Demetri Deconstructed Is Wholly Magnificent

Comedy Reviews Demetri Martin
Demetri Deconstructed Is Wholly Magnificent

I get why people who aren’t obsessed with comedy frequently get bored watching stand-up specials. In fact, as someone who reviews comedy all the time, I find my attention wandering during sets more often than I’d like to admit. You get used to it all: the brief backstage footage before the overly hyped-up entrance, the vast emptiness of the stage practically swallowing up the comic (with some fun lighting tricks thrown in to make things interesting), the editors and directors doing their best cutting between close-ups and wide shots to keep us visually entertained. 

No such boredom creeps into Demetri Deconstructed, the extraordinary new hour from Demetri Martin and his first special in over five years. Between the framing device (Martin is undergoing medical tests that require him to enter a comedy simulation) and the quaint choice to film in black and white, it’s clear from the start that Martin and company will keep us on our toes. At first the decision to film without color may feel like a twee affectation that tries too hard to lend the special gravitas, but Martin’s exquisite set earns the timeless look. The team behind Demetri Deconstructed mix up the visual language of the comedy special in a way that is playful and funny rather than merely gimmicky.

We also get a voiceover from Martin throughout Demetri Deconstructed, which relays his thoughts as the show unfolds. In some ways, it’s a creative illustration of the comic’s process—will he keep this joke in? Will he try to be topical? Which version of his entrance is best? It takes the meta-commentary of comedians mid-set and brings it to the next logical level, with some neuroses added in, naturally. Most vitally, we get even more of Martin’s humor sprinkled into the special through his inner monologue.

One addition to Demetri Deconstructed that doesn’t consistently work is the text that often pops up on screen, not just as title cards, but throughout the special. Mostly the device works—these overlays add in an extra visual joke for us viewers at home, rewarding those whose eyes don’t stray to their phones—but sometimes they’re used for emphasis in a way that just falls flat. I’m nitpicking here, though, because overall the added text bits are genuinely delightful.

And what about the set itself? Martin’s straight-faced style paired with his logical yet inventive mind make for one-liners that feel like instant classics. His dissection of language is George Carlin-esque, yet he changes up his structure enough that these moments remain fresh. A series of complaints about people’s behavior is delivered as an interview with a low-ranking demon, and a string of (mostly) unrelated observations about the world are featured as a Twilight Zone intro-type sequence called “Mysteries of the Unknown.” The special’s high point comes towards the end as Martin flips through his large notebook with a series of clever visual jokes, and then challenges himself further in a way which I won’t spoil, but that is utterly impressive. If anyone ever bad mouths prop comedy, I’ll show them this bit. 

Thankfully Demetri Deconstructed is just the first of Martin’s upcoming Netflix releases, with a second one due out at an unspecified date. The special ends on a cliffhanger, leaving us anxious for the next installment. Martin’s new hour is cerebral yet accessible, classic yet innovative—a true comedic treat.

Demetri Deconstructed is now streaming on Netflix.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

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