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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 02/11/2009

The Interview: Comedian/Cartoonist Demetri Martin of Comedy Central

By Michael Cavna

DEMETRI MARTIN, the doodling comedian who debuts his own show tonight on Comedy Central ("Important Things With Demetri Martin"), is not easily defined. In any attempt to fit a description of him on a handbill, you might end up calling him, oh, a guitar-pickin', cartoon-sketchin', observation-riffin', "Rushmore"-lovin', palindrome-scribblin', increasingly ambidextrous, detached New York humor deconstructionist. And that's before he began stretching into feature films.

Comic Riffs caught up with Martin yesterday to talk comic sketches, pen sketches and the art of building a show from scratch.

MICHAEL CAVNA: Having seen your live performance the last time you came through Washington, I'm curious: How did you convert your standup act into a broader sketch-comedy show?
DEMETRI MARTIN: It took a little bit longer to crystallize than I thought it would. I really do love drawing --I'm a big fan of Gary Larson -- and I really wanted to create something that's especially powerful and that meant piecing it all together in my head. I mention Gary Larson because "The Far Side" taught me something once I got on stage. Working in a different medium, I wanted to take advantage of how [I work on the page] ...
and use some of that same DNA.

(Comedy Central)Enlarge Comic

MC: How did you approach making a pilot that Comedy Central would be interested in?
DM: Comedy Central wanted a sketch-comedy show. I needed to figure out how to do sketch comedy -- I asked myself: " How do I get my [drawn] sketches to work like scenes?

MC: How long a process was it--to pull the show together?
DM: Well, the pilot, we shot in the summer of 2007 and were ediitng it in 2007. ... It got picked up quickly--then the writers' strike shut everything down. ... But we had the time to assemble a staff. [The show has a half-dozen writers.]

MC:Since Jon Stewart's production company is behind your show, how much of the show's credit is due him?
DM: Jon has been really good. He's a wise person -- he learns from his time in the business, [having] had a couple of shows. ... I was talking to him about even the promos that I wanted to edit, and he put that in perspective. He said: "People are going to judge you on the merit of the show. ... You don't have time to control every aspect. Let it play out."

MC: You spoke about putting emotion into humor -- who does, or did, that particularly well, do you think?
DM: That's my favorite kind of comedy. I think Peters Sellers could bring real feeling to his characters. Each seemed like such a real feeling person.

MC: Besides Larson and Sellers, who are some of your comedic influences?
DM: A lot of my references skew pretty old. I love watching old television ... Like the old "Dick Cavett Show." The pacing and patience from an earlier time seems to have forged my comedy. It's a different landscape now.

MC: In terms of influences, you've also cited Steven Wright. Both Wright and Larson, in their own day, deliver a type of visual one-liner. What was it that drew you to Larson?
DM: That was the one [who] always had me laughing. I could appreciate his one-liners, and some of my favorites of his stuff don't even have words. The elegance of that is pretty awesome.

By Michael Cavna  | February 11, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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