When comedian Demetri Martin lived in New York, he liked to talk with his friends and fellow comedians about the idea of a body of work.
Surveying the national comedy scene, Martin would see comics who were hugely popular, but he didn't think were all that funny, as well as hilarious comics toiling in obscurity. Martin felt the right way to put things in perspective wasn't to judge them based on success alone but all the work they'd done in their lifetime.
"It always seemed that if you thought about the body of work, that was the best way to stay on track," Martin said. "Each thing I've made, am I happy it's out there? Was it good enough for me?"
The lanky, mop-topped Martin has amassed quite the resume these past few years. Born at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson (he lived in the area until he was 1), he attended New York University School of Law but dropped out a year before he would have graduated to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. Martin's big break came with his first Comedy Central special in 2004; soon after he was appointed the youth correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." He now has his own TV show on Comedy Central, "Important Things With Demetri Martin." Friday, he performs at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.
At 37, Martin is a full 10 years older than he looks. He has been called "the voice of Generation Y" (a distinction that puzzles him) and earned some renown with thoughtful, dry humor and by using props such as a guitar and drawing board. While his videos have become viral hits online, Martin distances himself from Internet interactions. He used to Google his own name and seek out random criticisms of himself, but he stopped after a while.
"I learned the shortest steps to people who hate me," he said. "I thought it was a good thing for me to go find the worst things about me so I could get tougher. I realized, 'This is not making me feel better. None of it is making me feel tougher. It's not productive.' "
When strangers e-mail him jokes to review, which Martin says happens on a semiregular basis, he shies away from them.
"It's pretty weird," he said. "I don't engage people. I don't bother people I don't know, and so, the flip side of it is, I usually don't bother with people who I don't know. ... What do I know anyway?"
Even if he did, Martin isn't sure what he would tell them, he said. An audience of one is never a good way to test jokes.
"There are just no definite jokes," he said. "I have to wait and talk to an audience — a bunch of audiences — before I have a good sense of it."
Martin has been working on a screenplay for a movie called "Will," which has taken shape in the past year. If all goes as planned, actor Paul Rudd will play the lead. Burly, bearded comedian Zach Galifianakis will be the second lead, and Martin will have a supporting role. Filming was supposed to start in July but has been pushed back to January. In the meantime, Martin is going back and forth with the production crew over script notes.
"The pieces seem to be coming together in a really lucky way," he said. "Of course, there are no guarantees, but if we get to shoot in January, it could be a really cool thing. I'd be psyched to have worked that hard on something and see it exist. That would be a good thing in the body of work."
If you go
Demetri Martin performs 8 p.m. Friday at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $35. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.