I think I’ve talked about this before, but I often get compared to certian other comedians. Demetri Martin comes up a lot, Zach Galifianakis as well, sometimes Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg. I recently got a somewhat harsh e-mail about this from a comedian I’ve never met but who has seen me perform. I’m going to include his letter and my response (with his info left out because I’m not trying to start shit). I know it might be uncomfortable to read this but I think the dialogue illustrates some really important things about artistic development and how people view and misconstrue it. There’s a lot more that could be said on the topic, but I think this is a good start.
Do whatever you want to do and do whatever act you want to do, But please don’t enter festivals or competitions when you have an act that is almost identical to Demetri Martin (and other known comics).
I was at _______ and had to watch fellow working comics/friends do decent with their original material/acts, then watch you do your version of Demetri Martin and get a better response than most.
I know comics are influenced by other comics and their styles of joke telling, but your act that night was just a rip-off of Demetri Martin ( sprinkled in with other comics acts like Zach G. and Mike B.). Even down to the banjo music you played.
I know you don’t care about my opinion of your act, but that’s just it. Many of the comics that night I was talking to said the exact same thing that I am saying now. The only difference is I am not afraid to tell you what I think. The other comics probably didn’t want to confront you or cause any drama.
I know this email won’t change how you do your act, and I am sure you will just think I am an asshole for saying any of this.
As a standup comic that works hard to come up with original jokes, ( and not using props like a guitar, banjo, or pictures on an easel ) I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t send this email.
I am sure you will find some way to rip my act apart or find a comic I might be similar to, but I have never been accused of ripping someones act off. But feel free to try :)
I am proud of my act and not afraid to have someone give their opinion on it.
I’m not going to comment on or criticize your act. If you want to find a reason to dislike me you’ll just have to supply it on your own.
As for the Demetri Martin thing, I’ll gladly co-opt a quote from Mitch Hedberg in response to being compared to Steven Wright. “If I made potato chips, and I decided to pack them in a skinny can, people would say i was like Pringles, but what if I packed them in a bag?”
The mainstream format of stand-up comedy is fine, but it’s no more original to get up on stage and tell jokes like you’re talking extemporaneously than it is to present them with a musical instrument. It’s just that the most comedians don’t see the structural choices they take as a given, most of the time they’re as invisible as water is to a fish.
Now if you want to get technical about format, Zach was using an easel and a Piano before Demetri, Steven Wright was using a guitar, Nick Thune uses a guitar, Mitch Hedberg toured with an upright bass, and they all tell one-liners/short form jokes. Obviously Steve Martin also played the banjo but that’s neither here nor there. Visually Zach just put writing on the easel, Demetri changed it up by putting simple droodles-esque pictures and http://indexed. blogspot. com styled math graphs. If you really think my visual aesthetic is the same I won’t try to convince you otherwise. As for the originality of the material, if you can point to one joke of mine that’s anything like a joke done by Demetri, Zach G., Mike B. (who incidentally was compared to Steven Wright a bunch when he started as well) or anyone else, I’ll be interested to hear it.
I sure am influenced by Demetri. And Zach. And Mike Birbiglia. And Steven Wright and Mitch and Nick Thune and Paul F. Tompkins and Patton Oswalt and Eugene Mirman and Steve Martin and Louis C.K. and for that matter Jack Handy, Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor and plenty of other guys. It’s fine if all you see right now is Demetri. He’s on everyone’s mind and I’m still in the early stages of my career. But I’m not looking two days ahead or even two festivals ahead, I’ve got my eyes set further down the road than that. And frankly, there are worse things than being compared to one of the preeminent comedians of our time. So thanks.
I appreciate you wanting to not want to be cloak and dagger in your distaste for my path, but as for the request that I not enter festivals or competitions, that’s not your place. It’s my career and I’ll pay for or reap the rewards of the decisions I make in it. You’ll do the same in yours.
This is a harsh enough business we’re in without pointless in-fighting.