Q&A: Nights of Our Lives with David Martin

Interviews Wednesday March 6, 2019, 8:00am - by Elaine Bledsoe

Magnet Theater is excited to welcome The Nights of Our Lives, a longtime UCB favorite, to our stage. Part storytelling and part comedy (let's call it a 60/40 split), creator David Martin talked to us about the show's evolution, working with Chris Gethard and other top-notch comedians, and his take on how storytelling, stand-up, and improv intersect. Get tickets before they sell out for Nights of Our Lives, Monday March 11 at 9 pm!

David Martin speaking into a microphone.

Nights of Our Lives has had a truly impressive run after nearly 13 years on UCB stages. Tell us about how the show started. What was the inspiration?

Nights of Our Lives had its first show in Feb 2006 at the UCB Chelsea Theatre. Chris Gethard created the show—he wanted to bring storytelling to the UCB and he (and we) wanted to provide an alternative to what we saw at the time as the “proper and edifying” stories you’d find at the Moth. There would be nothing redemptive about the stories you’d hear at Nights hahaha. Chris asked me to host, giving me free reign to interpret that role however I pleased. So I created this mock-literary persona who reads a monologue which presumably discourses on the theme of that night’s show. But in reality the monologue is the rather distorted and bizarre musings from the host’s fevered imagination. Some people think I’m deadly serious, others, though (thankfully) catch on to the joke.  

Has the show lived up to your original conception of it? Has its evolution over a dozen years surprised you?

The early years of the show featured Chris Gethard, Anthony Atamanuik, Curtis Gwinn, and John Flynn. Those four formed the core group and told stories that veered from Bukowski-esque depravity to, on occasion, (possible) emotional profundity. They were each distinctive and wonderful storytellers. I was lucky to have a front row seat to their performances.
We also had John Mulaney and Nick Kroll for a couple of years before they left for California and their deserved future fame. Chelsea Peretti and the inimitable Andrea Rosen told a few stories as well. Jon Gabrus and Joe Mande joined us for a number of years also.

As the show developed it changed from “here’s crazy stories can you believe this??” to “here’s funny stories that also maybe sometimes are emotionally resonant and oh gosh have we become mature like the Moth??”. Never fear, we’ll never grow up.

You often work with Adam Wade, who teaches storytelling at Magnet. What's it like working with him? What do you each bring to the partnership?

Adam Wade joined the show in 2009, and as loathe as I am to ever say a nice thing about him, he’s the best. His stories are funny, earnest, playful, sweet, heartbreaking, and enlivening. How often can you say that about a performer? I also love being unforgivably mean to him as I introduce him at each show. Again, many people think I’m deadly serious. Others know that my verbal cruelty is really my perverse way of saying: “I think this person is great!” It’s a healthy way to go through life.

Do you prefer storytelling over standup?

I don’t prefer one to the other. There’s no reason to choose. Each are difficult to do well. Each provide their own truths. 

Do you think storytelling and improv are good partners? That is, do you think storytelling has something to teach an improvisor and improv something to teach a storyteller?

I trained at the UCB in improv and did that for years. I love improv so much. All these comedic art forms: storytelling, stand-up, improv, sketch, etc. weave in and out of each other. Improv teaches you to simultaneously think on your feet as well as to not think at all. It provides you with a confidence to perform when you have no idea what you’re doing. Which really is what life is. I think all comedians should train in improv because it teaches you not to be scared when something you’re doing isn’t “working.” So if you’re up there telling a story and it’s just not clicking for whatever reason, having an improv background in your pocket, can keep you from panicking and reaching for that quick and easy laugh.
As for storytelling “helping” an improviser, I think that storytelling teaches you to focus on the essentials. To distill. To get to what is important right away. To not meander. And once you’ve found the crux to embellish that with details. Which is also what I think good improv is.

Storytelling is probably one of the oldest art forms in history. What is it about sharing a story that is so human, in your opinion?

I think when people come and hear stories (and really all of the performative arts are storytelling) they want to experience something that is essential to being human but which they didn’t realize was essential before. This applies to the storytellers and performers themselves. None of us know what we are doing. We learn as we go along.

Don't miss the Magnet debut of Nights of Our Lives, this Monday March 11 at 9:00!