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Demetri Martin Opens Up About Making the Leap From Stand-Up Comedian to Film Director

Demetri Martin Opens Up About Making the Leap From Stand-Up Comedian to Film Director
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Demetri Martin performs at the Majestic Theatre on Thursday, June 15.

Between national tour dates and pesky deadlines for his third book, If It's Not Funny, It's Art — due out later this year — comedian Demetri Martin has a pretty hectic schedule. Last year, he decided to complicate his life further by writing, directing and starring in his first film, Dean.

"I knew it would be challenging, but I didn't know I was in for such a marathon," Martin says.

Martin continued to tour while he worked on the film's post-production. He couldn't accept the award his movie won at Tribeca in New York for best narrative feature because he was performing a stand-up show in San Francisco.

"It's a small movie, but, yeah, it's taken quite a bit of time, especially since it went to [the Tribeca Film Festival] last year," Martin says. "So that felt like a finish line of sorts but for a good reason. It wasn't because I got distribution — which I'm thrilled about — but, yeah, there's always more work. To get what you want, that means there's more work to do."

Martin says he is still learning how to maintain a sense of balance following his film's national release earlier this month. He's also a husband, a father and an acclaimed stand-up on his Let's Get Awkward tour, which includes a stop at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas on Thursday.

"It's been a bit of a balancing act, but that's also our world today," he says. "Everybody's busy, and it's hard to prioritize some things, to know where your attention needs to be."

Dean is the story of an artist who is struggling after the loss of his mother. The experience of his father, played by Oscar winner Kevin Kline, parallels his own. Kline's character wants to sell the family home because he can't deal with being alone.

"As a movie fan, the first idea that I was excited about when I started trying to think of movie ideas were like kind of high-concept ideas, I guess you could say, with sci-fi elements or something else," Martin says. "Then I learned quickly if I'm going to try and make a movie, I'm not going to get money to make one of those. So if I had a small idea, I'd have a chance to make this, and if I actually got the money to be a first-time director, I'd have a shot at doing it well and doing it the best I can, so I could learn as I'm doing it."

Martin says his movie isn't autobiographical, but he drew from some of his personal experiences. He wanted to challenge himself to tackle a fictitious story and make it feel real.

"It was more like looking at my own experience and figuring out what's the story I could tell," he says. "I don't tell my life story here. I know my experience of losing my dad when I was 20 and what my family went through and all of that. Now some years have passed, so I felt like I have a little distance from that and I can talk about what my experience was, like losing somebody and talking about grief and some of that stuff."

Martin says he doesn't like to get too personal with his storytelling or his comedy because the reactions are more rewarding when they're to things he created, whether screenplays or jokes for his act.

"What I like about telling jokes is it's personal because it's how I think and I'm trying hard to share my ideas, and it doesn't feel so much like it's about me," Martin says. "It's about the material. That's how it feels to me. So that makes it easier for me to do it longer, and it takes longer for me to get sick of the stuff because it's not my story. It's just my ideas."

Demetri Martin, 8 p.m. Thursday, The Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm Street, axs.com, $35-$65.

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