" like you just did, it's very cool. It makes it worth it.

CB: So my first question is, what was your favorite part of the book?

DM: I think I have two or three that stand out. There's a story in there called Sheila.

CB: Oh yeah (laughs)

DM: You know, that one about the guy who died for a couple minutes? I like that one because I had never written a long story before and it seemed like I got it to work surprising enough in different spots. That was cool because I would never have tried to do something like that on stage, it would have taken too long. I also liked the one about the palindrome because there are no real use for those other than putting them in a book. And the crossword puzzle was kind of fun because, again, those are the kinds of things that I couldn't really do in another form. But in a book, I could try it and if someone didn't like it, they could just turn the page.

CB: Oh, that was hilarious.

Illustration by Demetri Martin.

JB: Okay, so Demetri, I have another question: Which comes first, the illustrations or the writing?

DM: Okay, so, when I was a kid, definitely the drawings and the illustration. Then I stopped in sixth grade or so. And then I started again when I was in my twenties. I really didn't progress since then, so the way I draw is the way I drew in sixth grade. But that's okay, I just call that my "style". But then, I started doing stand up and writing, so now it goes both ways. Sometimes, I think of a joke and say "you know what? I would love to tell it as a joke but what would it look like as a drawing" and then I just do it with as few words as possible. And other times, I'm just doodling and then it looks like something that could be a joke of some kind. Then I'll just redraw it, add words to it, and then I'm finished. I try to draw everyday. I have a notebook with me usually and while I'm eating lunch, or something, I just move my pen around and see what comes out of it.

Illustration by Demetri Martin.

CB: My favorite part of the book, personally, was "My diet" when you said you tried vegetarianism and then you eventually just lied on your back and ate whatever fell in your mouth. I thought was hilarious. How did you come up with that? Were you in the woods, thinking of leaves, or something?

DM: I think a lot of stuff I find funny is from day dreaming. And then when I get an idea, it's about following different directions. A lot of them end up being dead ends but some of them seem to be, the right answer. It's almost like a puzzle. When I thought of that essay, I can't remember what started it but probably I had dinner with a couple friends and someone started telling me about their diet and then I probably just wrote down "diet" and then when I saw it later, I thought, "Oh yeah, what are all the diets I could think about." Of course, a lot of them I just never find an ending. I'll think to myself "Hmmm.. how do I get out of this?.. What's my move?" Then I thought, "What about the least amount of effort possible and the most restrictive way to eat? Just lie down and have things fall in your mouth. That works."

JB: Who did you let read "This is a Book" first?

DM: My girlfriend. Which kind of tortured her because she's not in show business and she's not a writer. The nice thing is that she doesn't know much about comedy. She works in interior design. She doesn't know a lot of comedy people or what's cool so she'll just say "I don't understand that."

Illustration by Demetri Martin.

CB: Who are your favorite comedians? Maybe they inspired you, maybe they didn't?

DM: Well, my dad really liked Bill Cosby. The first thing I saw on TV was Bill Cosby. I saw it so many times I memorized it. Then I saw Stephen Wright. I really like Stephen Wright because he tells short jokes and with as few words as possible. And I love Gary Larson of Farside. Most of them are very economical. They're kinda just like great jokes. They're just one drawing, one panel and you have a whole joke. There's something that I really respond to. When I got older I discovered Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. There was something really smart about the way they approach jokes. And then there was Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman. But those guys I came to later.

JB: I have one more question for you. So how do you feel about the world ending in 2012?

DM: I feel pretty good about it. There's a lot of stuff I won't have to do. I'll be able to relax because this will be done. It's all good.

JB and CB (laughing): Thank you for the interview, Demetri!

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Demetri Martin's Tour Dates:

1/20 Reading, PA
1/21 Philadelphia, PA
1/22 Wilmington, DE
1/27 Portland, OR
1/28 Eugene, OR
2/2 Boulder, CO
2/3 Washington, DC
2/4 Austin, TX
2/10 Madison, WI
2/11 Cleveland, OH
2/16 Ithaca, NY
2/18 New York, NY