This Is A Book by Demetri Martin

Book review by Steve Bennett

If you’re already aware of Demetri Martin’s work as the hipsters’ favourite comedian, this is exactly the book you would expect him to write.

Like the stand-up that won this razor-smart New Yorker, the Perrier award back in 2003 (and formed the basis for his subsequent Important Things TV show back in his homeland), the humour here is unapologetically nerdy, offbeat and fragmented..

For most comedians, the nerdy tag probably means gags about Star Wars or Schrodinger’s Cat; but Martin is a practitioner of geek, not just an observer. He tinkers with words and ideas like a teenage Poindexter might take apart an electrical gizmo to see how it ticks – then put it back together slightly differently.

This eclectic collection comprises everything from hand-drawn sketches to pithy one-liners, from a ridiculous crossword to a single palindrome about finding love in a strip club that spans three pages – not to mention several pages of charts and graphs. Martin probably single-handedly introduced Venn diagrams to stand-up – so it’s all his fault that there is now such huge overlap between educated comedians and comedians who use Venn diagrams.

Your opinion of that ‘achievement’ will probably much determine your opinion of this book, too. Martin revels in his rarefied intelligence, and his comedy very much seems like a smart kid showing off the homework that earned him straight As. It’s undeniably impressive comedy thinking, but sometimes eliciting a wry smile of appreciation rather that a more instinctual chuckle.

The disjointed isolation of lists, statistics, acronyms, epigrams, short verses and so on means the humour has to work harder to Punch through, yet it frequently does, thanks to Martin’s precision of language. His short stories allow a little more space and subtlety to explore ideas and let the wit shine from a slowly-unveiling yarn, whether it be a bitter-sweat tale of a man falling in love with a ghost, feuding time-travel researchers, a personal insight from the son of a man raised by wolves, or a pregnancy diary that obliquely references the strain that has on a relationship. Sometimes these chapters rely on just one central joke, but the funny is drawn out without being laboured.

The book makes a benefit of its hotchpotch style, firmly rooted in Martin’s stand-up, and is perfect for dipping in and out of. Even in its less obviously hilarious pages, This Is A Book is never less than gloriously creative.

  • This Is A Book by Demetri Martin has just been released in paperback by Penguin, priced £9.99. Click here to buy from Amazon at £6.99

Published: 30 Jul 2012

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