New York stand-up comedian Demetri Martin performed at UR on Feb. 1 to a sold-out crowd. We caught up with him before the show to discuss his comedic influences, why he dropped out of law school, his experience working with Jon Stewart and some other interesting Martin tidbits.
What inspired you to go into comedy?
When I was little, I liked joking around with my friends, but I never thought that could be a job. Then I went to college and I used to joke around a lot in the dining hall. Dinner would be over two hours long usually so I would go for pretty much the whole time, just move from table to table and hang out with different people. I didn’t realize that was what I enjoyed doing, but that was almost a precursor to comedy for me.
You dropped out of law school to pursue comedy. What made you decide on that choice?
I got to law school and a month into it, I realized it wasn’t for me, even though I stayed for two years because I hadn’t thought about anything else to do. Then, just by chance, there were two comedy clubs right by the law school. The law school is off of MacDougall Street, and there’s a comedy club on MacDougall Street and then there was what was called The Boston Comedy Club on West 3rd Street behind it, which is now called Comedy Village. I started in that club. So once I dropped out, I didn’t really have to go anywhere because it was in the same spot, just right across the street.
Who are some of your favorite comics and comedic influences?
Growing up, my favorite was Steven Wright. He’s a one liner guy – he’s a real original and he only did one-liners a very long time ago, and I think in the modern comedy era, Steven Wright would be the guy. I discovered Woody Allen later. His stand-up influenced me. I really liked Gary Larson growing up – the guy who does the “Far Side” comics. I thought his drawings were very economical and funny.
What was it like being on the “Daily Show?”
It was great. I still do stuff for it, and Jon’s really excellent to work for. He’s really smart in addition to being a writer and performer; he’s a really great producer and very smart in terms of giving notes, editing and understanding how long things should be. He has a really strong sense of comedy. So that makes it a pleasure because it’s like working for an expert, in a sense.
Do you ever have stage fright when you’re doing stand-up comedy?
Not really. I’ve always enjoyed speaking in front of people, so it’s very easy for me. I was on “Letterman” once and I was fine for the stand-up portion and then I did the sit down thing and like halfway through, I got really nervous and lost my cool for a little bit. It wasn’t really stage fright or anything, but the fact that I was on the show caught up with me all of a sudden.
What do you do to prepare for a show?
If I have drawings, I usually do them at the venue and I just go through my notes. I’m not very organized, so I have lots of notebooks and, most times, I just record my daydreams in my notebooks. It’s kind of last minute, but I think it makes things more exciting for me.
What’s an average day like for you?
If I don’t have to go into the “Daily Show” office, then I wake up and try to draw or write or play some music, get some food and just walk around the city. I just have a notebook and listen to music and usually try to write down ideas and draw. If I have a show in the evening, I get ready for it, but usually it’s just thinking and drawing and writing a lot and collecting stuff that I’ve done.
If I’m working on a screenplay, I’m in the library for hours and I feel like I’m writing a giant paper. And I’m doing a TV series for Comedy Series once the writers’ strike is over. That should be exciting since I can go to the office everyday and have an assistant, other writers, a staff and everything, so then for a few months I’ll be focused on that until we shoot in the summer. I’ve also had a few small parts in movies, so, during those times, I go out to the movie set and spend the day there. It’s a cool routine of writing and brainstorming that I can bring anywhere; it’s very portable and job-specific, I think.
What are your favorite cities to perform in?
Chicago and Melbourne, Australia are some of the best audiences I’ve ever had, but I like New York, too, since I live there. And then I like San Francisco and Seattle, and Austin is great. So it would be a three-way tie between Austin, Melbourne and Chicago.
Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.Venkateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.