Demetri Martin discusses his signature comedy style ahead of Variety Playhouse show

Comedian Demetri Martin performs at the Variety Playhouse Saturday, July 9. (Courtesy of: United Talent Agency)

Comedian Demetri Martin is known for his stream-of-consciousness humor in a standup routine. He can go from one funny thought to another totally unrelated idea while piecing jokes together seamlessly.

You might recognize his voice from the character of Ice Bear and Isaac, the Cartoon Network animated series “We Bare Bears.” Demetri Martin also had his own Comedy Central program, “Important Things with Demitri Martin,” for two seasons. He’ll perform his standup act “I Feel Funny” at the Variety Playhouse Saturday evening, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to chat before the show.

Interview highlights:

Why Demetri Martin leaves politics out of his humor:

“I’d say about politics in my comedy the same thing I would say about doing dirty stuff: I’ve tried over the years. There have been times where I have tried bits that were dirty or more political. And what I found was the audience, at least my crowd, they didn’t want it. They were like, ‘No, not from you, especially the dirty stuff.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a really well-structured joke, okay. It’s dirty, but I think it’s a good joke.’ And then it would just be like a weird speed bump in the show.”

“As strong as my convictions are about my personal political views, I just, I don’t know why, but I can’t convert it into funny stuff really,” Martin reflected. “This is a very long answer. You can tell I’ve wrestled with it. But the other part of it is, it starts from a very utilitarian place, which is if I’m going to spend time on the jokes, if I can make them as generic as possible, then they have a longer shelf life. So if I had a good joke about George Bush or something, that’s gone. I’ve seen lots of friends have material that just vanishes, and I’m such a nerd about it. You know, dogs in sweaters, that seems like that would have a longer shelf life.”

What Martin learned writing sketches for “Important Things:”

“I don’t think it’s that unique as an approach, but when I discovered volume in terms of output when I allowed myself to come up with a lot of bad ideas, more ideas came out. And then in that pile, I found a higher number of ones that worked,” said Martin. “I’m working on a book of short stories. It’s probably the longest gestation ever for some book of funny stories, but one year I will finish it – but it’s the same thing. I’m always just brainstorming, trying to get those ideas.”

He went on, “It’s usually the same process for me, and it’s pretty boring, but it’s really just me with a notebook or the typewriter or whatever, sometimes even dictating into my phone. But it’s just getting out and getting down as many ideas as possible. No matter what they are. If it’s an idea for a drawing, fine. If that’s what arrived, capture it, write it down.”

Martin recalls a favorite past sketch:

“There was one that I liked where there was a kid who’s writing his college admissions essay, where in his application form, he writes this essay, personal statement – ‘If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be?’ And so I think we called it ‘Dinner with Heroes,’” said Martin. “This kid, he picks Benjamin Franklin, William Shakespeare, and Galileo Galilei, and while he’s writing his essay, a bolt of lightning strikes his house and goes down the wires, through his computer.”

“Somehow, he’s transported to a TGI Friday’s with the three heroes in the flesh, and he’s having dinner with them. And it’s John Oliver as William Shakespeare, H. John Benjamin as Benjamin Franklin, and me as Galileo, and this was 2009, I think, around there. But the sketch was, it turns out, these guys are just letches. They’re obsessed with the waitress, and they’re just hitting on her and saying rude things, and they’re just being real sort of dirtbags about it… Just to see their improvisations and takes on their characters, the choices they were making, it just was a very fun day for me.”

Demetri Martin performs at the Variety Playhouse as part of his “I Feel Funny” Tour on July 9. Tickets and more information are available at