Demetri Martin called me from Orlando, Fla., where he had just awoken from a post-Epcot slumber. Then again, he deserved a nap. As he told me, "We walked through 10 countries, around a lake. A lot of travel." Martin's stand-up comedy tour comes to Boston on Saturday — that's tonight, my friends, at the Berklee Performance Center. He's happy about that. Not so happy to learn he's here the same night and time as Denis Leary's Comics Come Home. "So I'm basically fighting their cause? S—, that's too bad. Maybe there'll be some people who are against them, so they'll come see me," Martin told me.
Lots of people are quick to try to compare Martin's dry delivery to either Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg. Certainly, a few of Martin's initial jokes on his new CD/DVD, These Are Jokes, sound Hedbergian in tone, subject matter and cadence. But who else would think to "remix" their jokes with glockenspiel? Or introduce an interpreter (in Martin's case, Leo Allen)? On one joke in particular, though, I thought of another stand-up, my friend and Martin's friend, Val Kappa. The joke has Martin describing how he got his hair cut especially for the show, and told the stylist what he wanted, "but it must've come out, gay Beatle please!" I could just hear Val saying that in just that way. Only, as I pointed out to Martin, Val would be wearing a bandana, anyhow. Martin laughed, and reported he still sports the "gay Beatle" look. "Yeah, I just wanted to get the back cut, and she messed up the whole thing. I hope it'll grow back by the time I have to tape that special." That special is his hourlong Comedy Central show, which he'll tape at one of his last stops on this tour, next month in Austin, Texas.
I knew that Demetri and Val were friends because I saw her on his MySpace Top 8 earlier this year when he produced a "TrendSpotting" segment about MySpace for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Did he know that would land him thousands more new friends almost immediately? "That was a weird one, because I had a MySpace account, so to do a satirical piece and not acknowledge I had one would be disingenuous…I acknowledged I was on it and flashed the account, and it wasn't supposed to be all about mine, but I knew there'd be some repercussions. So yeah," he said. "I'm getting a little worn out on MySpace. I long for the days, when I was in college, we did not have cell phones. E-mail was just starting out. I sort of long for those days."
Martin will do another TrendSpotting segment when his tour hits Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State. The trend: Youth involvement. But what's the trend, exactly? "I know there are tons of groups. My producer, Rory, has a list of groups and it's lengthy. I think there are 700 of them. It's pretty hardcore." Was he hardcore into student activities? "From high school to law school, I was involved in a lot of different things, president of a few…when my friends saw Rushmore, they said, 'Yeah, this reminded us of you.' (Comedy Central) has been great to me. From the get-go, they said 'We liked what you do, your sensibility…they're good, they're hands off, and at the end, they give me notes." And they don't make him wear suits like the other Daily Show correspondents. "Just my own corduroy jacket and knit tie." Martin also says it's been easy working with Microsoft. Microsoft Vista sponsors his comedy tour and supplies a full-service multimedia Web site: www.clearification.com
The site is kind of freaky at first, with the animated version of 33-year-old Martin moving around the screen, telling you jokes and describing the different parts of the site. Looks like something from the mid-to-late Beatles period, too, come to think of it. He also has a series of Web-only videos (webisodes, the old folks call 'em), with strong production values. "It's kind of cool," he said. "They let us do whatever we wanted. It's just freewheeling. It's cool that a corporation would be free and loose with it. It's been fun."
His DVD includes fun music videos and animation, too. For comics, of course, the real joy is watching two old sets at comedy clubs. About "An Earl Gig," in which Martin wore shorts, had a beard, a T-shirt that read "Dimitri" and showed off his many talents, including unicycling. "That was a show where I made everything in the show. I made the clothes. I made the music. I did some drawings in the show. And I painted the poster. That was my first one-man show." And the unicycling? "Yeah, I learned that in high school," he said. "And that show was from like four years ago." About "An Earlier Gig," recorded at Caroline's in 1998: "Very short hair. I found it funny. I'll probably lose it anyways (the hair or the video?) so at least I'll have a record of it. It's only two minutes," he said. "I feel less afraid to try different things onstage. When I first started, I was just trying to tell jokes and get them to work," he said. "Now, I pace it differently. It's more narrative in structure. You can change it up because you're more yourself up there…just to really be yourself in front of a group of people and when you find yourself out there, you're on the right road." Are you talking about POV? "With time, it's less about pursuing it or finding some point of view, but just relenting and being yourself. It's not, 'Oh, I gotta get, what's my thing?' It's more, 'What am I thinking about?' That's where you find yourself."
Val Kappa makes me smile, chuckle, giggle and laugh all the time. So when her Comedy Central debut approached with Premium Blend, I did what I could to promote her. Good thing I get to interview comics every week, eh?
Val Kappa, 27, has a very subtle, dry, wry style.
That might explain why she hasn’t exactly taken to the hills to toot her own horn.
"I haven’t told a lot of people," she said. "For some people, I’ll say, 'Hey, just a warning, I look like a corpse mother on it.' "
At least that was her impression after seeing herself on TV.
"I took a quick peek, and then I looked away," she said. "I think I look like a mom who just got out of a coffin and said, 'Hey, I think I’m going to try my hand at stand-up comedy.' "
Didn’t the other comedians on the show, which include Emerson College colleague Dan Levy, give her pointers?
"No. They were like, 'Just walk to the microphone,' " Kappa said.
Comedy Central was equally, um, helpful.
"There was a memo sent out, and it said not to wear certain colors," she said. "We were told not to wear red."
So Kappa had to find a different shirt.
"Normally, I won’t wear pink," she said. "But I’m not on TV, so I thought, 'I guess I’ll take it down a notch and wear pink.' "
It’s a long way from Saugus, where Kappa grew up among the orange dinosaur, plastic cows and leaning tower of pizza along Route 1.
"Saugus, when you drive through it on the highway, looks like a low-key Vegas," she said. "Growing up, I never thought anything about it. I figured this is what all towns are."
She since has lived in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. For now, though, Kappa is back in Saugus, plotting her next move.
She recently signed up at the local Gold’s Gym, too.
"They have a separate floor for women. I’d never seen that before," Kappa said.
"You don’t have to go to the women’s section. It’s optional. Sometimes I alternate. Yeah, I’ll go to the women’s section today. Other times I’ll work out with the men. I like to mix it up at Gold’s Gym."
Kappa figured some women might feel intimidated or worry about getting hit on by men at the gym. "So they say, 'We’re going to put in another floor for you, girl in spandex, so you don’t have to worry anymore,' " she said.
Kappa isn’t worried.
"I’m just a jolly exerciser," she said. "I’m sure if people watch me, they think I’m not using the machines the right way."
She prefers the elliptical machines, like the ones made famous on infomercials by the pony-tailed Tony Little.
"I don’t exercise like him, thank God," Kappa said. "He’s an intense dude. It kind of makes me not want to use it."
Which brings us back to Kappa’s subtle style.
"I’m not someone who makes anyone want to use a machine. I don’t think I’m a good spokesperson for exercise," she said. "I’d be good at promoting water. That’s about it. I like to drink water. So I could say, 'Hey you guys, drink water!' And then I’d drink it.”
That’s Kappa for you.
"Some people think I’m doing a character," she said. "No. I’m just doing me."