Demetri Martin must have been one of those kids who took things apart. Not so he could rebuild them, but so he could see inside and come up with new, more interesting ways to reassemble them.
In his standup act and on his hugely entertaining new sketch comedy show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, he demonstrates the brilliant ability to rearrange words and ideas. The results will keep viewers off balance and laughing consistently.
Martin is a guy who wonders whether there were any Goths in Gothic times ("You look completely appropriate - you don't look stupid or lonely at all") and removes letters from the phrase "I hate you" to create more meaningful commentary. His ideas sometimes flop - a sketch about fighting for a parking space was done better on Seinfeld - but his overall batting average is quite good.
The premise of Important Things, as Martin explains it, is to use each episode to examine one, um, important thing. Night one is about timing; the second show deals with power.
But really, those are extremely loose threads that he uses to sew together a show featuring standup comedy, sketches, fake commercials, drawings, wordplay and music. His sensibility is in line with Steven Wright's, which is to say hilariously silly and surreal.
One of Martin's funniest bits is The Revenger, a superhero whose motivation for fighting crime - he thinks his father was murdered by thugs - turns out to be wrong. In another sketch, he's a guy who travels back in time, using his knowledge of future events to seduce women. Both bits succeed because he takes them beyond their logical conclusions.
But Martin probably is best when he's messing with words and thoughts. "I bought a clock, but the big hand broke off it," he says. "I didn't want to throw it away, so I just added 'ish' to every number." If you want to diminish someone's importance, he says, put DJ in front of their name: "DJ Abraham Lincoln." In a song called "Me vs. You," he has great fun juxtaposing ideas like "Me: horny teenage boy; you: sock" and "you: angry rapper; me: the English language."
Martin sells this material by portraying himself as an average guy caught up in the oddities, absurdities and randomness of life. He's low key and eminently likable, and so's his show.