Hoopla

Quirky Demetri Martin coming to Iowa City's Englert Theatre

Demetri Martin

Actor, comedian
Demetri Martin Actor, comedian

During Seinfeld’s “The Limo” episode, Kramer is convinced that Jerry Seinfeld isn’t a comic.

“Jerry, he’s too normal to be a comedian,” Kramer insists. “These comedians, they’re sick, neurotic people.”

The same could be said for Demetri Martin, who seems remarkably normal for a comedian.

That’s the take I’ve had since I initially covered Martin in 2005 when he performed in Montreal during the “Just for Laughs” festival.

“I guess as comedians go, I am normal,” Martin said by phone from his Los Angeles home. “I don’t think I’m that different now than how I was when I grew up.”

Show business wasn’t on the radar for Martin, 45, when he was coming of age during the ’80s in New Jersey.

“I grew up in Toms River not far from where the show ‘Jersey Shore’ was shot,” Martin said. “I went to school with a bunch of guidons, tough guys. That was captured on that show.”

Martin was born into a Greek family filled with machismo. But the actor-comic-director admits he was more geek than Greek. “That was how I saw it,” he said.

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The skate-punk, who was more interested in palindromes than baseball, went to Yale and never thought of becoming a comic.

“But comedy appealed to me when I was going to college,” he said. “It appealed to me so much that my career plans were scuttled.”

Instead of finishing law school, Martin became a “Daily Show” intern. He worked New York comedy clubs. His surreal humor enabled him to land some Comedy Central specials, a gig as a “Daily Show” correspondent and starring roles in films, including playing the protagonist in Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed 2009 film “Taking Woodstock.”

“It was an amazing opportunity to be in such a production,” Martin said. “I really enjoyed working with someone as gifted as Ang.”

After “Taking Woodstock,” Martin was tabbed to co-star with Brad Pitt in 2011’s “Moneyball.” However, the studio decided to replace Martin with Jonah Hill, who added more star power.

“That was easy come, easy go,” Martin said. “It would have been great. I met with (director) Steven Soderbergh and I was hired the next day, and then things fell through. But I was fine with it, since that’s the way life goes sometimes. I read somewhere that people were asked about how much money they needed to be happy. If someone was making $100,000, they say they needed $200,000. They always needed double what they had, which is kind of sad. I look at what I have and it makes me pretty happy.”

Martin looks back happily at “Dean,” his directorial debut in which he stars in a film, which features Kevin Kline as his father.

“It was so special to make a film with someone as talented as Kevin Kline,” Martin said. “It was one of my favorite experiences.”

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Rolling Stone raved about “Dean,” comparing Martin to Woody Allen. But Martin isn’t working on a new film, just fresh material for his show Friday (2/8) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City. Count on his new bits to be as quirky as old favorites.

“I use this product called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,’ because sometimes when I’m eating toast, I like to be incredulous,” he cracked. “How was breakfast? Unbelievable.”

He’s constantly crafting jokes.

“I enjoy writing material,” he said. “What I write is not relevant to the world. It’s observational. I’m looking forward to doing some new material, and I have some new drawings that will be part of the show that I’m excited about.”

Martin, who might record a special later in the year, is challenging himself with the new bits, since the show is more personal.

“It’s been a while since I’ve opened up,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t know or forget that I did open up with my early comedy back in 2002 through 2005. But when social media and YouTube exploded, I went in another direction.”

The focal point of Martin’s life is his two young children, who are ages 2 and 5, and his wife.

“For many comics it’s all about them at all times, but not for me,” Martin said. “I have a wife who is not in show business and I like it that way.”

So never expect Martin to demonize his wife or children onstage ala Louis C.K.

“That’s just not me,” he said. “If my kids are ever up to being part of what I do, that’s fine but that may never happen. They have a voice as well. I would never exploit them.

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“I take a little pride in that,” he said. “It’s not about comedy all of the time. It will be about comedy when I go up onstage, but when I’m with my family, I’m another person, and I think that’s healthy. All I know is that it works for me.”

GET OUT!

WHAT: Demetri Martin

WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (2/8)

TICKETS: Limited availability, Englert.org

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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