Comedian Demetri Martin discusses the evolution of stand-up

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Demetri Martin/Courtesy

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The morning routine these days is simple for comedian Demetri Martin: wake up, slip on some sweatpants, crack open the laptop, fire up a Word document, step onto his treadmill desk and wrestle with the intimidating monster of blankness until a joke or two squeezes out.

It’s been a refreshing return to his roots for the 40-year old comedian, whose “Point Your Face At This” tour makes its way to Zellerbach Hall on Thursday. After his public profile exploded with a Comedy Central special in 2004, which featured his own musical accompaniment alongside drawings and diagrams, Martin’s career shot in a million different directions. Comedy Central gave him a show, he tried his hand at writing scripts and he acted in critically acclaimed indie movies. With his upcoming tour, though, Martin wants to return to what brought him all of this acclaim in the first place: writing jokes and telling them to people.

“It’s fun to get back to what I like about stand-up, which is simply talking,” Martin said in a phone interview with The Daily Californian. “That’s where I’m at stylistically these days.”

Comedy’s form has morphed into a pretzel since Martin’s start in the late 1990s. Twitter didn’t exist. There was no need to engage with an audience on Facebook. You couldn’t search for old clips on YouTube. There was the microphone, and there was the audience and there wasn’t much else to worry about.

Ironically, the reason Martin was drawn to comedy as a form during that time was the same reason 140-character savants are addicted to Twitter: the instantaneous response.

“In stand-up, you get spoiled with such a tight feedback loop,” Martin said. “It’s so honest. It’s not diluted — you hear them laughing or not laughing.”

Relatively speaking, it didn’t take too long for that feedback loop to provide the answers Martin needed. He first appeared on Comedy Central in 2001 and was writing for Conan O’Brien by 2003. After the aforementioned special came out in 2004, Martin became very busy.

He began working for the Daily Show as their “senior youth correspondent.” He recorded a comedy album titled “These Are Jokes.” He earned a starring role in the Ang Lee-directed film “Taking Woodstock.” Writing jokes meant for performance was no longer Martin’s sole focus.

Over the last couple years, though, those outside ambitions have slowed, and stand-up has returned to the foreground. Transitioning back into the mode of writing a stand-up special has been interesting for Martin, who is uncomfortable with the social media trend that currently dominates the comedic medium.

“My website is not up to par,” Martin said. “(It) used to be you could develop your act and to do it you could work on the same jokes. You still can, but people can just record your show, or they can tweet your jokes. Now I have to focus on how I can make each show unique.”

Martin has increased the level of improvisation in his live shows to ensure that each show resonates with its specific audience. The core of his upcoming show at Zellerbach, however, remains essentially the same since his first stand-up endeavor in the late ‘90s: chock-full of observations about daily life. He may not be talking as much about his own personal life in this particular show, but the same short jokes and little bits Martin is famous for will not be going away.

“In the simplest terms, I’m getting back to basics,” Martin says. “When I started, I’d just tell jokes. So that’s where I’m at with this one right now.”

Contact Michael Rosen at [email protected].