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“This Is A Book” by Demetri Martin review

April 19, 2011

“THE MEDIA: more content = more discontent,” Demetri Martin writes in his debut book, This Is A Book. The epigram illustrates Mr. Martin’s unique comedic style: Word economy combined with literary pornography. His routine regularly involves a burlesque stripping of the English language, taking old adages and turns of phrase out of their comfort zone and into the land of the absurd. The results can be mixed for the average reader, but long-time fans of the author, as well as any English nerd, will find much to enjoy.

The book, described by Mr. Martin as a “grab bag” of different mediums of humor, from short (and even shorter) stories to poetry and Venn diagrams, has a lot to offer the reader. His low-energy and often visually-based stand-up performances translate naturally to a written format, and returning fans of Mr. Martin’s body of work will find many familiar elements here. Those who have seen his television specials and variety show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, will find common ground in the “Some Drawings” and “Charts & Graphs” sections. “Palindromes For Specific Occasions” marks the return of the long-lost literary spectacle first seen in his Perrier Award-winning show If I. Some of his older jokes work even better in a long format, as seen in “Protagonists’ Hospital,” a reimagination of a joke from the Demetri Martin. Person. special. I found myself often laughing while reading and inappropriately (and awkwardly) chuckling about remembered jokes after finishing.

However, this book is not for those expecting easily accessible blue-collar or topical humor, or those without a more-than-passing interest in the nuances of the English language. Some of the sections work only if the reader understands the concept behind them, such as the difficult — and by the end, wearying — “How I Felt,” which parodies a very purple phrase. The uncharacteristically cynical “Socrates’s Publicist” doesn’t offer anything to readers who aren’t intimately familiar with the entertainment industry. For a person who admits that he struggles with connecting with his fans in new media outlets, it seems out of place, but perhaps ironic, that Mr. Martin would so blatantly skewer publicists. He said in a recent interview that his sense of what jokes will work on an audience is poor, and here the reader sees that in his goal to provide unique content, he sometimes fails to find the right combination of concept and execution to pull off a perfect book.

Mr. Martin’s career is probably exactly where it needs to be, and his book is exactly what his brand of comedy needs. His heady sense of humor doesn’t allow him to reach a truly mainstream audience, so displaying his introvert-friendly jokes in a format built for introverts is a seamless match. Mr. Martin’s need to switch up the format of the book from section to section allows the reader to pick and choose which sections they’d like to revisit, and forget the ones they don’t. His biggest strength lies in being able to appeal to many different types of people — mostly intelligent — with types of humor ranging from the absurd to the mean-spirited.

A necessary addition to Demetri Martin’s repetoire, “This Is A Book” falls flat in some places, but hits very high notes throughout. With some online retailers selling it for nearly half off, it packs a lot of value for friends and soon-to-be acquaintances of this novel class of comedy.


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