With two seasons of Comedy Central’s Important Things with Demetri Martin, years of hype surrounding the surrealist standup culminated in a collective “Hahaoww, my brain hurts.” Martin has since added a few more acting credits to his resume, released 2012’s Standup Comedian and followed 2011’s This Is a Book with the surprisingly deep illustrated collection Point Your Face at This. Yet after four years, it feels like he’s still trying to figure out in exactly which direction he wants his career to head.
Following 15 minutes of HUMORdy.com videos and an opening set from Canadian Levi McDonald—who gamely addressed “about” vs. “aboot,” Celsius vs. Farenheit and the inanity of border crossings before asking “Whoever’s on sound, can I get more punchline in the monitor?”—Martin entered the Paramount Theatre stage to a drum-solo track, kicking off the first show of Austin’s third annual Moontower Comedy Festival. “The set looks…wow,” he mock-enthused, glancing around. “We’re sponsored by…puffy squares.”
Gone are the videos, the illustrations and the musical instruments. There are still plenty of trademark one-liners (“It seems like there’s a fine line between having a pet and taking a hostage from another species,” “No one’s ever possessed by an angel,” “I think it’s really cool how flash mobs came and went as a concept”), but Martin has noticeably slowed his rhythm, relaxed his stilted tone and expanded his horizons. Between minutiae involving signs, beards and prunes, he ruminates on death and the afterlife. For his part, Martin hopes his ashes can be “still be productive” in an hourglass, or that adding a third year to his tombstone stokes resurrection rumors.
There’s also a streak of running self-commentary, not character- or irony-driven, but a genuinely reflective assessment of his progress. “I know that’s not a hard-hitting joke, but I like it,” he shrugged, later asking “Was that offensive? Just not funny? Okay,” and acknowledging, “This is a fucking long hour, everybody.” Even an admission like “I want to do graffiti. But the ideas I have are too nerdy for a mass audience,” hints at a larger awareness before continuing as a bit about comma placement.
Before hauling an oversize sketch pad onstage for a “Good, Bad, Interesting” show encore Martin noted, “As a comedian, you want to be authentic. You want to talk about what you think and feel.” He’s just someone who happens to feels angry about fitted sheets and price stickers that leave gunk behind. In reality, he’s at his most authentic when answering audience questions like “What happened to your show?” (“I quit while it was being cancelled.”)
Martin has long proven himself a fiercely intelligent, highly analytical mind. He may prefer viewing himself as a boundless comedy multi-hyphenate, but in the stand-up realm, much like McDonald joked, it’s time to dial up those punchlines.