Demetri Martin has been cast in the culture as something of a precious figure, the indie jokester sprite spinning out twee observations on the foibles of modern life.
That's not the guy who played Lincoln Hall Thursday.
For one thing, he has no facial hair, ironic or otherwise, and he doesn't seem all that concerned with being perceived as cool. For another, the sometime “Daily Show” contributor is a month shy of 41 years old now, a tougher age to stuff into the role of the wide-eyed man-child.
Most important, in the sold-out first show of a two-set, one-night stand, Martin exerted casual command of the crowd and his superb material — even when he would pause to ask, “Anything else?”
And while the jokes could be accused — and were, by Martin himself — of not being about sufficiently substantial issues, there was no denying their wit and sparkle. Martin's concerns lean toward the inefficiency of food trucks and the imprecision of signs, but the perspective he brings to such concerns is original enough to provide its own substance.
“Cherry tomatoes,” he said, “are not interested in participating in the salad.”
He even, in an hour of almost all new material, offered some lines that could be interpreted as political, or political-ish: He imagined a homeless guy appalled that a public fountain, “a hole with water in it, gets more money than I do.”
And his material on pets, seeing things from their viewpoint or that of an outside observer, certainly won't hurt the animal rights cause: “Pets are animals that are not delicious,” he said.
“It's a fine line between having a pet and having a hostage of a different species.”
Then he imagined a “Lost Cat” flyer from the mind of the cat: “Free Cat!”
As you may have gathered — or you already know if you've read his first-rate humorous books or seen his stand-up specials or his TV series, “Important Things” — Martin is a comic who aspires to crafting the kind of crystalline, off-center one-liners that marked the careers of Steven Wright, Emo Philips and Mitch Hedberg: observations that come up so fast, and so precisely, that they are almost gone by the time you realize how funny they were.
The sense you get is that Martin takes nothing he encounters for granted, that he is always testing the purpose and logic and, often, the very wording of what most people find commonplace.
“'Bridge May Not Be Icy' means the same thing, and it's a little less pessimistic,” Martin said, referring to the common roadway sign, "Bridge May Be Icy."
He made a halfhearted attempt at “crowd work.” But his stage presence is more internal. Rather than reaching out to the world of an audience, he pulls it into his, delivering finely honed lines in an I-just-thought-of-this manner.
A few musings from this material he said he is trying to develop into “a new hour” — presumably a new special for Comedy Central or the Web — weren't there yet. Trying to translate “quesadilla” was, as he said of another bit, “a good premise but not a good joke.”
But in the context of Martin's act, even the rare mediocrities contribute to the overall effect. If there were a variation on a standard sign on stage beside him, it would say “Mind at Work.” The pleasure comes from the way he brings a roomful of strangers right into the middle of those flashing neurons and unusually bridged synapses.
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