This is a good time to be funnyman Demetri Martin — or a fan of very good jokes about very specific subjects. On Wednesday, Feb. 11, Comedy Central broadcast the first episode of Important Things With Demetri Martin, in which the onetime Daily Show "youth correspondent" dispenses humorous advice on a different topic — "Games," "Power," "Safety," etc. — via stand-up, sketches, drawings and music. The show was the channel’s most popular debuter since a little chucklefest called Chappelle’s Show in 2003. EW spoke to Martin about the advantages of being "a pretty irrelevant comedian" and his new "thing": serious acting!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the conceit of the show?
DEMETRI MARTIN: When I looked at my material, I realized that often I like to just imagine "things": a situation or an object. I probably have a higher percentage of jokes about objects than your average comedian. I can kind of write a bunch of jokes about an apple. I consider myself a pretty irrelevant comedian, but, if I pick a topic, then in relation that topic I can be relevant. It’s like, oh yeah, that guy examines safety!
I watched a couple of the shows being taped and I was amazed by how much of the advice actually made a twisted kind of sense. Like, "A pipe is better than a bong. Because, when you smoke a pipe, it looks like you’re thinking about something."
While making the show, I came to realize that there is a fine line between something that’s just truthful and something that’s a joke. And that some things are neither true nor a joke. Thank God for editing!
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The show is produced by Jon Stewart’s company. Did he have a lot of input?
Jon’s a fantastic producer and editor. Even when I did pieces on his show, he’d come into the edit and say, "Yeah, it’s pretty good, but I don’t think you need that last piece of footage, and why don’t you put this in the middle and then try that?" And he’d leave and you’d always be, like, Wow he’s right. It’s almost like having a comedy professor come in and give you notes on your paper.
What was the hardest thing about making Things?
One of the hardest things I think for anybody is to sit in the edit room and look at yourself. You’re already humiliated by, like, ‘Oh, right, I forgot, that’s what I look like.’ Now you get to see yourself frozen with the worst angle of you face -– and with bad acting on top of it. You want to say, Excuse me, I’ve just got to go and kill myself.
On the subject of acting — bad or otherwise — you’re the star of the new Ang Lee movie Taking Woodstock, which is set around the legendary festival. What was that like for a self-confessed non-thespian?
It was exhausting. I worked every day of the shoot and Ang is a talented, focused, precise guy. He’d say, "Okay, so in this scene you’re going to walk to here and, just as the camera’s approaching, we need you to kind of turn this way and then give that line." You’re thinking, Oh, crap. But, in a way it’s good, because the precision of the choreography almost distracts you from worrying about your acting. You’re just like, Okay, I’ve got to make sure my head turns that way and then I’ll be sad. [Laughs] It was probably the best boot camp for film acting that somebody could hope for. I’m not gay, I had to play a gay guy. I had to kiss a guy, I had to cry. They did me probably the greatest favor of my showbiz career because they let me be something different than what I am.