Although he’s known for being a thinking man’s comedian, Demetri Martin credits Jersey Shore’s fist-pumping meatheads for indirectly helping him develop his stand-up style. The TV funny-man, currently in the midst of a Canadian tour, says he was an outcast among the many Guido-types he encountered growing up on New Jersey’s now-infamous Atlantic coastline.
“I remember there being people like that in my high school,” Martin recalls. “When I was there, your social value depended a lot on how good you were at certain team sports. I liked drawing and stuff and I didn’t find a community of artists or anything like that, so I was pretty psyched to get out of there….In the end, that probably had something to do with why I write jokes a certain way and why I like looking at stuff from a little bit of a distance. I like to spend time alone and daydream a lot.”
With an act consisting of music, bizarre doodles, puzzles, one-liners and wry observations, Martin is one of the most unorthodox comics out there. He’s like the mop-topped lovechild of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, genetically modified with a dash of Zen surrealism. Despite being called a geek throughout his teen years, Martin has since used his dorky demeanour to climb America’s comedy ranks, having written for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, appearing as a correspondent on The Daily Show with John Stewart, starring in his own Comedy Central show, Important Things, and playing a leading role in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock.
“It’s funny, and it might just be the Jersey Shore culture, but when I started people made fun of me, like ‘Oh, he thinks he’s going to be a comedian.’ And then I got to be on TV a bunch. And then it went straight to, ‘Oh, he thinks he’s a hotshot now. Oh, Mr. Famous.’ It was just laughing at me straight to resenting me.”
Of course, Martin’s currently not on the tube due to Comedy Central’s decision to drop Important Things after its second season. But he says it’s a relief to be unshackled from the network’s shoddy management. “When they marketed the show, they did this campaign called ‘Back to Back,’ where they promoted my show and Sarah Silverman’s show, which would run one after the other. When I saw the materials for the marketing, I said, ‘You know, this looks like a show called Back to Back starring Sarah and me. Can we just use the art and language that we established in the first season of the show, so people will know it’s the same thing?’ But the marketing people refused. After that I got a number of messages from people saying ‘Are you doing a new show with Sarah?’ or ‘When is your show coming back?’ And then I tried to watch it one night and I missed it. So I was like, ‘If I can’t find my show, there’s no way this thing’s coming back.’”
It shouldn’t take long for Martin to rebound from the cancellation. Aside from refocusing his energy on his now more scaled-back stand-up act, he’s also working on a new pilot for TV’s Fox network. “It’s just about a family that lives in Northern California. It’s a comedy. I’ll probably do some of the music for it and some drawings….I would play the lead voice and the lead guy. And I’ll have a wife, a kid, my parents and some neighbours. It’s just animation; it’s more about this guy’s ideas and you get to go into his head and see some of his thoughts visualized with drawings and colours and stuff. Hopefully, if it works, it’ll be a way to take advantage of being an animated project rather than live action.”
It’s an ideal medium for Martin, who says he uses comedy to delve into his imagination and forget about his worldly worries, be they blockheaded beefcakes or TV contracts. “It’s a way to focus your thinking and block out other things. I’ve done more personal shows where I’ve turned things from real life into material as a way of dealing with it. But there are a lot of other comedians who do that way more than I do. I haven’t built my comedy in that direction. For whatever reason, I’m a little more escapist and interested in playing with ideas than exploring my deepest feelings with an audience. That’s just where my head goes.”
Demitri Martin plays Montreal, Jan. 12; Toronto, Jan. 13; and Ottawa, Jan. 14.