Demetri Martin is a comic of few words. But that’s no slight. Understanding the importance of word economy is essential to the craft and it’s an area in which the 41-year-old comic excels. “I like people watching – mostly this one woman. Yeah, I’m doing them one at a time,” he quips on his latest, aptly titled album “Standup Comedian,” which was recorded at Acme Comedy Company. Incorporating everything from video to glockenspiel to his performances, Martin, now almost two decades into his career, continues to stand out as one of the most creative and consistently funny performers in the world. We chatted with Martin by phone ahead of his gig Saturday at the State Theatre.
Q: You recorded your last album, "Standup Comedian," here at Acme. Why'd you choose that club?
A: Well, I wanted to record at a comedy club and I had heard good things about that club. It has a low ceiling and it's an intimate room and I was pleased with the sound quality in there. A lot of clubs have high ceilings, are too cavernous and it gets to be kind of difficult.
Q: Do you feel like you perform better in those kinds of rooms?
A: No, not necessarily. I've actually avoided comedy clubs. I like doing comedy clubs more on weekdays than weekends. Theaters are great, theaters are a luxury. Because usually they're just there to see you. People don't typically casually go to see comedy in a theater. A lot of people are just like, "Hey you want to go see comedy? lets go to comedy club." Then they show up and you're not what they expected and they get drunk and heckle you. It hasn't that happened that often to me, I've gotten lucky, but it has happened. I like doing comedy at a club on a Tuesday or Wednesday because that's my crowd and counterintuitively they end up being better shows.
Q: You're taping this new special in a month. Are you still using this tour to refine that material?
A: Oh yeah. That's exactly what I'm doing. Every night I'm changing the show and adding new jokes. Changing jokes, trying new jokes. Especially with my style, they're pretty short jokes, so it's pretty changeable. I don't have a few long stories that I'm locked into.
Q: The closer you get to that date is it getting more stressful because you have less time and you have to make a final decision on things?
A: Most of the stress comes from the travel because it's all the weather. I'm in Albany, NY right now and I can't get a cab to a train station. I got to go to Long Island to do a show. So, I get stressed about logistics. Once I'm on stage … that's not too bad. Because I've had time to prepare. But yeah, it's always logistics that stress me out. Like, adjusting the lights or people in the lobby coming in an hour late. But doing the thing, doing the comedy? That's always been OK with me, that's not too stressful.
Q: Well, the current tour is called "The Persistence of Jokes." Can you explain that title?
A: There's nothing to deep about it but all the years I've been doing standup, I've always just come back to simple jokes. Even if I'm doing one-man shows, drawings or music – at the end of the day, it's always just jokes for me. And they're jokes that aren't too long. When I sit down to write, those are the jokes that come out. So, for me there's a real persistence of that form. For whatever reason that's the way my head works. There's a persistence of the jokes form.
Q: You've been at it for a while now. Do you feel like you've gotten a hang of things or because your standards are elevated it's just as hard as its ever been?
A: Yeah, I think that's a perceptive question. I'm getting a hang of things in that I'm able to improvise things and getting really comfortable with spontaneity. But yeah, there's always that thing I'm chasing that's just ahead of me … trying to get better and improve and change. And I think things like trying to write screenplays and books and acting that's changed the formula too. Because it's not just about standup anymore for me. It's about doing a few different things and being able to move back and forth between the jobs and see how they inform each other and develop simultaneously.
Q: Your jokes are so well crafted that it must take a lot of discipline. You come off as someone who must operate on a pretty tight schedule.
A: Yeah, I have to treat it like a job, which is what it is. I have to sit down and say, "Hey you have to write jokes now, even if they suck, write a few pages." The other way is they will naturally come to where I'm hanging out, I think of an idea and write it down in my notebook. But that's not really a luxury I can really afford when I'm trying to write a new special. And with the internet people develop content a lot faster. So, if you have jokes and they're not that long, you have to write a lot of them to fill up an hour. And people tweet them or share them on their phone and you're like, "Wow. That jokes gone." So, I have to be consistent to sustain my style.
Q: So, do you have a daily routine?
A: Ideally I have a routine but I don't always get to execute it. I have a treadmill now, I live up in the canyon in Los Angeles and there aren't really any sidewalks around there. When I lived in New York, I'd walk a lot to write jokes but I can't do that now, so I have a treadmill attached to a desk. I try to wake up and just get on the treadmill. But if I can write during the day that usually helps me. As the day goes on I get less and less productive.
Q: We did an interview a few years ago for The Minnesota Daily. Then you talked about doing a lot of puzzles. Is that something you still do?
A: Not as much but it's something that I still believe is good for my brain. One of the things I love about standup is writing jokes, for me, does the same thing often. It's like writing problems and trying to solve them. The solution might be a punchline. Screenwriting is similar where I'm trying to figure out a story and a plot and making sure the pieces go together like I'm putting together a puzzle. Right now I'm editing a film that I shot and that's like putting together a puzzle.
Q: What's the movie?
A: It's about a guy and his dad. I play the son and Kevin Klein plays my father, so I was really fortunate that Kevin Klein agreed to be in my movie. It's about grieving, it's a comedy but there's some dramatic elements to it too. Rory Scovel, who's a comedian, is in it. I think it's going to be good. Hopefully I can start submitting it to festivals but I'm still editing it right now. But I think it's going to be good.