Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:37

Awkward Laughter: Demetri Martin embraces the fine line between comedy and tragedy

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Demetri Martin Demetri Martin

 Over his 20-year career in stand-up comedy, Demetri Martin has emerged as one of his generation’s greatest masters of the one-liner. Known for telling short, discreet jokes — sometimes accompanied by lilting guitar or oversized sketchpads —  he has refined a deadpan style that’s simultaneously silly and cerebral.

So when Martin comes to Grand Rapids this month on his Let’s Get Awkward tour, longtime fans should know that among his many new jokes, he also hopes to share some more personal stories. 

“Stand-up is an interesting job, because you get a lot of feedback,” Martin said. “And I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s kind of awkward.’ I’ve just heard the word ‘awkward’ a lot. Now, I’ve never thought I was that awkward, but I kind of just said, ‘All right, let me embrace it. Let me pay attention and see what this is all about.’”

The tour follows shortly after the summer theatrical release of Martin’s directorial debut film, Dean. A personal project, Martin wrote, produced and starred in the low-budget indie comedy, which deals with the grief of losing a parent — a subject he knows entirely too well having lost his own father back in 1994. 

“When my dad was sick, when he was still around, I don’t think that I had quite figured out that I would really try comedy,” Martin said

At the time, he was a junior at Yale University and well on his way to law school, which he attended before dropping out during his final year to pursue comedy. 

“I think what really had an effect on my decision-making at that age was losing a parent,” he said. “I was not only young, but my dad was too. He was only 46, so to see somebody disappear at that age, it does make you think. It’s only a natural result that you start thinking about your own mortality and how much time do you have and what are you going to do in that time. And of course, you die and it’s over. There’s not any, as far as we know, second act. … So why not get on with it? Why not find something I’m passionate about? That definitely had an effect on getting me into comedy.”

After starting out doing stand-up and one-man shows in New York, Martin went on to land a writing job at Late Night With Conan O’Brien and worked on The Daily Show before breaking out and earning his own Comedy Central series, Important Things with Demetri Martin, which ran from 2009 to 2010. His most recent special, Live *at the time, premiered on Netflix in 2015. 

Now 44 with two children of his own, Martin appreciates the more personal connection a project like Dean allowed him to have with audiences, and said he has decided to bring that type of comedy back into his stand-up. 

“I’m still trying to just dip my toes in that style, because I do really like jokes and it does sometimes feel like we’re in the era of oversharing,” he said. “A lot of comedians are telling their life stories up there, and I’m just doing a little bit of that, but not too much.”

This fall, Martin also released his latest book, If It’s Not Funny It’s Art, which is his third collection of jokes, drawings and short stories.

“As a comedy fan and as somebody who does comedy for a living, I love funny movies, and I think comedies can be really challenging. I don’t know why, but there’s no Oscar category for comedy,” Martin said. “I know there is fine art that is considered funny, but it doesn’t seem like there’s tons of it. And I don’t know too many people who consider comedy art. But sometimes, I think some of the best comedy, some of the stuff I really love, feels like art.

“But I mainly titled (the book) that because I like drawing and I like painting, and sometimes I post stuff online. I’ve noticed, sometimes I post things that aren’t supposed to be jokes, but some people — I’m a comedian, I guess — they come at me pretty hard. … And it’s like, ‘It’s a drawing of a dog, just relax.’ So I just figured, ‘Hey man, if you get my book and you don’t laugh, just call that drawing art, move to the next one, and don’t worry about it.’” 


Demetri Martin: Let’s Get Awkward Tour

20 Monroe Live, 11 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids

Oct. 22, 6 p.m., $39-79, all ages, (844) 678-5483


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