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Before redefining the geek archetype as caterer and hard sci-fi screenwriter Roman DeBeers on Starz’s Party Down and computer programmer Gilfoyle on HBO’s Silicon Valley, bespectacled 32-year old actor Martin Starr spent his high school years bumping Tupac’s All Eyez on Me at obscene volumes through the streets of West L.A.
Granted, this was standard operating procedure for any Angeleno teenager during Clinton’s second term.
But most didn’t drop out of the L.A. County High School for the Arts to star on Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived but seminal Judd Apatow show that jumpstarted the careers of Starr and his friends and castmates, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and James Franco.
“During and after filming, [Rogen], [Segel], Jay Baruchel and I would write and rap funny comedy songs. Nothing too deep, but really fun to make,” Starr says, describing his first recordings over hamburgers and fries at the Golden State on Fairfax.
“It wasn’t parody. We were all hip-hop heads and weren’t fucking around. It was similar to The Beastie Boys. The last one was recorded in my room a long time ago. It was called ‘Shit Is Hot’ and it’s ridiculous.”
Over dinner, Starr’s dry humor matches the deadpan persona of most of his on-screen characters. He wears a blue vintage tee, a star tattoo on his left forearm, square lenses, and a beard denser than on the first season of Silicon Valley, which netted five Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series.
Silicon Valley’s success has offered Starr a career stability that had mostly eluded him to date, despite major roles on some of the most beloved cult comedies of the last dozen years. Perhaps the one constant has been his love of music.
Shortly after the cancellation of Freaks and Geeks, the teenage Starr frequented open-mic poetry events around L.A. Initially obsessed with Spice 1 and Tupac, his tastes turned toward more political artists such as Blackalicious and Lyrics Born. Non-rap favorites included Ween and Led Zeppelin.
One of Starr’s earliest goals was to perform on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.
“I hadn’t had a lot of love experience at that time, so all my shit was political,” he says. “It was how about fucked up the world was and how we could change it.
“I’ll probably put out a book one day with all those poems and pictures,” he adds. “I wrote for years, lots of unfinished stuff, but a lot that I’m really proud of. There are only two rules I try to abide by: honesty and giving 100 percent of myself.”
The son of an elementary school guidance counselor father and an actress mother, Starr gravitated toward the stage after taking an improv class at age 10. It incubated ease with the limelight that eventually carried over to his musical forays, which most recently include performances with hip-hop and bluegrass fusion band Common Rotation.
He admits the difficulties of balancing music with writing TV pilots and acting (he also appeared in Knocked Up, Superbad and This Is the End).
But Starr says he plans to rap more frequently with Common Rotation. Their live collaborations include originals and covers of everything from The Louvin Brothers to Outkast.
After season two of Silicon Valley wraps, Starr hopes to get into the studio to record.
“There’s part of me that’s always wanted to prove myself in music. It’s something that drives me, but I haven’t devoted my full energy yet to the art form. It’s hard enough writing and acting,” Starr says. “Writing raps and poems have always been a vacation for me — a way to vent my feelings. And there’s a lot pent up inside me that will all come up very soon.”
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