Demetri Martin Talks Jokes, His White House Internship, and Working With Will Ferrell

In part one of Cultist's interview with Demetri Martin, you learned the salacious truth about the Jersey joker and his young, eager groupies. "The closest thing I have to a groupie is a teenage guy who wants to be a comedian and wants to talk about being a comedian," Mr. Martin admitted. "Almost an earlier version of myself coming to talk to me, which isn't sexual at all."

Today, Cultist and Demetri get intimate about Monica Lewinsky, drawing like a 12 year old, and the new movie he's making with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

New Times: Jokes aren't really "cool" anymore. You know, most comedians try to do stream-of-consciousness situational-type standup. But you do jokes. Why?

Demetri Martin: There's something really esthetically pleasing to me about getting an idea across in just a few words. But I also do like to improvise for the audience and stuff. So it ends up being a kind of mix. Because I do, you know, between an hour and an hour and a half usually when I'm live, I don't want it too get tedious with just jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes. But yeah, I'd say jokes are the building block.

Important Things with Demetri Martin
Coolness - Some Jokes About Coolness

The drawings you do for your standup and TV show are like little comic strips. Is that the kind of thing you've always done?

They're kind of really standalones, just little ideas. It's almost like if I try to tell jokes that don't have that many words in them, then I often try to do drawings that don't have that many lines in them. I'm going to have this book come out in spring with a bunch of little comedy essays in it, a bunch of drawings, and maybe some charts and graphs. Although it seems like other people do the charts and graphs thing now. The first time I got it out there on TV was 2006 or so. It was, I think, a little bit newer then. But I still have some of those ideas that I want to put in there, just mix it up.

What's the name of the book?

The working title is This Is a Book, which is pretty simple. It might be This Book. I might try to get a couple of those words out of there.

Important Things with Demetri Martin
Lines - Adding Lines

You interned at the White House too, right? That sounds like the furthest thing from Comedy Central. What did you do?

I was an intern in the summer of '96. It was the Clinton administration. I worked with the Domestic Policy Council, but there wasn't much policy being made at that point. It was leading up to an election. And I guess the Lewinsky scandal hadn't emerged yet, but it had happened. You know, whatever happened had already happened, I guess. But I wasn't in the same group as Monica Lewinsky because I think, if you look at the timelines, she was probably at the Pentagon already at that point. And I was just an intern.

So it was unglamorous.

At that time, they had the interns doing a lot of clerical stuff, which is kind of smart. It's a way to cut the budget. You have people who get to have "White House Intern" on their resume, but in my group we were just doing, "Hey, can you fax this? Can you help set up this meeting?" One cool thing I got to do was put together a briefing book for the President. So if he goes on a trip for some fundraiser, you've got to make a binder, like, "9:05 a.m. President enters through kitchen." And, "9:08 a.m. President is in green room."

You're on TV. But do you watch TV?

I try to avoid TV. When I was a kid I watched a lot of TV and then my parents made a rule in our house where you couldn't watch TV on weekdays. My dad would say, "Go outside! What are you doing!" And it was kind of good because I got used to having to deal with no TV. I do love movies, so when I can I watch movies. I try to be really selective and fill my head with things that I think are good and might not make me dumber than I already am.

Important Things with Demetri Martin
Exclusive - The Many Faces of Demetri Martin

Yeah, I've noticed that pop culture isn't as much a reference point in your comedy as it is with most contemporary comics.

I think your input is really going to define your output. And I guess making the choice at the input level of things, the byproduct is that the output doesn't tend to be so topical. Even when I was on the Daily Show, they were great to have me on the show. When I first met with them, I said. "You know, I understand if I'm not quite right for the show because I don't do topical comedy." I think the Daily Show is great at topical comedy. I think the Onion is great at it. I've just never been drawn to doing that kind of a thing.

You write joke songs. But will you ever take a stab at the charts like Eddie Murphy? You know, a party album?

I have hours and hours of little snippets of music that I made at home and a lot of that ended up in the TV show as interstitial things. So I think someday I'm going to try to release an album, but it's not going to be as me. I'll come up with some really cryptic indie rock band name.

In the past, you've done sitcom pilots for network TV. They failed. But is that something you would do again?

I'd like to try to do a narrative show. The next thing I want to do is try to make a couple movies. Then get this book out. And I do love touring. But yeah, I think if I did a TV thing again I'd switch from the sketch thing to a more narrative show with regular characters and stuff.

Important Things with Demetri Martin
2 - Sames and Opposites

Talking movies, your script, Will, is in development right now. How long were you pitching the script before it got picked up?

I first thought of the idea in 1998, a year out of law school. Fast-forward to 2004 and that's when I got to pitch it to Dreamworks. And they bought it. I started writing it and I handed in a draft that year. Then I did a second draft and it kinda went away. But last year an executive left Dreamworks, went to Paramount, and he brought my script with him. Then Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's company got involved and they attached themselves to it. So I did a draft for those guys ... Uh, it's kind of a long story.

Then Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who directed Little Miss Sunshine, read the script and liked it. So they're going to direct it in January hopefully and I've been working with them, doing changes according to their notes. I play one of the parts, the lead will be Paul Rudd if it all works out, and Zach Galifianakis has the second lead.

It's a live-action comedy, but not really two wacky or anything. I'm trying to learn how to write stuff that could be a really good story, but then has really funny things happening in it, as opposed to a bunch of sketches just linked together loosely. I like the idea of a real story.

Demetri Martin. Friday, August 20. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $33.75. Visit livenation.com.

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