The L.A. funnyman dishes on his Conan days, his legal issues and his (possible) cartoon future.
1. When he thinks Toronto, he thinks mud wrestling.
Before his breakthrough Comedy Central stand-up special or his These Are Jokes DVD, Martin had an enviable gig as a writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. In fact, he was the jokester who came up with the mud wrestling stunt when the show relocated to Toronto for a weeklong stint back in February of 2004. “We did this bit I pitched where the CN Tower would mud wrestle with the Space Needle,” recalls Martin. “We found folks who make foam costumes [to replicate the landmarks] and we used chocolate cake mix because real mud was too heavy for the pool on stage. We were playing to the hometown crowd so the CN Tower definitely came out on top.”
2. How do you follow up your own Comedy Central series? By becoming a cartoon, obviously.
He’s been The Daily Show’s senior youth correspondent, a keytar-toting pal to Jemaine and Bret on Flight of the Conchords and star of his own show. Up next, the oddball comic gets animated for the small screen (assuming Fox greenlights the pilot). “It takes place in California at a little gift shop where you’d buy stuff like bear statues carved out of wood,” he says of the as-of-yet unnamed cartoon. “I do the voice for the main character, a guy who brainstorms a lot but doesn’t really finish things—actually, I’m like that [in real life].”
3. Editors are fine, but hecklers are better.
Martin recently added “New York Times bestselling author” to his résumé with what he cheekily calls, “a collection of different kinds of content that you can read off a page.” But when it came to compiling the hodgepodge of one-liners, stories, drawings, palindromes and lone crossword puzzle, he admits a few hecklers would have been handy. “I didn’t have the regular feedback that stand-up gives me,” he says. “While it sucks to do bad jokes in front of groups of people, it helps you figure out which parts are good and which are bad. With a book, I had to work with my instincts.”
4. The 38-year-old traded plea bargains for punchlines.
Martin’s comedy I.Q. tests off the charts, but people may not know that he was a scholastic whiz kid. Not only is Martin
a Yale grad, he was also accepted into Harvard Law School—though he went to the NYU School of Law instead, on a full scholarship. “When I was a kid, I joked around a lot but I really did think I was going to be a lawyer. But by the time I got to law school, I remember people saying, ‘Demetri, what are you doing? You can’t be a lawyer. You should be on stage!’ And so I tried stand-up and I liked it right away.” Martin never took the Bar.
Demetri Martin appears at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Jan. 13.