12:01am

Thu May 5, 2011
Author Interviews

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

Demetri Martin, the standup comedian famous for his Beatle-ish bangs and stream-of-consciousness on-stage drawings, has now brought his doses of comedy to print in his first book — and it's appropriately titled This Is a Book.

This Is a Book features essays, drawings, one-liners and charts, all penned in Martin's characteristically unconventional, understated style. He talked with Morning Edition's Linda Wertheimer about his new material, and his jump from the stage to the page.

From the section of his book "Charts and Graphs," he includes a pie chart titled "Types of Breath." He explains, "On the left, there is 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, which is a very small portion of all the breath in the world."

"It's pretty binary," he adds.

In another section, "Epigrams, Fragments and Light Verse," Martin echoes his standup style with brief, but hilarious, snippets. "They are short little ideas, so I could just put a sentence or two, and then move on to the next one," he says.

They range from tongue-in-cheek to wryly clever:

"The bird, the bee, the running child are all the same to the sliding glass door."

"Nothing wise was ever printed upon an apron."

"Let no man's deathbed be a futon."

"I wish this poem were longer.
There, that's better."

Martin jokes that most of his material is short and inane, but his section on palindromes reveals his keen talent for wordplay.

A palindrome is, at least functionally, "A phrase or sentence that you might say that might create awkward silence with other people," Martin says with a laugh. But he adds that it's also a sequence of letters or words — even sometimes numbers — which reads the same, forwards or backwards.

Martin calls his collection of palindromes "Palindromes for Specific Occasions," and includes a description with each one to clue readers into what they describe. In one example, a head baker at a bakery is instructing a new employee about how to deal with customers, when he suddenly notices what the new baker has made.

He says, "Snub no man, nice cinnamon buns." (Try it. See? It works.)

"It's pretty deep stuff I put in the book here," Martin says with a laugh.

Martin also likes to use drawings in his act — in fact, sketching on a large pad of paper is a trademark of his Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin. So naturally, Martin uses sketches in his book, too.

One features a "Narcoleptic Pole Vaulter," a sleepy — and unfortunate — athlete who is impaled at the end of a pole, not quite all the way over, and just stuck hanging.

"I captured the moment just when he dozed off," explains Martin. "I love imminence. I love catching a snapshot of something that is just about to happen. Or maybe something that just happened, you know. But I like especially that just-before kind of feeling."

He translated these sorts of proclivities into his book, but it wasn't easy. When it comes to gauging his material, Martin is used to the immediate reaction of a crowd.

"I'm spoiled, I'm used to having people tell me, 'Hey, that's good, keep that.' Or with their silence: 'No, no, no, don't do that again,'" Martin says. "They kind of give me a shortcut — with a book it's more like being in a vacuum."

But Martin rose to the challenge, and even poked fun at some book conventions themselves. After all, This Is a Book is dedicated to ... everyone. On the dedication page, it simply says, "For you." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related program: