Demetri Martin: The Coin’s Other Side

Anna Matsen — a word nerd, political junkie, amateur philosopher, sushi-lover, and Nashvillian — attends as many comedy gigs as she can afford. As a grad student of English at Belmont Unversity and an English tutor at The Learning Lab, she works daily to improve her writing skills, hoping to one day write something worth a book jacket. Anna attended Demetri Martin’s April 16th show at TPAC and sends in this review:

Demetri Martin at TPAC April 16, 2009
Demetri Martin at TPAC (April 16, 2009)
Really great comedians tell us things that everybody recognizes (or should recognize) but nobody says. They either spotlight our hypocrisy in controversial and taboo subjects (like Doug Stanhope) or they recalibrate our myopic mental lenses to provide a fuller perspective on everyday moments (like Demetri Martin). That’s why, despite the fact that their styles are polar opposites and subject matter never crosses, I say without irony that I enjoy and admire Doug Stanhope and Demetri Martin for the same reason: they both inspire a broader, deeper, fuller understanding of life, and they make me laugh damn hard while they do it.

The best comedians don’t feel like they have an “act.” They carefully and purposefully write and perform their material, to be sure, but it all grows authentically out of their own personality and wit, and that’s what impresses me. Original writing, a captivating stage presence, and the genius to handle an unpredictable crowd is a lot to expect of anyone, which is why a consumate entertainer is such amazing fun. I count Demetri among such multitasking talent (and that’s before counting his drawing and musical skills).

Demetri’s mind is tangential, detail-driven, crafty, and rapacious in all the best ways. His jokes are compact and rapid, they are joltingly and happily lacking in segues, and they are a delight to idiosyncractic, puzzle-loving minds. If his observations were to be described in two words, those words would be: subtly obvious. It is an unmatched joy to be startled by such unassuming genius.

Anyone familiar with his earlier shows knows the lightly askance view his humor employs. (To use an old quip of his: “A drunk driver is very dangerous. So is a drunk backseat driver if he’s persuasive. ‘Dude make a left.’ ‘Those are trees…’ ‘Trust me.’”) There’s also frequently an element of word nerd humor. (For example, another classic older joke: “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is the same as saying ‘I apologize.’ … Except at a funeral.”) His deadpan delivery makes bits like these even more memorable. More importantly, however, popularizing this style of humor makes him walking, talking proof that intelligence is charming. Beyond the happiness that his bright observations bring, that cultural elevation may be what makes him most enjoyable and admirable. Smart = sexy, folks. Learn it, live it, and love it!

There’s something almost intimate in Demetri’s stage demeanor — a personality that is, at once, invitingly amiable and self-protectively private. For example, when pressed for personal information (as when a woman yelled out, “When was the last time you had sex?!” during his April 16th performance at TPAC), his facial reaction was downright bashful. He did, however, come back with: “That’s how I met your mother.” Once again, we see that the only sure-fire cure for momentary awkwardness is a solid “your mom” joke. Bravo, good man.

It wouldn’t be fair to call those yelling up at him hecklers since, in this case, he asked the audience to shout out questions. Most of the shouts were positive ones anyway, like: “Is your show coming back?” (it is) and “When will you host Saturday Night Live?” (no plans to yet, but he’d really like to). There was, however, one opportunistic woman who forgot whom the spotlight shone on, and who, therefore, dragged on an unwitty banter about local coffee shops. Now, I like cafes as much as the next nerd, but I’d rather have spent that time hearing more of Demetri’s new material (like “BFBs” … an acronym and a joke that I won’t spoil for you). And I suspect the crowd would have agreed with me.

I did have a question of my own to ask, but my infernally insistent “tact” kept me from asking it. (Momma taught me it’s rude to talk over others. … Confound that woman and her despicable lessons in politeness.) I wanted to know his favorite word. I wonder if he already has one, or if he would have had to come up with one on the spot. So much for lost opportunities.

Every segment of his show (the drawings, the keyboard playing, the traditional stand up, the Q&As, and the old-joke-request time) ended with stronger and stronger applause. After the show was “over,” he stayed to answer more questions. Nobody left the auditorium while he was on stage. It was fun hearing about him and his misadventures with a “Beat It” leather jacket.

The only snag in the show was that, once or twice, a joke was lost on the audience because Demetri ran through a word or two too fast. The “skunk farts” joke was one such case. So no, Demetri, if you’re reading this, that joke is not unfunny. You just need to enunciate a little more, ‘k?

Not everyone will get Demetri’s humor (no sense of humor is universal, after all), but plenty will delight in his view anew observations, and a few poor souls will drink in his words like the drunken fangirls we are. ;^D

Full disclosure: I’ve been a unabashed fangirl of Demetri’s for at least a year or two, so perhaps this “review” is biased. But how can you expect a nerd girl like myself to resist the allure of the dude who made If I? Honestly, HOW?! (If you haven’t seen If I, Demetri’s earliest one man show, and if you at all appreciate quirky, nerdy philosophy, do yourself a favor and hunt it down.)

The night concluded with my friend Nicole (who also attended the show) and I raving about our favorite lines, our favorite comics, and why stand up is so much fun … exactly how the night should have ended. I can’t wait for my next opportunity.

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Doug Stanhope’s Core-Shaking Comedy Comes to Nashville

Anna Matsen — a word nerd, political junkie, amateur philosopher, sushi-lover, and Nashvillian — attends as many comedy gigs as she can afford. As a grad student of English at Belmont Unversity and an English tutor at The Learning Lab, she works daily to improve her writing skills, hoping to one day write something worth a book jacket. Anna attended Doug Stanhope’s April 10th show at the Exit/In and sends in this review:

Doug Stanhope in Louisville, KY (March 14, 2009)
Doug Stanhope in Louisville, KY (March 14, 2009)
Humor may be the most personal sense we have, and it’s no good trying to reason with someone over why a joke is funny or it isn’t. Comedy is something you simply “get” or you don’t. Despite this fact, I will now attempt to explain why my favorite comics are funny: because I spend their entire shows giggling and gasping, and then, as I drive home, I wonder why the hell I’m not a more authentic/inquisitive/brave person.

Foul-mouthed, counter-culture, shake’n’wake ’em comics (“em” being the snoozing masses … myself, lamentably, included) beflutter my tender heart when they get me not thinking so much as rethinking about life. I’m a know-it-all nerd, ya see, and it is a rare and ecstatic delight to be substantially surprised. Do that, and I couldn’t care less how “offensive” you are. In fact, the more offensive, the better! What truly offends my moral sensibilities is mediocrity masquerading as genius. If I were someone to walk out of a show in a self-righteous huff (which I’m not, because that’s childish), it would be because the material was idiotic or boring, not because the artist was being politically uncorrect.

Wait, this post was supposed to be about Doug Stanhope, not me. Focus, woman. Focus!

All of the above applies to Stanhope, who played at Nashville’s Exit/In on April 10th. As arguably the most offensive living comic, he’ll make you wheeze with laughter while screaming, “Holy hell, he’s right. … I’m an idiot and a jerk for not recognizing this before!” His riffing on pretty much every topic was brilliant, but my favorite moment was actually the confessional-like ending. He seemed a zen master exasperated by the fact that, no matter how hard he shakes people, he can’t wake the world from its stupor or its stupidity. Or perhaps he’s a “seer” with shit-vision goggles who, after pointing out that said “shit” is everywhere, is aghast that people continue contentedly living in it. He strikes me as someone whose driving idealism battles daily with his compulsive realism, whose passions are stretched on a rack between what the world should be and what it is.

Then again, maybe I’m presuming too much. I’m certainly being far too abstract to give you a real idea what his humor is like. One thing I can say without doubt is that the slight gravel in Stanhope’s voice is satsifyingly gutteral. That isn’t something everyone can pull off, but I like his voice a bit sandy.

The show was opened by Nashville’s own Chad Riden (“America’s Favorite Comedian Of All Time”), and The Mattoid, an avante-garde band whose music I genuinely enjoyed. Both of the opening acts would have been more exciting with a more enthused crowd, as most people were there purely for Stanhope, but were certainly fun.

The headliner began his act denouncing the “that guys” of the world, including one who imposed himself on him while he tried reviewing his notes before the show (and who later acted like a moronic jackass yelling up to the stage). He then ranted on issues of religion, sex, politics, sex in movies, and so on. There were also a few folks he chastised for holding up video cameras. Now, I’d brought my camera, and would have used it if the batteries hadn’t been dead, but ONLY to take pictures (without flash), NOT video. I would never violate an artist’s right to have control over how and when their own material makes its public debut.

My favorite part, as mentioned above, was the more personal revelation at the end about why he rants. He’s resigned himself to a spirit of futility, even though he keeps treading the hamster wheel, so to speak, by continuing his act, but I’d still like to think his ranting is for a purpose. Sure, the whole world is still terribly messed up, but for people to change things they do have to know what’s wrong and they do need to maintain motivation for working towards what’s right. That’s the other thing that truly great satire does (at least, for me personally). The awareness and motivation to combat the insanity is also why I love The Daily Show so much. The perspective and the humor that satire brings are BOTH incalcuably important. Apathy is the greatest fuel to the fire of the world’s insanity. Or perhaps South Park provides a more apt comparison with Stanhope’s show, since both (in their ironic little heart of hearts) are driven by moral outrage. Still, this self-professed “lover of losers” (by which he affectionately means “his fans”) has an acerbic allure all his own.

In short, I like people who can rock my world without a musical backdrop for their words (although rock’n’roll is fun too). The bottom line is that Stanhope is a funny dude (as long as you’re not easily offended) and that I’m a complete idiot for attending his show with a dud of a camera. It did turn out to be a battery problem, thankfully, rather than a camera problem. But I wanted a picture, dammit! *mad-at-self grumbles* … Guess I’ll just have to catch Stanhope again whenever he returns to Nashville.

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