February 14, 2009

Didn't catch Demetri Martin's new show? Eh, it's not important.

Demetri Martin's new show on Comedy Central, "Important Things," aired on Wednesday night, and I'm pretty sure Central's executives are wondering why they green-lighted the project.

Some at the U of C might know Martin from his appearance at the annual MAB event in 2007; he was the last minute replacement when The Decembrists cancelled their fall tour. Others will recognize him from his stint as a correspondent on the Daily Show--which, by the way, has pretty much replaced Saturday Night Live as the fast lane to the comedy big leagues.

His new show is a grab bag of sketches, standup and animated shorts, all stamped with that inimitable Demetri Martin essence. Martin's comedy never shoots for big laughs; rather, he sets his sights for the frisson of a twist of logic or sudden reversal in a line of thought. A classic example of this sort of verbal play would be the old joke that if pro is the opposite of con, isn't congress the opposite of progress? Somehow, Martin packs venues with this meaningless prattle, although all would agree that a roommate or significant other who offered these sorts of observations one too many times would richly deserve a swift kick in the solar plexus.

Martin's also known for his use of visual aids--crude drawings on an easel, often with captions, that test the limit of what can be honestly called a "visual pun." He also plays guitar and harmonica, and his "Garden State"-like soundtrack often seems quite out of place amidst jokes that begin (and end) with a question like, "Were there goths in Gothic times?"

That being said, "Important Things" is interesting because the entire show is based on a single theme--in the premiere's case, "timing." Martin's skits--about an actor who only emotes off-camera, a "time travel gigolo," etc.--show some imagination, and feature cameos by some talented actors (H. Jon Benjamin, better known as Coach McGuirk in "Home Movies," plays the director in the skit about the actor with bad timing). But, unlike Dave Chappelle, Martin simply does not have the personality or acting chops to make his characters more than shallow vessels for a one-note idea.

I guess Demetri Martin will have to go back to the drawing board--although in his case, that may not be such a great idea.