Demetri Martin has always been interested in pushing form, and he hasn’t gotten quite the recognition he deserves for it. He’s certainly well respected, but in the mid-2000s, with his Beatles haircut, guitar and live cartoons, some people misdirected the label of hipsterism onto him, instead of his imitators. Martin’s new special for Netflix, entitled, appropriately, The Overthinker, doubles down on those kinds of muted comic flourishes, with Martin providing soft voiceover to represent his own thoughts during his set (solely for the benefit of Netflix viewers, not the live audience) and having contradictory subtitles pop up every now and again to call him on his shit. But Martin earns every big swing he takes here, and sits in his choices so confidently that you can’t call them twee affectations. He’s staking out a little new territory for a comedy special in the way that the best of these new Netflix specials have done.
Despite the metatextual goings-on (Martin at one points preps a graph to illustrate how poorly his previous joke went, etc.), The Overthinker itself is actually extremely lean and aerodynamic, from the straightforward, unpretentious maroon backdrop to Martin’s more long-form material. Opening up his set to more storytelling than in previous specials visibly gives Martin’s low-key stage presence a lot more energy, and it’s fun to see him break down the barrier between him and the audience that has been one of his tools for so long. This is not the Demetri Martin that wore a shirt that said “comedy” in his (excellent) 2007 special Demetri Martin. Person. The tension between these ideas and the more overtly Martin-esque things he’s doing feels like another step forward for him.
It’s a fascinating backwards/forwards move. In many ways, we’re getting to see Martin’s take on a more traditional stand-up set, but even then he filters that through his strange, observational prism that finds details two degrees off from what you were expecting, and finds a way to make those kind of expected self-deprecating comments about a comic’s appearance sing in his own way. “I just learned recently that your nose and your ears are the only part of your body that keep growing throughout your adult life,” he says. “And I was like ‘you gotta be fucking kidding me.’” I wish more comedians with career trajectories similar to Martin’s should examine and expand their repertoire as he does here—it would make for a more interesting landscape and less precious performers. Martin may be overthinking here, but he’s the loosest he’s been in years.
The Overthinker is now streaming on Netflix.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.