Important Things with Demetri Martin: Season One(Paramount Home Entertainment, 9.8.2009)
There's so little mystery in stand-up comedy these days. Most comedians are content to engage their audience in a passive, reality-based experience with room for one pre-planned response. However, every so often, a comedian like Andy Kaufman comes along and challenges his audience by concealing the elements that are normally transparent in a stand-up comedy routine (ie. the comedian's intent, the punchline, etc.). This can be frustrating, but once you get the hang of it, there's a thrill in feeling like an active participant for a change. You're not being cued to laugh, you're being cued to ponder strange, absurd thoughts... which ultimately lead to laughter. You don't hear the punchline, you think it. While nowhere near as experimental or challenging as Kaufman, Demetri Martin continues in this tradition, delivering a surprisingly stimulating and elliptical brand of semi-cerebral comedy.
A case could be made that stand-up comedy is a form of guided meditation. Most comedians are content to guide us into an unimaginatively irreverent head space where people, institutions, ideas and behavior are mocked. Demetri Martin avoids this approach, instead plunging us into a world of brainy, good-natured comic insight, sunny charm and an unlimited sense of creative possibility. Martin doesn't alienate his audience, he playfully challenges them.
As you get used to his show, you feel like you've formed a genuine bond with Martin because he's made this connection more difficult by respecting your intelligence, rather than shamelessly pandering to popular tastes. The laughter he generates isn't your garden variety, someone-just-said-something funny laughter. It's more awe-based than that. There's a thrill in seeing ideas this radical and bizarre exist or work at all, let alone in a mainstream comedy show. Oddly enough, the supremely weird result is also quite accessible.
At first glance, you might be tempted to dismiss the show's Wes-Anderson-by-way-of-Jared-Hess decorative sensibility, but Martin's comic perspective and delivery is so sharp and generous that it transcends the more insular, detached deadpan of these predecessors. Plus, Martin uses this sensibility with a wink, always slightly deconstructing the child-like approach that might otherwise seem derivative. This approach also might have something to do with the show's surprising accessibility. The simple, child-like visuals -- and occasional bursts of scatological humor -- make esoteric, seemingly pretentious conceits feel less intimidating. After all, nobody wants to "not get" a child-like sketch on a pad or an animated face telling jokes.
It should also be noted that there's a lot more to Important Things than Martin's sketch-pad-meets-Bob-Dylan take on stand-up comedy. Not only does the show feature some of the most conceptually inventive sketches in recent memory, but each episode is built around a theme (ie. chairs, safety, timing) that informs all aspects of the show. This helps guide the peripheral details, including the thrillingly idea-heavy transitions and interstitial bits. In essence this is what makes the show so exciting: fresh ideas are bouncing around everywhere, from animation to slam poetry to abstract karate challenges. Some ideas work better than others, but you're unlikely to find a more inspired comic free-for-all anywhere on television.
Last but not least, actor Jon Benjamin deserves special mention for stealing virtually every sketch he's in with his pitch perfect comic delivery. The chemistry between Benjamin and Martin is a thing of beauty. They're totally different types -- and they seem about ten years apart in age -- but they're on exactly the same perverse comic wavelength.
In addition to all seven season one episodes, this disc includes a poster, a sticker, deleted scenes and several commentaries by Martin and various collaborators. Overall, this makes for one of the most satisfying discs of comedy in recent memory. -- Jonathan Doyle