Demetri Martin recorded two versions of his new special, Standup Comedian — a DVD in February at NYU’s Skirball Center, and a CD in April at Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis. Both were released via Comedy Central Records on Oct. 2.
Before that, Martin hopped on the phone to talk with The Comic’s Comic about the CD and DVD, as well as his upcoming second book, screenplays in progress, and the audiences he prefers to perform to best. If you go to demetrimartin.com, you can download bonus video and audio tracks, check out exclusive bundles and more.
But before you do that or read my interview with Demetri, here’s a clip from Standup Comedian. Roll it!
So, Demetri, why did you choose different venues for the CD vs. the DVD?
“I thought it would be interesting. I don’t know if people cared to get both, watch one and listen to the other. To have these two different documents of the tour that I did…
As far as Acme goes: “I don’t do comedy clubs that much, but when I do, they’re fun. It’s small and intimate. I don’t do the drawings…I thought it would be cool to just have the sound of the comedian telling jokes. It’s pretty much one-liners. With the special I’ve done a lot of drawings over the years. Person. Important Things, the special. Television is a visual medium so that’s an act, a chunk I can do there and I can retire it. Great. Now I have a document of those.”
What is your preferred atmosphere for live performance?
“You know, you were at Whiplash. I used to like to do Rififi a lot in New York. Luna Lounge. My upbringing was doing small rooms that weren’t traditional comedy clubs in New York. Trying new things. Experimenting and the crowds were really good, discerning…so in terms of most of the sites I’ve done in my life, that’s where I’m the most comfortable and have more fun.
“The layout yields intimacy. In an old theater they just don’t feel that big. But you have that big stage. I never liked comedy clubs in New York, just because a lot of them wouldn’t have me on. I was told at Gotham that I was too low energy and cerebral. A lot of comedy clubs you’re begging people to put you on and then don’t pay you, and then they want your A material. That often doesn’t lend itself to trying new stuff. Then again, I’ve been in clubs that I really like. In Atlanta, on my tour, I had a night at the Punchline. I like the Punchline in San Francisco…there’s certain theaters I like, and a lot of alternative rooms.”
What about the big comedy and music festivals?
“I did Bonnaroo twice. I did Bumbershoot maybe two or three times. I had fun at both of those. You know, Bonnaroo was really fun because you got to do a lot of shows. Rocky (Rachele Benloulou-Dubin) booked it, and she’s great and really good to the comedians. The downside of Bonnaroo is, it’s a music festival and people are there to see the bands. And it’s loud. The music will bleed in (to the tents). You’re fighting for attention, but it has air conditioning so people will sit there. Bumbershoot will put you in a great theater. And the passes will give us access to all of the music concerts, let us sneak backstage and say, we’re artists too.”
At a festival: “We’re a traveling pack. Usually I’m just alone. I don’t have a manager or publicist. I land alone and do my shows and leave.”
What are you up to now? I see you’re back in New York City. Staying for a while?
“I’m trying to rebuild the act. I have book of drawings out in the spring. It’s pretty much due now. I flew across the country with all of them on the airplane.” His idea, if his editor approves, is to “lay them out old-fashioned style.”
You wrote a screenplay for a movie called Will. What’s the latest on that?
“The latest I heard, I cant pronounce it, his name — the director for The Artist was attached. I don’t know if that means it’s going to get made, but that would be cool. Now I’m writing a script on my own just on spec that I’m hoping to star in and direct.”
One of the DVD extras includes a slideshow of “rejected concepts” Martin had for the special. Here’s one idea he had for “hovering.” Let’s take a look.
One of your “rejected concepts” for the special was a “Mobile Device Concept” — putting your performance in a mobile phone on a stool onstage, so the audience is looking there instead of at their own phones. How big of a problem do you think phones (and their cameras) are for stand-ups in 2012?
“For me, that seems like a really good illustration of how you just have to change with the times, and as much as you get comfortable…things change. Some of us bear the brunt of it more than others…if you have precious little one-liners, you might feel it more. I’ve learned to improvise more. I try to make each show different. So if you come on a different night, you’ll see something new. After a while, I feel like, I don’t have the energy to fight the inevitable. On all fronts. Twitter included. I ended up reluctantly in the Twitterverse. There were so many fake accounts pretending to be me. I ended up there to fight for my identity. So there I am, just like everybody else.”
How do you personally feel about people in the audience with their cell phones during a show?
“Number one, it is distracting. It’s not the end of the world. But if it’s dark, you can see them. I’m not working in a coal mine, it’s not poor me. I have a show prepared for you. A live show. How about I deliver it to you. Whenever you see this light, it’s like they’re pointing a gun at you. It’s not like I’m an accountant. You don’t come and film me while I’m accounting. I’m in a visual medium, trying to get on TV and movies. True. It’s like heckling. It can be annoying to the performer. But when you think of the social contract of everyone there, it does get to be a little unbalanced and selfish on the part of that person. And the filming can end up in the same place.”
“With Twitter, people Tweet all the time. There’s a mountain of Tweets. A landscape full of mountains of Tweets. And nobody cares about them.
And on getting “caught” on camera making an off-hand remark: “We spend so much time trying to get attention to make a living at our job, and then you slip up and you think, that’s not what I meant by getting attention.”
“Who would imagine, that, I certainly didn’t when I was a child, that everybody would have a phone on them all of the time, and that everything they needed was on that phone.” — he says there always have been storytellers delivering monologues around campfires — “We’re not that much different. The difference today is, everybody has that magical phone camera thing in their pocket and can whip it out, and take sides and demand apologies. It is such a bottomless abyss.”
“I guess what I’ll say is I’m moving to a cave,” he says. “It is a diigtal cave.”
Demetri Martin’s Standup Comedian is available now in separate CD and DVD formats on iTunes: