It is a rare thing when a solo comedian can carry a thirty-minute sketch-comedy show on broadcast or basic cable. Great comedians and writers like Dana Carvey and Ben Stiller, hilariously funny individuals with success in other endeavors, could not find the sweet spot to entertain a mass audience week in and week out. For the right talent, a one-man sketch show can be the launching pad. After watching the first two episodes of Important Things with Demetri Martin (premiering Tuesday, February 11th at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central), I can write that Demetri Martin has gathered all of the elements to grab as much success as his bag can hold.
Billed by Comedy Central as “potentially the most important TV show of all time ever,” Important Things is the brainchild and creation of Demetri Martin, one of the leading lights of a new generation of comedians. Peeling away to a degree from the staid format of other sketch-comedy shows, Martin seems to have taken a page from the book of the Pied Piper of science, Bill Nye, highlighting one aspect of the world around us – the first two revolve around the themes of “Timing” and “Power.” With that single page in hand, Martin tosses the rest of the book aside and heads off into comedic territory with the intent to do harm to your funny bone. It’s just as one would expect from a show executive produced by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and Martin himself under the umbrella of Stewart’s company, Busboy Productions.
Using the monologue as a starting point – performed in front of a live audience on a stage set designed to resemble the interior of one of those outbuildings schools use when they outgrow their facilities and their budget, complete with the false wood paneling and cheap carpet – Martin takes the mundane and finds a way to rotate it precisely 137 degrees to present us the side that we would never see without his unique perspective. Was his time at Yale or NYU, his mind wandering while a random professor drew charts on the board, the point of germination for Martin’s method of using simple line drawings to set up and deliver laughs? Perhaps, but when the payoff is something as genuinely fresh as when Martin draws a graph illustrating the relationship between age and time spent urinating outdoors, tracking down the genesis of the material is of little or no importance.
As mentioned, each episode of the series begins with a concept that links a chain of sketches, stand-up bits, studio bits, and musical comedy. Martin’s blend of observational humor, dry delivery, and the use of quirky musical accompaniment to establish timing, is adapted well to the sketches and studio bits that comprise the bulk of the show, and it is clear that Martin is fully in charge of whatever writing staff exists. The material is fully inhabited by his childlike willingness to try out new things and find the funny. A sketch in which Martin assumes the role of an actor performing a scene on a movie set, opposite Amanda Peet in a great cameo, where Martin fails to achieve the anger desired until after the director says, “Cut,” is both hilarious and well-constructed. As a whole, the show at time takes on the quick and comfortable pace of a variety half-hour. That is part of what makes the show so pleasing to watch; the balance between the basic opening-setup-punch line form of stand-up and the extended situational humor of the sketches keeps your mind from tiring.
Martin is just the kind of personality whose star is expected to rise. Like a Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno, his humor is not angry, not abrasive. Floppy-haired and not intimidating in the least, Martin has been compared to the late Mitch Hedberg who built a solid following by way of his laid-back persona, and would have gone on to greater success had his life not ended so soon. Martin achieves the same sort of rapport with an audience but without dragging them through the complex bramble of drug-culture references that would be career cyanide to a comic trying to reach a mass audience. It is no surprise then that after Martin's hard work of recent years, including a number of appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (where he also worked as a staff writer), a CD/DVD release of stand-up material (These Are The Jokes), his own one-hour comedy special on Comedy Central, a running gig on the The Daily Show, and a guest role as the fourth Conchord on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, Martin’s next step would be to launch something of his own.
Experiencing Demetri Martin’s humor is like witnessing the evolution of the comedic form. He is more than funny, he is exploring different ways to get to funny and it is the sensation of visiting a new place that captures his fans, a group that will almost certainly be growing if enough people find out about Important Things with Demetri Martin. Set your Tivo if you have to, but make sure to catch the first episode – “Timing” – Wednesday February 11th at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. The second episode will air a week later on February 18th, same time. Whether you watch it alone or with your friends it will keep you glued and laughing.