Published Jun 16, 2016Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.
Even the title of Demetri Martin's Netflix special Live (At the Time) is a wink to the comedian's playful skewering of obviousness. The show was live, sure, but Live is a silly title, now that you're watching it at home, no? It was live… At the Time.
That directness with which Martin confronts the banality of North American life defines his sense of humour, and this special is no exception. He begins the proceedings by saying "Thank you for clapping, I appreciate that." Then: "I got a lotta jokes, so I'm just gonna start telling them."
Amidst myriad other things, Martin points out the idiocy of buying souvenirs, the potential importance of holes in crackers and signs that warn bridges "May be icy," as though that level of uncertainty is at all useful. The things we take for granted, in Martin's mind, are ridiculous, improperly named and poorly thought-out. He's right, and it's funny.
Like Mitch Hedberg before him, Martin's humour is built on a series of micro-jokes, rather than longer anecdotes. There's no "tight five" to be found here; rather, his show is a series of tight "ones." Like the salad he's so frustrated by here, each bite is self-contained, a full meal, a mini-salad. The potential downfall of such an approach is that it doesn't build the tension that, in longer, anecdotal jokes, leads to truly uproarious laughter, but that's a small quibble, particularly when his one-liners are as sharply, darkly insightful as "Pets are animals that aren't delicious."
Martin makes his share of edgier jokes, but he's got a knack for turning even the absolutely safe and mundane into hilarity, as when he talks the positivity of the word "folks," or laments the stubbornness of cherry tomatoes. In the hands of a hammier comedian, they'd feel harmless, unfunny; Martin delivers them in the kind of dry, straightforward manner that makes him the straight man to his own jokes' offbeat hilarity. The result is twofold: it gives his jokes a wry sharpness; and it makes Martin utterly likeable, a cool brother figure.
A fake "Oops! I've said too much" moment, when Martin pretends to have let "too much of the inside out" in a joke about death is the only moment that feels forced here, but like any joke of his that happens not to stick, Martin's got ten more on the way to brush it out of memory, which makes Live (At the Time) consistently funny — there's precious little here one could forgivably skip.
For the last ten minutes of the special, Martin grabs his guitar for a spoken-word, rapid-fire bit that he punctuates with harmonica interludes. It's a bit gimmicky, but it also leads to some of his most acutely realized material, mostly phrased as "I think…" statements. It's a great way to finish the show, almost like an encore, and he climaxes, so to speak, perfectly: "Indeeeeeed!!!"