Demetri Martin’s first time visiting the Hamptons was memorable, but not for the right reasons.
It was more than a decade ago—before he was famous—and he was one of many comedians performing in the Hamptons Comedy Festival. “It wasn’t very well organized,” he recalls. Some of the venues were not the greatest, and the lodging was “like a party house or something.” There were no bed linens. “The pillow scratched my face because the zipper was exposed.”
A much better experience is expected this weekend during his second-ever trip to the Hamptons, when Martin will take the stage for a Sunday night stand-up show at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
Though Martin, 41, is known for smart comedy, many fans don’t realize how smart he really is, as in, NYU Law School-smart. He had a full ride to NYU, but found that comedy was his true passion.
He says during an interview Friday that when he was growing up in a conservative area of New Jersey, no one in his family had a creative job. The only options he saw for himself were doctor, lawyer or investment banker.
“I didn’t think that much about what practicing law might be like, or law school itself,” he says. “Of course, you can’t really know till you get there.” His grades were good and he enjoyed reading cases and studying jurisprudence and culture changes, but, he says, law requires a thoroughness that he doesn’t naturally have. “Writing jokes is closer to poetry than drafting legal documents,” he observes. “If you make a mistake, people don’t go to prison.”
Martin has been a writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and a Daily Show contributor, but it is his stand-up that has propelled his career and where he has found the most success.
One of his chief influences is Steven Wright, known for one-liners that are observational and sometimes philosophical. Martin is often compared to Wright, but he takes things further. Martin likes the idea of not having to use many words to get an idea across, he says, and he diversifies his act to make his show more interesting—incorporating music, drawings and storytelling.
When he first put a sketchpad and music into his act, it was about more than creativity—he wanted to ensure an editor couldn’t abridge his jokes. He explains that he attended his friend’s Comedy Central Presents taping, and when he finally saw it on television realized, “Wow, they really changed his act.”
“They don’t let the comedian have any access to the edit,” he says. “It’s really obnoxious.” Instead, “somebody who doesn’t know you and probably doesn’t care” cuts the show.
Music and drawings pose too many continuity errors for heavy-handed editors, so they can’t cut it up too much. However, at this point in his career, Martin says he can now edit his own shows.
His first hour-long special for Comedy Central was titled Demetri Martin. Person. The ratings were so good that the network offered him his own series. He created Important Things with Demetri Martin, which mixed stand-up with sketches. It premiered as Comedy Central’s top-rated program since Chappelle’s Show. Important Things aired for two seasons between 2009 and 2010, with each episode centered on a different “important thing,” such as power, safety, coolness and chairs.
When the show ended, he wasn’t heartbroken. “It was really tiring,” he says. “I think I just tried to put too much content into every episode.” They did a lot of shooting for the budget they had. “Every sketch was like its own little movie. I didn’t realize how hard I was making my life when I set out to do the show.”
While he was happy to have the opportunity to act, he says he’s never been a fan of sketch comedy and he found the logistics really intense and tiring.
During that time Martin had his biggest movie role to date, the lead in Taking Woodstock.
Martin is headed to Westhampton Beach on the heels of wrapping up a film he both wrote and directed, Dean. Martin also plays the titular character, and the cast includes, to name a few, Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, Dave), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Mary Steenburgen (Wilfred, 30 Rock) and Reid Scott (Veep).
Martin said Dean is a small indie comedy, one of a few screenplays he has written with a low budget in mind and so he could direct. One of his scripts is currently at Paramount and he says it might get made, with him having a small part rather than the starring role he has in Dean.
He is also working on a new book to follow up his This Is a Book and Point Your Face at This, and he is planning a new one-hour stand-up special.
Demetri Martin performs Sunday, August 31, at 8 p.m. at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach. Tickets are $90, $75 and $60. Call the box office at 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.