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Demetri Martin's simple, smart comedy returns to television

Comedy Central

By Andrew Eckhous, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 1, 2012

Demetri Martin has the pedigree of a United States president. Born in New York City, his father was a Greek Orthodox priest and his mother, a nutritionist. He graduated from Yale in 1995, and turned down Harvard Law, instead accepting a full ride offer from NYU Law.

But that’s where the similarities end. After two years, Martin dropped out.

In a conference call with The Michigan Daily, Martin said, “I just dreaded every day. I would wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed.”

That’s when Martin began his career as a comedian — and it’s a decision that has proven wise.

When speaking with the 39-year-old Martin, his intelligence is hard to ignore. People may see him as a smart comedian, but he could just as easily be labeled an intellectual who happens to be funny. He answers every question slowly and deliberately.

You can almost hear the gears turning in his brain as he crafts incisive and intelligent responses to each query, regardless of its depth. He’s philosophical in his speech, and revealingly honest when elaborating on his experiences as a comedian, student and human.

For the uninitiated, one of Demetri Martin’s shows can seem unconventional. He tells observational one-liners, draws absurdist pictures and graphs and tells stories with guitar and glockenspiel accoutrements. Martin’s comedy can be described as simplistic: He wants everyone to understand and relate to his jokes. He constantly calls attention to the ridiculousness of the English language, but keeps his observational humor accessible.

“When you’re at one of my shows, you don’t need to know who Salvador Dali is to have a good time,” Martin explained.

Continuing his relationship with Comedy Central, Martin’s newest recorded special, “Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian.,” premiered Saturday, Sept. 29.

The show is reminiscent of a one-man theatrical production, and that’s entirely by design. It was impossible for him to perform something outlandish when he first began.

“I only had five minutes for all of my early shows, so I wasn’t going to be picking up a guitar,” said Martin.

As time went on, though, Martin gained a following and increased freedom — and Martin decided he had to take advantage of it. He divided his show into three parts: observational humor (“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is the same as saying ‘I apologize.’ Except at a funeral.”), hand-drawn charts and graphs (“This (graph shows) the cuteness of a girl versus how interested I am in hearing about how intuitive her cat is”) and stories with instrumental backing.

During the hour-long conference call, Martin continuously expressed how gracious he was that he had succeeded as a comedian. Though he has been performing for almost 15 years, it seems he hasn’t lost his wonder — and it’s easy to see he still enjoys himself on stage.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of 1000, dropping out of NYU Law to pursue comedy is probably the wrong choice. With his intelligence-through-simplicity brand of humor, Demetri Martin may be the exception.


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