The fourth night into Demetri Martin’s latest comedy tour, Telling Jokes in Cold Places, lands him aptly enough in Montreal, Canada. Picture the North Pole—that’s about how much it’s snowing outside. It’s the city’s first blizzard of the year; but despite the whiteout, Montreal’s Theatre Maisonneuve, with a capacity of almost 1,500, is packed. Theatre Maisonneuve is the place you go with your aunt, where the cheap seats start at fifty bucks and it smells like Chanel No. 5 and butterscotch candies.
Martin, who as well as starring in two seasons of his own TV show, Important Things, films like Taking Woodstock and Contagion and penning This is a Book, tends to draw a more Gen Y than Gen X university following. The audience, pre-show, mills around in jeans and pilly scarves under the lighting of crystal chandeliers. The effect: shabby-chic gets its glee on.
Demetri Martin, 38-year-old law school drop-out turned comedian, turns up onstage in a black hoodie, jeans and brand-new sneakers. He opens his act with a request for crowd shout outs. The first comment he gets is a query about his his alterna-shiny hair. The ‘do is a distinctive element of his look—it’s a sensitive-guy-from-a-70s-flick style bowl haircut.
“How’d you get your hair so shiny?” a lady yells from the middle balcony.
“I just wash it! Maybe it’s the lights,” he says.
In the Steven Wright vein of stand up, Martin is known for his sardonic one-liners. He throws a few of these out about the paperwork at the American/Canadian border (“Next time I’ll touch a cow and shoot it…”) and about tossing out some cheeseburger farts around first class on the plane (“Smells like coach…”). He strides back and forth along the edge of the theater’s purple-lit stage (“Don’t want to alienate the ladies with gruff, manly lights…”) and shoots out a couple of barely traceable obscenities.
The humor’s exactly what the audience wants from him. It’s acerbic, smart, and generally above-board. There’s no belligerence here. Martin paces himself well and his deadpan is all the funnier because of his easy demeanor. He has the ability to generate a feeling of intimacy that is remarkable, particularly given the vast, formal context of the theater. A girl in the crowd says to her boyfriend, “I think he made eye-contact with me!”
Martin gets laughs by using the props he’s become famous for: Sharpie-etched sketches, some folksy guitar strumming broken by intervals of harmonica and running commentary on the humor of the quotidian. Like how trying to figure out how to get the paper towels out of an automatic dispenser makes you look like a boob, “Using lasers to get paper is solving a problem that didn’t exist. You just look like a shitty magician, waving your hands.”
When his 90 minutes are up, Martin takes his bow and walks off stage. The crowd applauds until he steps out again, and gives them what they want: an encore.
For tour dates, check out DemetriMartin.com.