Damn you, pandemic. I legitimately can’t tell anymore whether comedians are mildly amusing, or whether they are sidesplittingly hilarious and I’m just not into laughing these days.
I became familiar with Demetri Martin through his Comedy Central series Important Things with Demetri Martin. I definitely recall laughing out loud at some of his drawings, so no surprise that the cartoons and graphs included in This Is a Book are the strongest bits. The essays and short stories in this collection are kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m impressed with his ambition, 8-stanza palindrome poem and his detailed agenda entitled “Wednesday,” which consists solely of acronyms and abbreviations. One has to be skilled, or at least persistent, to create those, yet neither of them were particularly funny to me. The entry entitled “Cat Calendar” is rather too mean spirited for my taste; “We’re Pregnant,” too cynical; and the deleted Christmas Carol scene about the Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect, too labored.
Entries that did strike my fancy a bit more included “Titles,” in which alien visitors don’t want to meet the President of the United States, because presidents are a dime a dozen (president of the Kiwanis Club, president of the El Paso PTA, etc.). Rather, they demand to meet Miss Universe. This book was published in 2012, but I think we can all agree that, should alien visitors arrive tomorrow, steering them toward Miss Universe would be the safest bet for all of us. Kudos to Martin for some prescient writing in this
Another strong entry is “Protagonist’s Hospitals,” in which all the patients are white guys with gunshot wounds to the shoulder and who have the extraordinary ability to come up with snappy responses, even while being treated. “Zing,” has some good one liners (it’s essentially a collection of one liners); “Spanish Teacher” has a good comic twist.
If I’m honest, I’d prefer an entire book of his drawings and graphs to his essays and stories. But again, maybe that’s the pandemic talking.
So, moderately droll or comedy genius? Either way, This Is a Book is a decent enough diversion.