With his anorexic build, boyish face and mop of hair that would make Rod Blagojevich envious, Demetri Martin looks like he should be playing hackeysack on some college green. Instead, he’s poised to become comedy’s next superstar.
His coming-out party takes place tonight with the premiere of “Important Things With Demetri Martin,” Comedy Central’s new series that combines animation, sketches, stand-up and music (10 p.m., cable channel 60 in Spokane, 50 in Coeur d’Alene).
What makes the 35-year-old special is his ability to shift from format to format without dropping his deadpan delivery and his oblique point of view.
One minute, he’s delivering a bit about our fascination with bear-skin rugs. The next, he’s playing five instruments simultaneously while displaying illustrations that point out the uncanny resemblance between a button and a disappointing pepperoni pizza.
The simply drawn sketches are a nod to one of his comedic idols, “Far Side” creator Gary Larson.
“I started to realize that certain jokes just work better as a drawing,” Martin says. “There’s something in the economy of just lines and words that has a certain elegance to it for my taste in comedy.”
In addition to Larson, Martin has been inspired by Steven Wright (“my greatest influence”), Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and his father, a Greek Orthodox priest who used to recite “Saturday Night Live” catchphrases around their New York City home.
Martin attended Yale Law School for two years before dropping out in 1997. He was onstage three months later.
He got an Emmy nomination while writing for “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in 2003 and 2004, then began contributing “trend-spotting” pieces to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Busboy Productions, Stewart’s company, is behind “Important Things.”
Martin isn’t sticking to the small screen. Oscar-winning director Ang Lee cast him in a key part in the upcoming “Taking Woodstock” – a hefty role for a performer whose greatest acting challenge had been in a Fountains of Wayne video.
This sudden jolt into the mainstream may sound intimidating to mere mortals, but Martin appears to have realistic expectations.
“We have about 300 million people in the country, so if I can get a third of that, it would be great,” he says. “That takes a lot of pressure off me because that means there are 200 million people I don’t even care about.”