How Law School Led Demetri Martin to Comedy


Some of what led Demetri Martin into comedy isn’t atypical of his profession. 

“Having a funny dad who loved comedy probably started me on my way,” Martin observes of his Greek Orthodox priest father’s role in raising a comic-to-be. And that early influence likely rubbed off on this son of a preacher man to the amusement of his peers.  

“I noticed at an early age that I could make other kids laugh,” he reminisces. 

“At the same time,” Martin counters. “I was kind of a serious kid. And I guess I’m still a sort of serious person. I liked doing puzzles and brainteasers when I was a kid. And when I first started writing jokes, they felt like puzzles to me. That was-and still is-a big part of the attraction for me. A lot of the joy of comedy for me is in the ‘figuring out’ part of it. I love performing, but my first love is thinking up jokes.”

I Feel Funny in Milwaukee

Martin will be bringing a set of what he has figured will get laughs to The Pabst Theater (114 E. Wells St.) on Sunday Oct. 23 as part of his “I Feel Funny” tour. But, unlike some in his field, if any of his bits get claps instead of chuckles, that’s fine by him, too. 

“I always appreciate when a joke gets applause,” Martin offers. “Sometimes I’m surprised by which jokes audiences applaud. If people are genuinely laughing, then I feel good about how the show is going. Beyond that, an applause break is a nice bonus.” And it’s a bonus for comedy lovers that Martin plies his rapid-fire wit to stages and not courtrooms,

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“Law school was a step in the wrong direction for me,” he confesses of the path that would have brought him to the bar, “but it got me to New York City; and there I found my way into stand-up comedy.” Whether he would have wound up in front of judges and defendants or club and theater audiences, he sees a perilous commonality with either of those professions and that of his parent in the clergy. “The similarity I see in the priesthood, law and comedy is that in all three you can get heckled.”

One way Martin keeps from being booed is a consistent work ethic. “For me every new hour of material takes a lot of jokes,” he says of punchlines delivered with machine-gun-like quickness. “I’m kind of writing all the time. Not exactly every day, but I’m usually thinking about jokes or different ways,” Martin adds. And he can rely on venues where he lives in Santa Monica to be sounding boards for the quality of his output “If I do more shows around town, where I can try out my new jokes and ideas, then I get the new hour of material done sooner.”

Comedic Influences

And if anyone hearing Martin’s act hears the influence of a comedic predecessor who took one-liners to fresh levels of absurdity, well …

“I’ve often mentioned Steven Wright as a big influence on my comedy,” Martin admits. “I didn’t know a lot about stand-up before I started doing it, but I had seen some comedians on TV when I was growing up. Steven Wright was a guy who stood out to me. I liked that I couldn’t predict his punchlines. I’ve talked to Steven Wright a few times over the years. He’s always been very gracious. I think he’s just one of the best joke writers of any generation.” One of the most beloved cartoonists ever also made an impression on Martin. “Gary Larson was also an influence on my sense of humor,” he shares of the man behind “The Far Side.” 

As for the impression Martin makes on the internet, he confesses, “I’m not very good at social media, so I’m trying to build a mailing list.” With that in mind, he makes a generous invitation: “I’d like to let anyone who’s interested know that they can email me at” 

Here’s Martin delivering a tight five on “Elle,” broaching topics wide ranging as cherry tomatoes and salads as well as cruise ships and cranial anatomy …

Oct. 19, 2022

10:42 a.m.

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