A review of Demetri Martin’s comedy

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I received a message late one night from my friend Ilyssa, explaining to me that a young well-known comedian named Demetri Martin would be performing at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago.

Given my infatuation with stand-up comedy, I found myself buying the ticket almost instantaneously.

The decision was not a total shot in the dark. I had listened to a couple of his sets on Pandora’s comedy station and, as a self-proclaimed stand up connoisseur, I considered him quite good. I got a couple of laughs out of it, so why not go and enjoy the show?

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the performance was postponed to a later date at which Ilyssa would be unable to attend. So who better to sub in as an audience member at a live stand-up comedy show than my goth friend, Daniela?

We arrived at the Athenaeum Theatre and I was automatically impressed with the 1920s ambiance of it.

I could go on about the aesthetics of any well preserved theater in Chicago but I will restrain myself.

From what I could see from the nosebleed section, the dimly lit stage was rather barren —but rightfully so.

A shiny guitar, a microphone, and a stool all sat casually waiting for Martin.

Pre-drug Beatles music anxiously queued in the background as if someone was about to answer the final “Jeopardy” question.

Meanwhile, the majority of the audience found themselves singing along, which was equally as silly.

Just as I was beginning to give into the engrossing chorale of off-key goofballs, the lights dimmed.

Martin’s robust voice came on over the stage sounding rather authoritative, a brief reminder that he dropped out of NYU School of Law to pursue comedy as a career.

He made a few quick-witted remarks regarding the background music and some odd fellow in the front row. His ability to work with the audience before even stepping foot on stage validated his presence.

The opener walked on stage with the signature Louis CK black t-shirt and jeans style. He even had the slightest gut of a worn down 40-year-old man. It  was really the whole package.

When he reached for the microphone stand to roll into the physical comedy aspect of his first joke, he couldn’t seem to lift it.

The way he handled that situation was almost funnier than the forgettable underlying joke. Almost wrestling with the mic stand, he managed to pull it to the side. The opener appeared calm and collected throughout, even when the laughs subsided to interspersed chuckles.

But a simple sarcastic commentary on the absence of giggles prompted more giggles. His sense of humor was a bit dark and defeated, which I could tell had entertained Daniela a great deal, but I too was impressed with his one-liner on coffins.

He was smart enough to save his best joke for last, in which he described the most horrifying thing he had ever witnessed through a three-inch gap.

The description of a denture-wearing man chomping down on a two-month-old banana in the airplane seat in front of him was absolutely priceless.

I was skeptical of him at first, but for an opener, this final story-form joke put him on par with the majority of Pandora’s comedy station.

So finally, cue music and drum roll as Demetri Martin in the flesh ran out onto the stage. We enthusiastically applauded at his ability to run to center stage like the erudite, cultured crowd we were.

The drums continued to roll as Martin made a physical effort to jump right on the last drum beat.

His stylized, awkward and analytical comedy began with his failed attempts to land on the beat. Finally he ran off stage to appear to complain to the sound guys before coming back to land slightly after the final drum. And without further ado, he began his set.

I should not pride myself on this as the majority of my memory is extremely spotty, but when it comes to comedy I remember nearly everything.

However, I just spent five minutes on the phone with Daniela trying to recall one measly joke in his first set.

A total of three came to mind, my favorite being Martin’s commentary on dairy products. He discussed the time his friends came over to his apartment and told him to throw away some old milk.

He replied pensively, “No, wait, I wanna see where this is going.” He seemed to have the ability to satirize almost any mundane situation with decent timing, as most comedians do.

However, he lacked a deeper analysis. I even remembered spotting a few jokes in which a wittier punchline could have been inserted. They were mostly careful and simplistically worded.

Maybe he was afraid of appearing demeaning toward the audience. Nonetheless, it was evident from the start that only a few (I’m being generous) of his jokes would be memorable.

Then he picked up the lonely guitar that had been sitting on the stage longer than Martin had. He made fun of the guitar for being shiny and reflecting onto a wall, getting the audience to giggle at the illuminated figure near the left balcony.

But from the moment he picked up the guitar, I became more judgmental. The purpose of a musical instrument for comedians is to add a certain rhythm to the set. It also acts as a safety net for when a joke falls short or an audience falls nearly silent.

And, naturally, Martin used the device to its potential. When he would tell a joke he knew was more of a time-filler than anything else, he would start picking at a soft volume for the set up and then at the punch-line he would play a loud strum pattern to evoke laughter.

And it worked nine out of 10 times.

What absolutely killed me as an adorer and admirer of stand up comedy was his last joke. His last joke, with guitar in hand, was a sex joke. A really bad, overused, boring sex joke.

With one loud strum he thanked the audience and jogged off stage.

I sat around bracing my ears for the word “intermission,” but it was not to be found. I genuinely felt unfulfilled. He fell short of my expectations.

I was not expecting the comedic ability of John Mulaney or Mike Birbiglia, but again, I’d heard Martin’s sets prior, and I knew what he had to offer.

I had a few laughs but ultimately failed to continuously suspend my disbelief. It was an odd combination of ennui and anticipation of a better, nonexistent, second set.

But I still have respect for Martin as a comic. In following his train of humorous thought, I can see the direction he’s going in, and eventually he will figure out how to hone in on the more matured comedic style of which I know he is capable.