BH Interview Demetri Martin: 'Daily Show' Alum Eschews Politics, Prop Comic Label

Comedian Demetri Martin needs to hear the roar of a crowd but not for any ego-stroking purposes.

Martin recalls spending five months on the set of the 2010 Ang Lee drama “Taking Woodstock.” That’s the longest he’s been away from the stage since starting his stand-up career, and he spent much of his down time on set scribbling new material for his act.

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When he finally got back before a microphone he found his audience tuned out most of the fresh gags.

“So few of them worked,” Martin tells Big Hollywood. “Not having regular access to stand-up audiences [hurt me]. I can’t do it without a crowd.”

Martin won’t have to worry about ring rust this winter. He’s currently on the road with his “Telling Jokes in Cold Places 2012 Tour” which runs through Feb. 18 in New York City where he’ll be taping a new hour-long stand-up special for Comedy Central.

The former law student is known for his arid dry wit, Gary Larson-esque sketches and shrewd observations. Think a boyish Steven Wright but with far greater range and a less passive aggressive bent. He also avoids the kind of R-rated humor that fuels most comedians’ routines.

Martin recently headlined the Comedy Central series “Important Things with Demetri Martin” and spent time as a correspondent for “The Daily Show.” Last year saw Martin co-starring in the Steven Soderbergh thriller “Contagion,” publishing his first comedy tome (“This is a Book”) and prepping a new animated series for Fox.

Now, he’s luxuriating in the world of stand-up comedy and trying not to let success rush to his head.

Martin paraphrases Woody Allen who once said the audience will tell a comedian when he or she is funny.

“If you’re really paying attention you can be authentic,” he says.

What Martin can’t be is a political satirist despite his tenure on “The Daily Show.”

“I still don’t go to politics or the bigger topics that the comedians gravitate toward,” says Martin, who fondly recalls how his father would make friends do a “spit take” with his funny stories. The former “doesn’t interest me that much. Even if I get frustrated with things in life if I try to complain about them on stage it doesn’t seem to work.”

He’s also keenly aware of what it means to play before fans on a near-nightly basis.

“Stand up can lead you into being self-involved. You’re the product you’re selling. It’s unhealthy if you wanna have a life,” he says. It’s one reason he finds life on a movie set such a pleasant distraction. On the road Martin is in control of every facet of his routine. The movie set life asks him to be a hired hand.

“We were told very clearly we’re not improvising. Ang had very specific ideas of how he wanted me to do the lines, where I can stand … don’t lift your head up until this word,” he recalls of shooting “Taking Woodstock.” “It did become freeing. You lose power, control and responsibility … you’re protected, in a sense.”

Martin calls himself a joke writer first and foremost, but with access to so many mediums he lets the jokes dictate how they reach the public. He recently started his own Twitter account and routinely fires off one-liners or comedy sketches.

“I’ve been trying to relaunch my web site for years. Hopefully, [2012] will be the year,” he says.

On stage, he’s liable to lug a guitar or sketch pad onto stage, but he resists the tag of being a “prop comic,” a name frowned upon in comedic circles.

“I have more jokes than most of the comics I know. I can do two hours just talking,” he says. “If the audience really hates it, that’s more important to me [than feedback from his peers].”

Martin’s 2012 comedy tour includes visits to Boulder, Colo. (Feb. 2), Washington, D.C. (Feb. 3), Austin, Texas (Feb. 4), Louisville, Kent. (Feb. 9), Madison, Wisc. (Feb. 10), Cleveland (Feb. 11), Ithaca, N.Y. (Feb. 16) and New York City (Feb. 18).


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