What's Happening With Demetri Martin?
Comedian's latest performance is missing some of the quality that originally brought him an audience
By Michael Shashoua / Jester Editor-In-Chief
Demetri Martin’s latest hour is a curious piece – “Standup Comedian,” released by Comedy Central on October 2 on CD and DVD after a September 29 airing, has its flashes of the surreal material and odd thoughts that made him distinctive when he first emerged about six or seven years ago through appearances on The Daily Show. It’s his first major special after the demise of his “Important Things” series after two seasons. Maybe the novelty of what Martin does has worn off, but in this performance, his material seems a little weaker or less inventive than it once was.
There are highlights here to be sure, although there are bits that are closer to the corny jokes you might hear from a goofy uncle. Martin reserves some of his old stand-bys, the easel of drawings that he plays off, and some pieces delivered while strumming an acoustic guitar, till the end of the special – these were more prevalent in prior performances. The best pieces this time around are ones where Martin injects some physicality into the delivery, or even a surprisingly effective profanity or two at the right moment.
He does the former in a piece on automatic sensors in bathrooms (within a track on the CD version called “People Watching”), and the latter to punctuate a bit about wind being mean: “You like air? Well here’s some fucking air, right in your face!” Martin delivers this deadpan, without really ramping it up.
Some of Martin’s best material – because it’s more surreal – actually isn’t in the special at all, but rather as one of the DVD version extras, the “Rejected Concepts Art Slideshow” compiling supposedly rejected concepts for this special, such as performing on a stage full of fire, hovering using an outfit with little jets, or through a smartphone video sitting on the stage. There’s even a self-deprecating in-joke in this where Comedy Central executives react by wanting to cancel his series all over again.
As a performer, Martin is very mellow in his tone and delivery, but at his best when he ramps things up just a notch, adding an element of surprise. It’s what made one of his first Daily Show appearances, where he reported on the social media phenomenon by insisting he really had 1,000 friends, a classic bit. Perhaps Martin may have been more appreciated in a different media landscape, but this performance and special doesn’t have as much of what made him click and connect in the first place.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua