February 20, 2012

Jokes in Cold (and Gorges) Places

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Sitting in the third row of the State Theatre on Thursday, the question that kept popping up in my mind was, “What kind of shampoo does Demetri Martin use?” Martin, who is 38 years old, has the luscious locks and wardrobe of an 18-year-old. His humor on the other hand is that of a seasoned middle-aged man with a whimsical side, a guitar and a notepad.

Those unfamiliar with Martin’s comedy should know that the notepad and guitar are essential to any Demetri Martin experience. He was first thrust into the spotlight with his 2006 comedy album, These Are Jokes, on which the best track by far is “The Jokes With Guitar”. When Martin breaks his axe out, you know you’re in for a good time. These jokes are usually one-liners that take some thinking about, like much of Martin’s comedy. While many of the guitar-jokes were ones Martin-fans had heard before, they still brought forth a rousing chorus of laughter from the audience.

The notepad too was expected by fans who had either seen him do stand-up before or seen his two-season long show on Comedy Central, Important Things with Demetri Martin. About half way through the evening, Martin pulled out his giant notepad on which there were graphs that included one of how fun it is to watch someone perform karaoke: pretty fun if they’re very good, then less fun when they’re a little worse, then really fun if they’re a lot worse. Martin then went on to explain that watching someone ski also follows the same graph. Antoher graph was a bar graph with one very high bar and one very small one; the high bar shows how interested you are in your kids, and the low one shows how interested Demetri Martin is interested in your kids (which, as Martin went on to say, is how you want it).

The evening began with Martin announcing that  his friend, who wrote for his TV show which was, for some reason, cancelled, would be opening for him. “The second comedian is not bitter about this” said the voice of Demetri Martin. Levi MacDougall, the opener, made it definitely worth getting to the State on time. Not every joke landed, but most of the time the ones that flopped did so more because of timing issues than because the content of the joke was not funny. If anything, it was worth watching MacDougall just to appreciate his bright orange sweater with elbow pads.

MacDougall came back at the very end of the show upon Martin’s request just to chat. MacDougall’s improvised, or perhaps semi-improvised humor (they had ended shows this way on a number of stops on their tour together) revealed his innate humor more than his planned jokes did. MacDougall’s and Martin’s banter was quick and extremely fun to listen to; it was almost like you were eavesdropping on two people who always seemed kind of ordinary to you, but are actually the funniest people you have ever encountered in your life.

This banter at the end of the show produced the one sticky moment of Demetri Martin’s time on stage. He had asked for audience participation, which of course encourages the people one would least like to hear participating, to participate. Someone yelled out something about Ithaca’s scenery, which prompted MacDougall into a long discussion of the “Ithaca is Gorges” t-shirts. Martin snarkily added, “I wonder if anyone ever jumped wearing one of those sweatshirts.” The audience uttered a collective, “ohh…” Martin then said, “I just mean jumped, like up and down, like doing jumping jacks or something,” but it was not an ideal way to end the show.

Martin’s humor is definitely not for everyone. It demands that the audience members to think for themselves- for example a joke about how black people are not a minority in the stick figure world. He relies also a lot on word play, like when he joked about how sneaky the word, “color-scheme” is. There are not very many “bits” in Martin’s routine. The longest one joke: an elaboration of how dustpans are willing to help you clean, but only to a certain extent, lasted only about a minute.

Having already seen Martin perform live twice before, I knew what to expect. However, judging by the conversations taking place outside the State Theatre, most of the audience was pleasantly surprised by Martin’s unique style. Even though I had heard several of the jokes before, I still found myself laughing at nearly every punch line. The one thing that I noticed about this show as compared to the others of Martin’s I’ve attended, was that he seemed really tired. This is understandable considering that Martin had done a show in New York City the night before and that the Ithaca show was the last of his “Telling Jokes in Cold Places” tour. Overall however, Martin more than met my expectations, and undoubtedly exceeded those of an unbiased viewer.

Original Author: Julia Moser