L to R: Gillian Jacobs and Demetri Martin in Dean

Demetri Martin on “Dean”

Drawn From Life

Jun 01, 2017 Issue #60 - Father John Misty Bookmark and Share


The Tribeca Film Festival was ready to give Demetri Martin his prize. Unfortunately, he wasn't there to receive it.

The acclaimed comedian had submitted his most recent project, the heartfelt dramedy Dean, which Martin wrote, directed, and even starred in, to the festival, but he never expected to receive any sort of award. Martin was even warned about the potential schedule conflict as he booked a stand-up gig in San Diego, but he shrugged it off.

"They said that the awards thing would be on the same day," says Martin about winning Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca, "but I said, 'I'm not worried about that.' So I left. They called me asking if I wanted to shoot a video since I won the prize. I was like, 'I won the prize?' So they shot a video of me in my driveway right before I got in the car."

Dean, the "most autobiographical" of Martin's scripts, tells a sorrowful story of the titular character (played by Martin), a NYC-based illustrator, and his father (Kevin Kline) and their attempts to come to terms with significant lossin this instance, the death of Dean's mother. Gillian Jacobs and Mary Steenburgen star as love interests to Dean and his father, and Martin's own illustrations help buoy the movie's melancholy tone.

To be fair, Martin had good reason to believe Dean would never win an award. The film was a labor of love from the beginning, a personal pet project taken on by a comedian who was tired of waiting for studio follow-through. Scripts had been bought in the past. Directors had been attached and then unattached. For Martin, Dean simply became a way to actually see one of his scripts come to life-even if he was the one making it happen.

"I don't know how many years ago I started thinking, 'All right, if I want to make movies, I have to do it. No one is paying me. No one is waiting for a script. Nobody cares or even knows I'm doing it.'"

Martin says the original idea for Dean goes back six or seven years, set aside for a season due to other projects and script ideas. Martin earned plenty of performing experience in the meantime, from Taking Woodstock and In a World... to his own starring specials on Comedy Central. The 43-year-old eventually returned to Dean when he'd built up enough courage to officially give it a go, drawn by the "intimacy" that movies allow compared to stand-up comedy.

"Stand-up can have intimacy with an audience, too, but it's so different. Something about escaping into a movie has a different power to it, for me," he says. "Now what's interesting for me is that it's kind of filtering back toward my stand-up. I'm still rethinking it a little bit. I don't think I could ever veer too far from myself, but I'm feeling a little less afraid to open up a bit."

While Martin remains busy with numerous comedic outlets through the rest of 2017, including a stand-up tour, he does believe there are more films in his future.

"I want to make funnier movies that maybe don't have such a heavy element," says Martin. "I think I just like stories where people are giving real performances, that it's not all irony or ironically distant, but that there's some sincerity and earnestness and heart. I think it's a fine line to walk these days, because if you do it wrong, it's just overly sentimental or you seem unsophisticated. It feels easier to seem sophisticated if you're cynical and kind of shit on things. I find it more satisfying to be more vulnerable, but I also think it's hard. I know I'm going to get pummeled by trolls for this movie, but I'm hoping I'll find an audience of people who liked it and for whom it resonates."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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