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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