Demetri Martin: A fan’s perspective

Last Thursday at 5 p.m., senior David Rush sat squarely in front of the entrance to Wiegand Gymnasium waiting for the doors to open. The show started at 8 p.m., three hours later. Unlike Rush, not all students made it to the UC Info Desk in time for free tickets. Some scoured misc. market, while others sat contentedly outside of the gym for the entire show. What was the big deal? One name: Demetri Martin.

Martin gained renown in the comedy clubs of New York City, though he is now recognized throughout the United States. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show features Martin in his own series called “Trendspotting.” He’s also appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show and has a stash of much-watched videos on YouTube.

Martin is famous for his lack of vulgarities; his jokes are essentially random thoughts. Rush, a human-computer interaction and psychology major, admired Martin for this technique. “He doesn’t rely on dirty jokes,” Rush said. “He turns the mundane into something really cool.” Additionally, Martin’s show is formulated around a series of different agents of comedy, whether it be jokes, music, or drawing.

On Thursday night, Martin touched on a variety of topics, ranging from absolute zero to Goths in rural areas. “I just carry notebooks and think about stuff,” said Martin after the show. “If it makes me laugh, I write it down.” Martin adjusts most of his material according to his audiences’ reactions; if it makes people laugh, it’s good.

In line with this philosophy, a lot of the jokes that Martin presents in each of his shows are actually brand new. Every time he tests a line, that audience is the first to ever hear it. “You really need an audience to figure it out. To quote Woody Allen, ‘The audience teaches you how you are funny,’ ” he said. Even though he’s been at it for a while, Martin continues to feel the rush of performing in front of a live audience. “[There is] part of it that will always be mysterious. Can I get laughs from people I don’t know?”

Martin started his show with a few jokes centered around Carnegie Mellon — in particular, its reputation for being savvy in the sciences. “I have to realize that I’m at a school where I can’t actually get away with a lot... ‘He just said torque ... what does he think he is doing?’ ” Martin joked, imitating a student.

Next, Martin performed alongside his infamous pad of paper. Many of his fans were used to this routine from Martin’s online clips; he uses a giant pad of paper to illustrate funny concepts, such as his product ideas for a baby silencer. True to his comedic risks, he actually draws all of the sheets
backstage before his show — by the time Martin gets on stage, he just has to go with it.

Martin followed this act with a segment on his keyboard. He shared jokes while members of the audience bobbed their heads to the music, which gave the show’s atmosphere a very original feel. Martin also plays the guitar and harmonica. He used these as he sang a song titled “Me versus You.” A song of revenge, “Me versus You” did well to amuse the crowd. Throughout the tune, Martin made such parallels to “owning” an adversary as: “Me: a pigeon with explosive diarrhea; you: a statue,” and “Me: an angry rapper; you: the English language.”

Martin didn’t learn to play to guitar until the age of 24. It wasn’t out of passion, he explained; rather, it was to aid him in performances. Martin’s original intention was to compose his own scores for his comedic animations. This, for him, was a practical decision; it would save money in the long run.

Becoming a comedian is a big risk on its own, and Martin went one step further. He dropped out of law school at NYU to pursue comedy. “It was scary, you know... I wanted to be a lawyer since middle school,” he said. “My dad was a priest and my mom was a nutritionist. I didn’t know any adults with creative jobs.”

What made him take the jump? He needed to stay true to his passion. Though he worked hard to get the GPA and LSAT scores necessary for law school, Martin found the dynamics of graduate school overwhelming. “[I had a] feeling of dread when I went to class that first month,” Martin said. “I just didn’t feel inspired... So I thought to myself, if nothing really mattered — if money didn’t matter — what would I do? And that was comedy.” Besides, Martin explained, many occupations offer a clean slate from the start. A year after your job, nobody will ask you about your college GPA.

Perhaps Carnegie Mellon can take something away from Martin’s performance. Ten years from his days at NYU, Martin is a top-tier comedian, and all from doing what he wanted. “Life can’t just be decided by results,” he said. “You have to be more process-oriented.”

Martin is a risk taker, both in comedy and in life. To rely on what David Rush details as “a combination of music and short, witty jokes,” is a tough task for a profession dominated by vulgarity. Abandoning a pursuit dating back to middle school is a tough decision, but Martin made it, and his
success is a testament to how far your passion can take you.