During his interview with The Hatchet, Demetri Martin is looking for parking. “Two dollars for every 15 minutes?” he asks a woman. “I don’t want to park here. That’s really expensive. I hate Los Angeles. What a terrible place.”
The New York-based comedian usually moves by skateboard or bike. He’s driving around L.A. to work on a script that DreamWorks is producing. “Now that it’s written, they’ll tell me what’s wrong with it, which I imagine will be a lot,” he said. “I’ve never had a movie made. I was in “Analyze That” for 30 seconds. This is all new territory for me.”
Martin has been doing standup for over nine years, but he got his big breakthrough with a Comedy Central special in 2004. He worked as a writer on “Late Night With Conan O’Brian” that same year. In 2005, he started appearing on the “Daily Show” in a segment called “Trendspotting,” in which he tracks hip fads like wine and MySpace. “They renewed my little contract, so I get to be on the ‘Daily Show’ again this year,” he said. He’s written two sitcom scripts of his own, but both were deemed “too weird” by networks.
But maybe the networks were right – Martin is a little weird. Unlike most “Daily Show” correspondents, he’s never aggressive or obnoxious or even sarcastic. In his standup, he offers absurdist, almost childlike thoughts on things like cake and glitter, often accompanied by a soothing guitar strum.
Martin says his simpleton persona isn’t an act. “I just try to be myself. I like jokes. When I’m riding around all these jokes will pop into my head, and it’s just a matter of breaking down things. Then, on stage, it’s just telling them. I’m just trying to understand things in a simple way and then present them in a simple way.
At least for Martin, “simple” doesn’t mean dumb. After graduating from Yale, the New Jersey native spent two years at New York University Law School. He dropped out to pursue comedy full time.
While Martin’s style most resembles Steven Wright’s deadpan one-liners, he cites Woody Allen as his comedic role model. “He’s a really good example of how someone can translate their personality, their sensibility, into different media. They can do it onstage with one-liners, short stories, TV, films,” Martin said. “The cool thing about Woody Allen or Bob Dylan and so many great prolific artists is that if you look at their body of work there’s an authenticity that grows with that person as they try new things.”
Martin has been experimenting with new media himself; he recently did an online ad campaign for Windows Vista, the company’s newest operating system. The shorts, in which an overachieving businessman goes to an “Institute for Advanced Personhood” and learns to enjoy life more, have nothing to do with computer technology. “The idea seemed to fit that world, a metaphorical kind of thing. I thought it would be kind of fun.”
Personhood has been on Martin’s mind lately. “I’ve gotten busier in the last year. In 2007, I’m trying to focus more on just having a personal life and a little bit less on turning everything into comedy,” he said. “I really like comedy, but I just want a little balance as a person.
Martin will probably be even busier in the future. Soon he might be able to afford a parking spot in LA – even if he’ll never admit it.