Crossing the (punch)line

Demetri Martin’s structured whimsy brings him to high cold places

I can only presume Demetri Martin wouldn’t utter a phrase like “fake it ‘till you make it” not only because he’d likely make fun of such a saying but more so because he has definitely made it without the faking part. I mean no one can fake success after disappointing their family by dropping out of law school to pursue higher aspirations as a doodling singing palindrome-speaking comedian. It’s absurd that he made it this far really. Yet the underpinnings of his comedy are sincere.

“If there’s one thing to maintain along the way hopefully it’s authenticity. If you’re not just being honest with yourself… that’s probably where you get in the most trouble” says Martin. “There’s certainly a lot of luck involved — what exposure you get who discovers you if the crowd likes you. It does seem like a weird mix of things.”

Although it seems like a happily mixed bag of circumstances that led him to this point in reality you don’t get to publish a book (entitled This Is A Book) enjoy a stint as a youth correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or host your own sketch series without making some good decisions and having some structure.

“When I first started I remember writing ‘S:/P:’ on the piece of paper — the setup and the punchline. I was really interested in the structure of a joke — how the words go together and how few words you can do it in” says Martin. “I really liked finding that word where that joke turned from setup to punchline. That aspect of jokes was like a puzzle or a game. I think I knew I’d be more of a joke teller.”

An example of a joke he’s told?

“I think the worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades especially if your teammates are bad guessers. Game over means game over.”

Yet there’s more than a clever turn of phrase involved in Martin’s accomplishments.

“It seems like persistence is a big part of the equation” says Martin. “Telling jokes in a way is like asking somebody out a bunch of times onstage. It’s like you’re asking for the audience’s approval or hoping they won’t reject your idea or joke or in a sense you. It’s like if I told 12 jokes — it’s like asking a girl out 12 times or something.”