Quarter-life crisis

Comedian Demetri Martin on his early ruling against a law career

Special to the Union Leader
April 11. 2018 12:42PM

Demetri Martin is good at noticing things, succinctly. Take his first book; it's titled “This is a Book.” Or his 2015 Netflix special — “Demetri Martin: Live (At the Time).” And his Facebook bio has this under the Personal Information header: “I am a person.” 
If you go...
WHAT: Demetri Marin: Let's Get Awkward Tour

WHERE: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 So. Main St., Concord

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $39.50 and $49.50

INFO: ccanh.com; 225-1111

It’s hard to imagine Demetri Martin in the world of corporate law, describing the details of a limited liability partnership with pithy one-liners and curious observations.

But that’s just where the comedian was headed until a “quarter-life” crisis hit him early into his law school studies.

“That was the plan since I was about a seventh-grader even though it wasn’t thought through,” Martin said of his quest to become a lawyer. “It was only after I got to law school (that) I had my crisis, and it dawned on me I might not enjoy this track so much.”

The combination of luck (his scholarship at New York University allowed him to drop out debt-free) and location (he lived near some New York City clubs frequented by top comedians) pushed him into the realm of comedy.

“What am I interested in?” he remembers asking himself. “I like joking around with my friends but I wasn’t a comedy nerd or comedy expert. A lot of comedians memorized albums when they were young. I didn’t feel so entitled to pursue it and didn’t know anyone in show business. My quarter-life crisis, when that hit me, that pushed me to get on with it.

“A lot of it was geography,” he added. “I was doing secretarial and clerical work — worked as a proofreader. I had a scholarship to law school. I didn’t have debt. Those factors combined gave me a clean slate.”

Within a few years, Martin was making a name for himself in those same clubs with a trademark style that is equal parts wry and succinct.

By the early 2000s, he started to get some stand-up exposure on Comedy Central and eventually landed a gig as a correspondent on “The Daily Show.”

“For whatever reason, early on I gravitated to one-liners and shorter jokes,” Martin said. “Over the years I’ve developed some longer bits. Mostly my writing is like daydreaming, and I carry notebooks or sometimes type (my ideas) into my phone.”

Martin’s greatest asset as a comedian may be his ability to communicate those ideas into different forms.

He will often play multiple instruments during performances, a skill he only started learning in his late 20s as a way to diversify an act. His incorporation of his drawings into the show can also add a hilarious new dimension.

“They’re just line drawings,” he said. “But they can be so useful for communicating an idea or boiling it down.”

Martin’s, who also did a stint in Conan O’Brien’s writers room, has developed into a prodigious writer. He famously wrote a 500-word palindrome that he published in his first book, “This is a Book.”

He has gone through phases in which he’ll write a full page of jokes first thing after waking up.

“It’s sort of like taking a vitamin,” Martin said of the morning routine.

He’s also become more organized, storing unused material in binders that he can go through and mine at a later time.

“When I was newer at this I would reject more ideas and not even write them down, and now I respect the ideas a little more, even if I think they’re not that funny. I still write them down,” Martin said. “I go back through them sometimes. It can be a little painful to go back through these bad ideas but it gets my mind working and sometimes I’ll find an old joke. ‘Well, this didn’t work but now that we’re talking about hammocks ...’ It is the fun of writing and reworking. One is generating new stuff and the other is revisiting old stuff that didn’t work.”

Martin’s current “Let’s Get Awkward Tour” is the basis for an upcoming Netflix special that also incorporates more personal stories. Some of those themes were the basis for the film “Dean,” Martin’s directorial debut, which he wrote and starred in alongside Kevin Kline.

Martin said he enjoyed the more collaborative side of filmmaking and has plans to direct again in the future as he continues to work other projects, including a book of short stories and another screenplay.

“When you write the material, it’s nice to be able to direct it,” he said. “It’s an extension in your vision. It’s a nice change of pace to have colleagues and people you’re spending time with every day. When you piece together a career, you have the ability to make choices that same freedom can be daunting.”

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