Great comedy demands great intelligence. Normally, we expect the comedian to supply these brain cells. We applaud those who find words, and more crucially, laugh for those situations in life we cannot stand. George Carlin’s loquacious diatribes, Louis C.K.’s devastating anecdotes, Mitch Hedberg’s nuanced simplicity: all shocking, philosophical, genius.
But a quote from Zach Galifianakis, right after mocking a stupid heckler, comes to mind: “I didn’t know I had to cater my act to people who don’t get my stuff.” Sometimes the audience exists inside the comedic equation rather than outside proofing it. The jokes, or “anti-jokes” as our prefix-happy critics love to coin them, live or die from the audience’s own intellect. Demetri Martin, who will perform downtown at the State Theatre Thursday, Feb. 16, has not just lived in this environment but thrived.
Martin, who is two years shy of 40 yet looks half that age, caters to the youthful demographic that everyone assumes he knows all about. Even nearing middle age, he is one with the Facebook generation as much as he was with the MTV Generation in which he grew up.
Martin first stepped into the national spotlight as the “Senior Youth Correspondent” on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His segment “Trendspotting” — with the chillest beatboxing intro you will ever hear — examined new fads of the college age like Facebook, cheap wine and hookah. For that last trend, he falsely teased the kids at the hookah bar, “How high are you right now??” even after being told multiple times that the establishment only smokes tobacco. And when he finally wanted to give the shisha a go, he joined a circle of cigarette smokers and feebly asked them all for some water, tobacco, foil and ash. By the end of this bit and the rest, Stewart scratched his head, likely wondering if this nerd had any friends.
Now, do not relegate Mr. Martin to the awkward nice of Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg. He can be awkward — and he always seems nice — but his outcast status arises from his drifting imagination and self-proclaimed love of critical thought. This Mensan went to Yale undergrad and NYU Law on a full scholarship. He has proven his intelligence to admissions boards already. Martin put it to the test with the award-winning TV special, If I, that was as provocative and inspiring as it was inherently witty. His 224-word palindrome poem “Dammit I’m Mad” speaks to this restless ingenuity more directly.
Martin’s failure to classify into any one school or generation grants a rather wide, unpretentious fanbase. Only Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis can lay claim to a similar clientele. Like those two, Martin’s show breaks from tradition with the incorporation of music and visual aids. He usually walks onto the stage with a guitar and easel of crudely drawn diagrams and words. For instance, he presents a black-and-white cactus on a large pad, stating that his own plant died within a week and concluding that he “is less nurturing than a desert.” He silently turns the page where it says, “That’s not true, ladies.” Bewildered irony, feeble self-aggrandizing and subsequent embarrassment follows a one-way street for Demetri.
His act echoes the surreal non sequiturs of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, but there is an open-eyed optimism to his demeanor that radiates through all the self-deprecation and feigned density. He drops lines like, “Sometimes when something really good happens to me, I wait two weeks before I tell anybody because I like to use the word ‘fortnight.’” Pure satisfaction for those easily pleased by the most delightful of human invention: language.
Demetri Martin grants a feel-good experience that tinkers with words, music and laughter. His comedy requires some light cognizance on behalf of the audience, something that you, fellow Cornell student/faculty/alum, can certainly do. Consider it a healthy break from the problem sets and essays, because Demetri went through all that himself and now makes money laughing it off.
Demetri Martin’s stand-up show, “Telling Jokes in Cold Places,” will take place at the State Theatre next Thursday, February 16. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m.. Tickets run $36.50 each and can be purchased at dansmallspresents.com.
Original Author: Zachary Zahos