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Demetri Martin On His Directorial Debut: 'I Felt Compelled To Share Something Personal'

Demetri Martin is known for his stand-up comedy routines, his years as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” and his quirky drawings that have been featured in two books.

But in his new film “Dean” — which Martin directed, wrote and stars in — he takes a more serious turn, playing a young man struggling in the aftermath of his mother’s death.

Martin (@DemetriMartin) talks with Here & Now‘s Robin Young about his personal connection to the film’s story.

Interview Highlights

On his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis

“Sadly my mom got early onset Alzheimer’s when she was 56, and she’s been sick for about eight or nine years now. It’s terrible.”

On his character in “Dean”

“Yeah, you know, I mostly do stand-up comedy, and I’m suddenly 20 years into stand-up, and I love jokes, and I spend most of my time writing them and then trying to tell them to people. But to make a first film here, I felt compelled to share something personal. And while the film is fiction, it comes from a very real place and the kind of things I’ve been dealing with.”

On his drawings

“I learned early on in my stand-up career to carry a notebook with me. I write jokes and then I end up drawing a lot, and I find it relaxing, and I guess therapeutic. It’s definitely a great escape for me because I can, on a plane, in an airport, in a cab, wherever I am — you know, I do the road a lot — I can always escape into my notebook, so it’s nice.”

On his cartoons in the film featuring the Grim Reaper

“There’s a picture of my character — I guess it’s somewhat of a self-portrait — water skiing. And then you pan over and there’s the Grim Reaper, he’s going by behind another boat. There’s the Grim Reaper has a caddie, who’s pulling a sickle out of a golf bag for him.

“It’s strange because, in my own drawings — I did that book a few years ago, I’m gonna have another one in the fall, I’m excited, a lot of just single-panel cartoons, I guess you call them. But yeah, it turned out a lot of them had the Grim Reaper in them, just in my real life, and I don’t have to dig too deep to say, yeah I’ve dealt with some stuff. My family’s going through some things. So there he is you know, or she, whoever the Grim Reaper is. I haven’t gotten a good look at the face ever.”

On losing a parent

“There is something very strange about when you lose your parents. Aside from the grief, when both parents are gone, I do things and I realize I’ll never share that with them, I’ll never get their validation. I have two kids now, I’m married. These are big milestones in life, and sometimes you want to pick up the phone and call them, or you’re having a rough day and you want to share something, and of course, you can’t. Being a comedian, and now making a first film — and I draw and write — I realize that it’s a lucky thing if you get to have a job where you can channel those kinds of feelings and experiences. Maybe make something that resonates with other people.”


On whether his mother knows about the film

“No she’s… it’s been about four or five years since she knew who I was, and she didn’t know I got married or never met my kids or she doesn’t know them. The last time I saw her she couldn’t speak, she was kind of catatonic — just to sell the movie here. Lots of laughs from this guy.

“It’s terrible. It’s just, it’s so terrible. It’s so strange — being a grown-up, it really does suck sometimes. It’s just, there are these things you don’t have answers for, there’s no solution. And the original title of my film was ‘The First Thing You Never Get Over.’ And when I lost my dad, that was, I realize, that was it, for me.”

On whether he ever thought he couldn’t do stand-up comedy anymore

“I haven’t felt that, but I have felt that I wanted to have the laughs be earned if they could. When I set out to make a film, what I like about jokes is, there are things, there are these little things that I can think about, make one, share it with people, here’s another one.

“I think there’s something wonderful about the experience of daydreaming, coming up with something and then getting onto a stage somewhere, there’s a connection with other human beings, it feels great. But I have purposefully shied away from dealing with more personal subjects. But here trying to make a movie I’m thinking, ‘Geez, if someone is gonna spend 90 minutes looking at my mug up there and my story, I want it to be something they can connect with.'”


Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(Courtesy CBS Films)
(Courtesy CBS Films)

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