It's a classic scenario that's been portrayed countless times on the big screen: A significant life event pushes a rooted New Yorker to move across the country to sunny Los Angeles, often chasing a flighty career.
For comedian Demetri Martin, art imitates life in the movie "Dean," which he wrote, directed and stars in.
The film follows a young artist living in New York, grappling with the death of his mother and struggling to finish a book of drawings. Soon after his dad decides to sell his childhood home, Dean hops on a flight to L.A., falls for a woman and starts to consider relocating.
Through all of this, Dean doodles – dark, funny doodles.
Demetri Martin has long included pen and paper in his stand-up comedy. In an interview with KPCC Morning Edition host Alex Cohen, he explaining how visual art is crucial to his humor.
For me, the fun of doing stand-up, in large part, is coming up with the material. It’s going for walks, daydreaming, usually carrying a notebook and often, the stuff I write down is not very good or funny or useable. And sometimes I confuse myself if I look back through notebooks... But in that I’ve found a comfort and a freedom to generate material and not worry too much about it until the audience tells me. I get up in front of them and they can tell me... But along the way, I started to draw in those same notebooks that I was writing my material in. And I found a similar process works for me, which is almost move the pen sometimes without even any destination in mind and sometimes something emerges. That game of coming up with things is definitely what’s still very stimulating to me.
You have custom made Demetri Martin note pads. What makes them special?
I like drawing but I have all these notebooks and they all just pile up and it was kind of out of control. They’re different thicknesses and bindings. Then I realized if I could get all three-hole punched notebooks, then I can put them into binders. When I’m done with them I can catalog, put them up on my shelf. The problem is, those usually have lines. I wanted to have a pad that was like a single-subject notebook without lines and it’s nice paper. The solution was to go... anywhere with a copy center and just buy a ream of nice paper and then you have them bind it for you.
One of your doodles is a picture of a pig that says: “Pig. One of the only animals whose name is an insult.” Do you just kind of know when you finish drawing something that it’s a joke?
I think. I don’t know. That’s what’s harder about making a book or a movie. I don’t have the immediate feedback that a stand-up audience gives me. They do you a great favor, the live audience. They’re honest — sometimes brutally honest, but they’re telling you. Audiences don’t tend to withhold, to trick you or anything. They tell you, "Yes, we like that or we don’t." Whereas, when you make a film, you’re working in a vacuum. But what’s great is when you get interested enough in the process, that in itself is a reward.
I have to say, for some reason, this film reminds me of a piece that came out in The New York Times two years ago. The headline was “Los Angeles and it’s booming creative class lures New Yorkers.” This was a story that caused a huge stir online. The basic gist of it was all the hip New Yorkers were saying “Oh, L.A. It’s so cute and kind of cool and the weather is so much better. We’re going to move there." Does that resonate with you at all?
My parents are originally from Brooklyn. I was from Jersey Shore so I kind of missed out on getting to grow up in New York. However, I moved there after college and I spent 14 years in New York. And I thought “Hey, I’m staying in New York. I’m a New Yorker and I love it here.” But then like every other jerk that moves out here from New York, show business lured me out and, of course, the show that I had got canceled shortly after I moved here. But then I stayed here with my fiancée at the the time and now we’re married. I think New York is easy to love and I think it’s easy to hate on L.A. if you don’t spend time here, if you don’t live here. L.A., we know, is kind of spread out. It’s hard to find your center. What I find interesting is how much the people you know and you meet or you fall in love with change a place... Wherever it is, I think there’s something to that. And at the same time, the place that you’re running from — maybe a place you always loved — something happens there that can cast a darkness on it and you can see it differently.
[Dean's] a character dealing with grief and he’s looking for an escape and I thought “Let’s start with arms folded coming into L.A.” The way a lot of people do. But what happens when something happens. There’s something real about that. As people, we’re malleable.
Demetri Martin and Alex Cohen will hold a Q&A at the Arclight Hollywood Cinemas Saturday night after a screening of the film.