Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Best Experiment in Real Journalism

If you know me (and, as you are reading this blog, you probably do) then I’ve probably already bragged to you about my “new buddy” Demetri Martin. But, for a moment, pretend that I haven’t bragged to you about meeting Demetri, and let me tell you the story of my most exciting comedian encounter of the last week.

So, one morning I woke up and discovered the whole world (especially the girl part of the world) was in love with young comic Demetri Martin and his one-man show, “These Are Jokes.” Demetri sounded familiar, somehow I already knew that he was known for his palindromes, but I did a little extra research and discovered that Demetri was an NYU Law School drop out who’s making it big in the world of clever-person comedy. I felt this was someone I would really, really like to get to know—and in a conversation with a skilled stalker, I realized that I probably could meet Demetri. How? Sometimes I forget, but I’m the editor of the Arts & Entertainment section of the Commentator, the Law School newspaper . . . all I needed to do was email Mr. Martin and ask him for an interview, and maybe he’d oblige?

On Sunday, October 23rd I wrote the following email:

Mr. Martin,

My name is Brigham. I go to NYU Law. I'm the "editor" of the Commentator Arts & Entertainment "section." I'll make a confession: I haven't seen your show yet, but I have a friend that has seen it twice, and she says it's great. I don't know the proper way to request interviews with people, but here's my pitch: I'd like to interview you for the paper and talk about your show and your jokes and how you used to go to NYU Law and, I don't know, the usual interview stuff. Or maybe I should say "Mr. Martin, I'd rather interview you about your show and your jokes and how you used to go to NYU Law than write a review of Elizabethtown for the next issue of the Commentator."

You may object because your show is about to end and my article won't be able to make your show more popular. I say don't worry about that, because I'm not sure anyone reads the Commentator anyway.


Brigham Barnes

A Student at NYU Law

And on the morning of Monday, October 24, I received the following email:

thanks for getting in touch with me.
sounds good.
let me know when you were thinking would be a good time.
i appreciate the support.

Is it really that easy? Apparently it is, and two days later I met Demetri at Grey Dog Coffee for some lunch and talking. It was a really fun, lively conversation of story trading and anecdote sharing. We ended with a very official handshake, and Demetri invited me to catch his show, offering to put me on “the list.” So of course I accepted, because how could I write an article and not have seen the show, right? AND, what if I went to the show and it turned out that Demetri was really, really NOT funny?

Oh good, it turns out he is funny.

Anyway, I caught Demetri’s Friday-night show, and let me tell you, nothing softens up a critic like VIP tickets and reserved seats with your name almost spelled correctly on them.

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I completely forgot to get a picture of Demetri during our lunch, but was able to get one after the show . . . and get this! “These Are Jokes” is SO good that even Demetri likes it (and you know how comedians can be, always so self-effacing, self-critical, and self-putting-themselves-down.)

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Anyway, this is the surprisingly short article that my getting to know Demetri produced. It’s really serious-journalist style, had I the energy or time on Sunday (that’s the day that articles get written) I could have written a gonzo-style immersion in the world of Demetri sort of piece . . . oh well, I’m no Doctor.

P.S.: This is the rough draft. I’m hoping my editor created a final draft out of it.

Like many an NYU Law student, Demetri Martin came to the law school straight from an Ivy League school, having aspired since childhood to be a lawyer and figuring that a law degree would open up a world of options when he graduated. But about a month into his first semester, Demetri realized that he had made a mistake and that law school wasn’t for him. By Demetri’s second year he was skipping most of his classes to be an intern at the Daily Show, occasionally wearing a gorilla suit to class, and answering questions in Criminal Procedure with sayings he found in fortune cookies. While many of his fellow classmates were eating up the law and preparing for careers with gigantic firms, Demetri was realizing that law school was just another step in a life that gifted students tend to compose on paper, where our sense of validation is built into markers we find along the way, whether they’re gold stars, A’s, trophies, or plaques—and that this life built around a series of achievements was no longer for him. While Demetri envied the small percentage of students that seem well-matched and passionate about studying, examining, and debating the law, he realized that he’d rather be involved in something that he himself could feel passionate about, that he’d rather look forward to the activities he’d be doing every day. So there was only one thing he could do.

At the end of his second year, this former Root-Tilden scholar dropped out of school, got a job with a temp agency, and began a career in comedy by performing at the Boston Comedy Club. The disapproval he received from friends and family for having dropped out of law school was “immediate and universal” but very reassuring because, finally, this lifelong overachiever didn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone.

If you listen to Demetri describe how he felt upon deciding to leave law school, you’ll realize that his decision wasn’t rash or motivated out of simple frustrations, but well-thought out and motivated by a strong personal philosophy: “When I was young I thought that being gifted meant being good at something without trying too hard. Around the time I dropped out of law school, I realized that to me, a greater gift is finding what I feel so passionate about that the amount of work isn’t part of the calculation. The question is: what would I be doing if money were no concern . . . it’s about finding that fit, that thing you can work really hard at, but it doesn’t matter, because you enjoy it. You need something you can be involved in earnestly and be really applied to. The little ride I’ve been on since I started doing comedy has been really fun. My worst day in comedy is better then my best day in law . . . not that I was ever really in law . . . so what do I know about that?”

Demetri’s self-described “little ride” looks to be headed towards big things. After eight years of stand-up work, Demetri has been a writer for Conan O’Brien, won the prestigious Perrier Award at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, appeared on nearly every late-night talk show on television, been asked to develop a TV series, auditioned for the lead in a Woody Allen movie, is about to become a special correspondent on Youth Trends for the Daily Show, and is now performing in “These Are Jokes”, a one-man show at the Village Theatre on Bleecker Street (a show that he will be taking to London for two weeks in November.)

Demetri’s sort of humor can be described as “dumb jokes for smart people.” He shares quick, Steven Wright-style quips, observations, and stories about every day things that are simultaneously a little dim and quite bright. For example, "I like to use 'I Can't Believe it's Not Butter' on my toast in the morning, because sometimes when I eat breakfast, I like to be incredulous. How was breakfast? Unbelievable." Or, “The word ‘alphabet’ is like a preview: these are some of the letters you will be encountering in me.”

With “These Are Jokes,” Demetri shares with his audience an hour’s worth of jokes after, sometimes supplemented by a Casio keyboard and glockenspiel or illustrations on a large sketch pad. To see the show is to be exposed to a relentless torrent of sheer cleverness and “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. Demetri himself is entertained by the positive reception his act receives, not because he likes to feel that people think that he’s funny, but because he “likes seeing that people find the same things funny that I do. The show’s not so much about me, but about my ideas. I try to give the audience a feeling of going along for a ride with me for an hour.”

When I first set out to meet with Demetri, “These Are Jokes” was set to close on October 29th, and this article would have only served to alert most readers to something great that they had totally missed out on. But after many sold-out nights, an additional three performances (November 3, 4, and 5) have been added to the run. Simply put, your week will probably be wasted if you don’t catch his show, so head over to or the Village Theatre box-office and get yourself a ticket or two and be prepared to have a great time. Oh, and after the show, make sure to introduce yourself to your fellow former-brother in the law school experience (he’ll be waiting for you out in the hall) and ask him about the time Justice Kennedy came to his Shakespeare and the Law class or how he was able to receive academic credit for his internship at the Daily Show, because those are stories I wasn’t able to fit into this article, but really wanted to.

I left SO much stuff out of this article that I just couldn’t figure out how to fit in, or sort of figured that the general law school public wasn’t ready for. What sort of stuff? I'll post a "Director's Cut" version of the article soon.

Anyway, if you’re reading this post (AND if you made it all the way down here to the last paragraph) and you’re a New York resident let me say this: Seriously, go check out Demetri’s show. It’s plenty fun and only $15. You can get your tickets from TicketWeb (or at the Village Theatre when you show up right before the show on Friday night and find out they’ve only got standing room left).

And after the show, when you bump into Demetri in the hall, make sure to tell him that I told you to check out the show (but don’t say that Briggie sent you, he doesn’t know who “Briggie” is, say “Brigham”, please) because I want him to know that his generosity with his time and tickets paid off, a little, sort of.

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