Demetri Martin called me from Orlando, Fla., where he had just awoken from a post-Epcot slumber. Then again, he deserved a nap. As he told me, "We walked through 10 countries, around a lake. A lot of travel." Martin’s stand-up comedy tour comes to Boston on Saturday — that’s tonight, my friends, at the Berklee Performance Center. He’s happy about that. Not so happy to learn he’s here the same night and time as Denis Leary’s Comics Come Home. "So I’m basically fighting their cause? S—, that’s too bad. Maybe there’ll be some people who are against them, so they’ll come see me," Martin told me.
Lots of people are quick to try to compare Martin’s dry delivery to either Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg. Certainly, a few of Martin’s initial jokes on his new CD/DVD, These Are Jokes, sound Hedbergian in tone, subject matter and cadence. But who else would think to "remix" their jokes with glockenspiel? Or introduce an interpreter (in Martin’s case, Leo Allen)? On one joke in particular, though, I thought of another stand-up, my friend and Martin’s friend, Val Kappa. The joke has Martin describing how he got his hair cut especially for the show, and told the stylist what he wanted, "but it must’ve come out, gay Beatle please!" I could just hear Val saying that in just that way. Only, as I pointed out to Martin, Val would be wearing a bandana, anyhow. Martin laughed, and reported he still sports the "gay Beatle" look. "Yeah, I just wanted to get the back cut, and she messed up the whole thing. I hope it’ll grow back by the time I have to tape that special." That special is his hourlong Comedy Central show, which he’ll tape at one of his last stops on this tour, next month in Austin, Texas.
I knew that Demetri and Val were friends because I saw her on his MySpace Top 8 earlier this year when he produced a "TrendSpotting" segment about MySpace for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Did he know that would land him thousands more new friends almost immediately? "That was a weird one, because I had a MySpace account, so to do a satirical piece and not acknowledge I had one would be disingenuous…I acknowledged I was on it and flashed the account, and it wasn’t supposed to be all about mine, but I knew there’d be some repercussions. So yeah," he said. "I’m getting a little worn out on MySpace. I long for the days, when I was in college, we did not have cell phones. E-mail was just starting out. I sort of long for those days."
Martin will do another TrendSpotting segment when his tour hits Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State. The trend: Youth involvement. But what’s the trend, exactly? "I know there are tons of groups. My producer, Rory, has a list of groups and it’s lengthy. I think there are 700 of them. It’s pretty hardcore." Was he hardcore into student activities? "From high school to law school, I was involved in a lot of different things, president of a few…when my friends saw Rushmore, they said, ‘Yeah, this reminded us of you.’ (Comedy Central) has been great to me. From the get-go, they said ‘We liked what you do, your sensibility…they’re good, they’re hands off, and at the end, they give me notes." And they don’t make him wear suits like the other Daily Show correspondents. "Just my own corduroy jacket and knit tie." Martin also says it’s been easy working with Microsoft. Microsoft Vista sponsors his comedy tour and supplies a full-service multimedia Web site: www.clearification.com
The site is kind of freaky at first, with the animated version of 33-year-old Martin moving around the screen, telling you jokes and describing the different parts of the site. Looks like something from the mid-to-late Beatles period, too, come to think of it. He also has a series of Web-only videos (webisodes, the old folks call ’em), with strong production values. "It’s kind of cool," he said. "They let us do whatever we wanted. It’s just freewheeling. It’s cool that a corporation would be free and loose with it. It’s been fun."
His DVD includes fun music videos and animation, too. For comics, of course, the real joy is watching two old sets at comedy clubs. About "An Earl Gig," in which Martin wore shorts, had a beard, a T-shirt that read "Dimitri" and showed off his many talents, including unicycling. "That was a show where I made everything in the show. I made the clothes. I made the music. I did some drawings in the show. And I painted the poster. That was my first one-man show." And the unicycling? "Yeah, I learned that in high school," he said. "And that show was from like four years ago." About "An Earlier Gig," recorded at Caroline’s in 1998: "Very short hair. I found it funny. I’ll probably lose it anyways (the hair or the video?) so at least I’ll have a record of it. It’s only two minutes," he said. "I feel less afraid to try different things onstage. When I first started, I was just trying to tell jokes and get them to work," he said. "Now, I pace it differently. It’s more narrative in structure. You can change it up because you’re more yourself up there…just to really be yourself in front of a group of people and when you find yourself out there, you’re on the right road." Are you talking about POV? "With time, it’s less about pursuing it or finding some point of view, but just relenting and being yourself. It’s not, ‘Oh, I gotta get, what’s my thing?’ It’s more, ‘What am I thinking about?’ That’s where you find yourself."