With his wry, observational humor, kitschy, childlike drawings and deadpan delivery, Demetri Martin has become one of most famous comedians for a generation heavy on apathy and irony. Known as a contributor for “The Daily Show” and for his own show “Important Things with Demetri Martin,” Martin has released his first book, aptly titled, “This is a Book.”
The book features a collection of drawings, lists and surreal short stories, some of which are featured in his stand-up act. Whereas other comedians fail to translate their humor into a book because they either veer too heavily into dramatic, maudlin memoir territory or overemphasize their funniness so that it ends up forced, Martin maintains his understated, ironic tone while still managing to pull in some zingers.
Although the book’s lack of a plot or any connective strand may make for a disconnected read, every section has enough humor to forget about such worries. The stories change wildly in idea and structure. There’s the test to see if you are a robot (“Sample question: 0110 10 1110 011 11 1000010111 01? (a) I don’t understand (b) 1011!”) that segues into a FAQ page for a genie in a bottle (“That whole three wishes thing? A myth”) before telling some statistics (“Nearly half of all people in the United States are torsos.”).
Martin also shows a smart, incisive take on a culture obsessed with fame. “Socrates’s Publicist” tells how Socrates was an unemployed philosopher before a publicist made him famous, only to abandon him while on trial because he didn’t pay her. Though outlandish in the context of Ancient Greece, the preying publicist and the hunt for fame are not so far-fetched at a time when Rebecca Black is famous.
At times, his preciousness may get the best of him, such as when he uses blank pages to write “This page is unnecessary.” Despite these missteps, “This is a Book” has a wistful poignancy. At the age of 37, he does not seem to be any better at making decisions or figuring out life than the rest of us. He just so happens to be a lot funnier at trying to do it.
In “How I Felt,” Martin meets a girl at a party — only to realize she has a boyfriend. Although a hackneyed story line, he observes his surroundings and feelings through color — (“When I woke up the next morning I was brown with stubble and rainbow with bruises and hangover.”) Using these colors and breaking down his feelings to their most basic level, Martin describes his thoughts more accurately and genuinely than with bombastic words.
With “This is a Book,” Martin has successfully and hilarious shifted his humor from the stage to the page.