Demetri Martin’s Quips & Quotes


It was a great week in Portland for iconoclast authors—and apparently also for heckling them. At Disjecta on Thursday Laura Albert, the infamous exploiter of persona/nom-de-plume J. T. LeRoy, was taken to task by writer Barry Graham for claims she made during her reportedly long-winded, grandiose rambling. Around the same time, a few miles south at The Aladdin, comedian/author Demetri Martin—Albert’s succinct and authentic polar opposite—reportedly had to placate a drunk “fratty” attention-hound in his crowd.

One almost wishes for a direct switcheroo, leaving Albert and the drunk to out-shout each other’s incoherence while Martin fielded Graham’s exacting inquiry. No matter; by his Powell’s Books appearance on Saturday afternoon, Martin had taken the incident in stride:

“Sometimes heckling can almost help a set, because it ratchets up the tension in the room…can even bring things to a climax,” was his optimistic spin, though he lamented ticket-buyers getting fewer jokes for their money.

Martin briefly hosted his own Comedy Central show but is perhaps still best known as The Daily Show’s cartoon-drawing, beat-boxing “youth correspondent.” He has since lost a little of the bloom of youth, but none of his whimsy. His latest book, “Point Your Face at This,” is a wordless collection of doodles and drawings that pose visual jokes to readers (lookers?), mostly a collegiate nerd contingent that filled Powell’s Pearl Room to near-bursting. Eloquent and quick-witted, Martin speaks well enough for himself to nullify interpretation. In case you missed his talk, here’s a rough transcription:

“It’s so beautiful outside, I’m thrilled you guys took the time to come inside. On my tour for my first book, this was my favorite stop. For real. I’m not even kissing you guys’ asses.”

“My new book (“Point Your Face at This”) is all pictures. I could do a reading, but I think it would be really awkward.”

“Could you please not film me? I don’t know about you guys, but as a performer, somebody films you and all you see are the comments under the Youtube video or whatever, like ‘This guy sucks…I can’t believe he’s still out there…’ [Later, to a persistent videographer] Hey. I can see you. You might be able to get away with it if you weren’t wearing that hat; it’s like a big white circle. You’re like the shooter on the grassy knoll.”

“I still like paper books. Like, [my new] book is a flammable object. After you read it, you could use it to get warm. Or it could become a pile of napkins.”

“How many of you are creative? I don’t know, but for me, when you make a bunch of things over time and then you keep them…you forget. I look through my sketchbooks and I’m an audience for myself.”

“I got myself a really nice nib pen, with like 15 kinds of India Ink, and tons of different nibs; I think I was just procrastinating, like, once I have the right nib, the book is just going to jump right out of my fingertips…but then it just ended up looking like the sh–y drawings that I usually do.”

In response to a long-winded audience question about “seeing the absurd”:
“The question is, ‘how bad at sports were you as a kid?’ I grew up near where they film Jersey Shore. If you weren’t tan, muscular, and book-averse, you were a dork and a nerd and a geek and stuff. I remember being into Gary Larsen, Stephen Wright, Peter Sellers…”

On politics:
“I care about politics, but I have a tough time making comedy out of it. I was so happy to have a chance to be on The Daily Show, and I think Jon Stewart’s so funny…but mostly in my own comedy, I care about less relevant things.”

On personal stories:
“I have something called the ‘Who Gives A Sh-t Test’ that I apply to the things I’m talking about onstage. Like, most of my personal stories, people wouldn’t. Richard Pryor used to tell personal stories, and the audience would be completely rapt, but it’s really rare to be able to do that.”

Prop comedy?
“I call it ‘new forms’. When you’re starting out, they ask you to do four or five minute sets, but once you’re a headliner, you do like 90 minutes. I try to think of different things to divvy up the show, like doing drawings, playing music…I gotta carry the show, that’s the problem.”

“I don’t think I ever wrote a song. I can write a lot of jokes, but when I try to write lyrics they’re the most direct, non-figurative words, like, ‘I like you, I like you,’…and that’s IT, for the whole song. People would go, ‘Ooh, this guy’s Dylan or something. It gives me a lot more respect for songwriters, actually.”

What’s the most important thing?
“I think curiosity. You nailed it. Tied with survival, though; I wanna live. Too much curiosity, like, ‘What’s that thing in that cave?’ And you’re dead.”

In response to audience question about the future of comedy:
“The question for those who couldn’t hear it was ‘Is your career over?’ The future of comedy. Hm. I see comedy…sailing off a cliff, and I’m watching it fall, whispering, “I got out! I got out just in time!”

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