The comedian talks about the Strand, NYU Law, and growing up in the Greek church
By Angela Barbuti
“I want to have an apartment that’s near Carnegie Hall so when somebody asks how to get to my place, I can just say, ‘Practice, practice, practice then make a left,” said Demetri Martin when asked to showcase one of his New York-themed jokes. The city holds a special place in the 39-year-old’s heart since it was here that he began his career in standup. After spending two years at NYU Law on scholarship, he decided to forgo his education to grace the stage with his brainy style of comedy. He went on to build his resume by writing for Conan O’Brien, acting in movies like Taking Woodstock, and writing a bestseller. His second book, Point Your Face at This, out on March 19th, is comprised solely of line drawings which will undoubtedly make readers think and laugh out loud at the same time. Martin left his California home for his nationwide tour, and this week returns to New York, making stops at Gramercy Theatre and Barnes and Noble in Union Square. He remains true to his New York roots and credits “walking around Manhattan and brainstorming” for giving him inspiration.
What is your connection to New York?
My parents are from Brooklyn, but I grew up in New Jersey. I lived in New York for 14 years. I moved here to go to NYU Law and then dropped out after 2 years, then stayed here for another 12 years.
What are you favorite places in the city?
I love going to the Strand. I also like going to McNally Jackson. Other Music in the Village. I like to eat at Veselka in the East Village. Yaffa Café. Bar Pitti. Grey Dog. The Living Room — although I don’t know if it’s still open. I hangout at the Comedy Cellar.
Your first book, This is a Book, became a bestseller. Did you expect that?
No. I was really surprised and excited it did as well as it did, mostly because it gave me the opportunity to do some more books. One of which is this new one, and then I’ll do a book of short stories in a year or two.
How would you explain your new book?
It’s full of simple line drawings, and a lot of them are jokes. A lot of them have only a few lines in them. They’re really based on the idea of keeping things simple and seeing what kind of jokes you can get out of that.
You wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien. What was that like?
That was fun. Conan’s awesome. It was a great place to work and he’s a great boss. At that time, I was just emerging as a standup and I had done standup on the show so they knew about my comedy and writing style and asked me to apply. I applied a couple times before I got the job because it’s a really popular position. People want that job.
You went to Yale. What kind of extracurricular activities were you a part of during college?
I was in student government. I ran the soup kitchen in my residential college. I ran a youth group at the local Greek church.
Do you think being Greek affects your comedy?
Maybe indirectly. I don’t really do material about being Greek or my background. But growing up in the Greek church, my father was a priest and his sermons were funny. I think that’s probably the biggest influence that it had on me — being there seeing that kind of a performance each Sunday.
What’s the demographic at your standup shows?
It depends. If I’m near a college, they’ll be a lot more college students. It’s a pretty good range of everyone from 10 years old to older couples. There is a pretty even split between men and women, which is nice.
Do you have any funny stories to share from your comedic career?
One time I bombed in Mexico at this corporate gig. And the show was in a tent on the beach at night. The beach was kind of wild, so when it was really quiet, you could actually hear crickets.
Who are some present-day comedians you admire?
I really like Louis C.K. and Steven Wright. I think Chris Rock is really great.
I heard you are writing a movie. Can you tell us what it’s about?
I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m hoping it will be a romantic comedy of some kind, but not like a typical one. I’m writing it for me, so hopefully I’ll star in it. I’ll have to get financing for it to see if it will actually happen.
You can ask Conan to finance it.
Ang Lee directed you in Taking Woodstock. Did you congratulate him on his Oscar win?
No, I haven’t talked to him. It would kind of be weird if he was like, ‘Demetri? Oh, hey, what’s going on?’ That was pretty cool though; I saw when he won it.
You live in LA now. What’s the difference between living in New York versus California.
California, for me, is a place where it’s easier to be comfortable — which is good and bad. It’s good when you need to retreat and have a break. But sometimes you lose the energy that New York has. New York has a real vitality to it and is very stimulating.
Join Demetri at Barnes and Noble Union Square on March 21st at 7 p.m.
To learn more about Demetri’s work, visit www.demetrimartin.com
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