Demetri Martin strums out jokes for SU

Review: The stand-up comedian filled Goldstein Auditorium with laughter at his uncommon, but clever, comedic style.

People don’t crack jokes before a comedy show. It’s like they know not to, same way they know not to eat before a meal, or shower before swimming. In the moments before comic Demetri Martin takes the stage Wednesday night at Goldstein Auditorium, the crowd chatters flatly as people filter in. They are not amped. There are no signs of pre-game. If I were a comic, I would hate to take the stage right now.

If you’re not already familiar with Demetri Martin’s work—like his hit TV show, Important Things with Demetri Martin; his bestselling new book, This is a Book; or his penchant for squeezing comedy out of everything from unicycles to farts to pie charts—you might have otherwise looked suspiciously upon the unlikely combination of materials onstage: musical instruments, tabletop easel, microphone, stool. What’s he going to do with this junk? Who is this multimedia schizo? Is this Blue Man Group on downers?

A blonde woman walks on stage with a large notepad and plops it upright on the easel. One audience member—presumably the one that pre-gamed—hoots. The rest of the crowd joins in. The walls resonate. Never mind what I said before: this crowd is amped. We are amped. We’re ready for Demetri.

The lights go out. Martin, off-stage, announces over the speakers that tonight’s show is brought to us by jelly beans—the only beans that give you diabetes—and also, by foreign mystery novels. Because when Martin reads foreign mystery novels, he doesn’t understand what they’re saying, and that’s the whole mystery.

The comedian then enters the stage, pumping his fists in the air to yet another round of applause—but quickly settles down after grabbing the mic. There is a gentle, relaxed quality to Martin’s comic sensibility. He’s like a playful, dirty-minded Buddha with moppy hair and blue jeans.

Martin warms up by taking questions and bantering back and forth with audience members. This is something you don’t see too much of in his TV specials (or in his book), and until tonight I wasn’t sure if he would be any good at it. So much of Martin’s comedy seems to spring from the hyper-creative mind of a loner staring up at the ceiling, so it’s refreshing to see that he’s also capable of stepping out of that cerebral playground and engaging with human beings. And, unlike some comics, Martin doesn’t do the mocking thing. There is one close call tonight, in which he inadvertently ignites a shouting war between Syracuse University and ESF students—but aside from that, no feelings are hurt; everyone saves face.

After the chitchat, Martin launches into his stream of prepared jokes and Mitch Hedberg-style one-liners. Some of the crowd’s favorites include: “Building a treehouse is like killing something and asking one of its friends to hold it”; “When I walk into a spider web, I’m like…thank God I’m big”; “I never went bungee-jumping. The closest I came was being born.”

Like any comic that’s come to Syracuse, Martin’s got his share of Syracuse cold weather jokes. He says he’s sorry that the Carrier air conditioner manufacturer left our city—but it was weird we had an air conditioner manufacturer in Syracuse to begin with.

Next up is Martin’s famous, large notepad of bar graphs and drawings. The first drawing depicts a silencer for babies: a tube that runs from the baby’s mouth to its own ears, so it can hear how annoying its crying is. The next drawing is an engagement ring: a silencer for girlfriends.

When Martin picks up his guitar and harmonica, the jokes tend toward more of a setup and punch line form. He has a good sense for using these instruments to enhance those closing quips, but unfortunately it’s not the same for his piano playing. Taken alone, the playing is fine—it’s jazzy and pleasant—but tonight it’s distracting from the important thing: the comedy. The piano schtick works for comic Zach Galifianakis, but Martin still has some work to do on that front.

All in all, it was a stellar show. Martin once said that he wants his audience to leave a show happier than when they arrived. By that standard, tonight was a barnburner. As for me, I was smiling from beginning to end. I would love to draw a graph depicting my happiness level throughout the show. Unfortunately, I don’t have a large notepad. But I know someone who does. 

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