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'This Is A Book' Of Demetri Martin's Miscellany

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'This Is A Book' Of Demetri Martin's Miscellany

'This Is A Book' Of Demetri Martin's Miscellany

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Comedian Demetri Martin has written his first book. The title is "This is a Book." And this is the interview about "This is a Book."

Martin and his Beatle-ish bangs have been on comedy stages for more than a decade. A big pad of paper is usually propped up next to him. That pad of paper plays a big role in his act, and in his book. It was also a trademark of his Comedy Central show, "Important Things with Demetri Martin."

Demetri Martin is at our studios at NPR West.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. DEMETRI MARTIN (Comedian; Author, "This is a Book"): Thanks, Linda. Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So, shall we start with a demonstration?

Mr. MARTIN: Sure.

WERTHEIMER: I want you to look up the section of your book which is called "Charts and Graphs." I wonder if you could pick one of them and explain it to us. You should pick one that you think will interest radio listeners.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Okay. This - here's one, a symbol. It's the first one. It's a pie chart, and the titled is "Types of Breaths." And on the left, there's good. And on the right, there is bad. That's about 50 percent each, but there's a tiny sliver in the middle for interesting breath...

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. MARTIN: ...which is a very small portion of all the breaths in the world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: It's pretty binary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, your television show, "Important Things," was described as a stream of consciousness sketch and variety show.

Mr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: Is this a stream of consciousness, sketch and variety book?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I think so. I think that consciousness, maybe the stream flows little deeper, because I got to do it on a page here. There are longer stories in the book. That would be the biggest difference, I'd say, between this and other things that I've done. Because in the book, I have that opportunity to go into more detail and do some character work and things like that.

WERTHEIMER: So is that the biggest difference between the stage and the page, do you think?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. When I'm on stage, I don't usually think, oh, I use that word before in that paragraph over there. I can't say that word again, because the jokes are so short. I get to reset pretty regularly, you know, every few minutes, every minute or so, onstage.

WERTHEIMER: The other thing that I liked, especially liked, was the "Epigrams, Fragments and Light Verse."

Mr. MARTIN: Yes. This is one of the sections that's the closest, probably, to my stand-up...


Mr. MARTIN: ...inasmuch as, you know, they're short little ideas, so I could just put a sentence or two and then move onto the next one. So I can read a couple of those.

WERTHEIMER: Well, why don't you read one, and then I'll read one, and then you read one, and we can sort of see how we do?

Mr. MARTIN: Okay.

(Reading) The bird, the bee, the running child are all the same to the sliding glass door.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yeah. I like that.

(Reading) Nothing wise was ever printed upon an apron.

Mr. MARTIN: This is true.

(Reading) Let no man's deathbed be a futon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, that is really a good one. What about this one? I'll do the first half, and you do the last half.

Mr. MARTIN: Okay.

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) I wish this poem were longer.

Mr. MARTIN: (Reading) There. That's better.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I panicked, because I didn't know what page you were going to be reading from.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: But as you started to read, I realized how short and inane most of my stuff is, so I can just lop-on the ending there.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you've also included a collection of palindromes.

Mr. MARTIN: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: First, let's discuss: What is a palindrome?

Mr. MARTIN: A palindrome is a sequence of letters or words - can be numbers -that reads the same forwards and backwards.

WERTHEIMER: So like...

Mr. MARTIN: Madam, I'm Adam.


Mr. MARTIN: And that's by letter. So it's not even by the break in the words. It's simply the sequence of letters.

WERTHEIMER: And that's what you did, too.

Mr. MARTIN: Yes. I put some in the book here.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, pick one.

Mr. MARTIN: This is one of my favorites. In this section, what I did was I put a description, so that the reader understands what the palindrome is describing. I call them "Palindromes for Specific Occasions." So here's one of them.

(Reading) The head baker at a bakery instructing a new employee about how to deal with customers, and then suddenly noticing what the new baker has made.

In the palindrome is: Snub no man, nice cinnamon buns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: And, of course, obviously buns spelled backwards is snub.

Mr. MARTIN: Right. It's pretty deep stuff I put in the book, here.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

How do you imagine people approaching this book? Do you imagine them, like, having it on their bedside table and picking it up, and reading a palindrome or two and going to sleep? Or what?

Mr. MARTIN: Wow, that makes it even worse...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: ...when said a palindrome or two. I don't know why that bums me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: What I picture is someone having the book and being able to travel with it or leave it in their bathroom or near their bed, maybe on their coffee table. And that person can pick up the book and open it, pretty much, to any page and hopefully get a laugh. They can commit to a longer story, or just flip through the palindromes. And I guess the best situation would be that they read it to somebody else out loud, like over radio. This is perfect.


Mr. MARTIN: So they can really get it.

WERTHEIMER: This was very good, right.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, the crossword puzzle, I like that.

Mr. MARTIN: I'm very proud of the crossword puzzle.

WERTHEIMER: I don't want to give too much away, but every answer is the letter A, or several letters A.

Mr. MARTIN: Yes. What I did was I took a regular crossword puzzle and I started by writing the letter A in every square that wasn't colored-in fully black. So every open square, I just put in A in it. So when you look at the puzzle, what you see is something that looks like it was done by someone who doesn't understand how crossword puzzles work, or English.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Just some idiot just put in A in every square. But then what I did was I wrote all the clues, and that's where the hard part came in.

WERTHEIMER: What about this one: Is found on five of Hester Prynne's outfits?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. That's in a reach category. Yes.

WERTHEIMER: I like that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Or an opera singer's vanity plate, and that's just a bunch of A's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: One of them that was kind of cool, I thought, was what you might see when a letter A - when a certain letter falls off a sign.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: So it's almost by stop-motion photography. It was going down, just a bunch of A's. But it would be the one A moving through time and space.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: How do you find this, writing a book? I mean, when you do standup, people laugh. I mean, you don't know how people feel about what you wrote.

Mr. MARTIN: That's exactly right. That was a big question for me. I'm spoiled. I'm used to having people tell me, hey, that's good. You know, keep that. Or with their silence: no, no, no. Don't do that again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: So they kind of give me a shortcut. With a book, it's more like being in a vacuum.

WERTHEIMER: You know, before we conclude this interview, I do want to thank you for dedicating the book to me.

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, absolutely. I'm a big fan, so it kind of worked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Yes. It says the book is for you in the beginning.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: That would be weird if I put your actual name in there.

WERTHEIMER: That would be weird.

Mr. MARTIN: That would just make this interview - yes.

WERTHEIMER: Yes, it would.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: You'd say: I don't think I want to be the one to interview him. I don't know that guy. That's kind of creepy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Demetri Martin's book is called "This is a Book."

Demetri Martin, thank you.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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