It’s clear, if not from the name of his album alone then from the amazingly economical language in his bits, that Demetri Martin is a simple, unassuming man concerned with one thing: telling jokes.
He’s not one to work the crowd or to create segues after punch lines; and he hasn’t spent much time nailing down a dynamic stage persona. Rather, Martin is content delivering a stream of well-paced and meticulously constructed few-liners.
The large space at Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater (where These Are Jokes was recorded in February) and the size of the crowd (350 audience members, huge for a comedy show) afford Martin an excellent chance to air out in a way that would have been impeded in a more intimate club.
To that end, the 33-year-old Yale alumnus and sometimes Daily Show With Jon Stewart correspondent takes care to treat the crowd to a few novel flourishes. He lays most of his jokes on a bed of unobtrusive acoustic-guitar playing or a soft, crappy-sounding keyboard. During one cluster of jokes he calls “Personal Information Waltz,” Martin is joined onstage by Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte, who weaves purposely over-the-top Christina Aguilera-esque soul singing between Martin’s saying things like, “I hang out in sports bars a lot. I’m not that into sports. I’m not really
a drinker either. But I love slapping five.” The combination finds the audience dying and Demetri himself laughing at Forte’s absurd performance.
Comic Leo Allen also hits the stage to narrate some of Demetri’s more visual jokes for the home listeners. Martin devotees have come to expect this sort of oddball accompaniment. (Consolation to those hardcore fans: there are plenty of illustrations, animation and other entertaining visual stimuli — old report cards? — on the accompanying DVD).
Though these devices do well to keep the audience tuned in, Martin is careful not to smother the art of the jokes themselves. He delivers each punch line evenly, at a measured volume and with little pitch change. So you’d be wise to keep your ears pricked at all times to catch a series like this: “This summer at a party, I learned that there’s a small but important difference between peeing in the pool and peeing into the pool — location, location, location. I remember when I really used to be into nostalgia. I saw a sign that said, ‘Watch for children.’ I was like, ‘That sounds like a fair trade — especially if they’re crappy kids.’”
Jokes is an excellent composite of Martin’s abilities. To say that the release of this album is just the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a long, diverse and well-respected career in comedy would be a major understatement.