About ten minutes into his new Netflix special, Demetri Martin tells the audience, “The other day I was thinking, ‘I tend to overthink things.’ Then I thought, ‘Do I though?’” At this point we see Martin continue to perform for the crowd, but instead of jokes we hear an inner monologue analyzing what constitutes overthinking and whether or not he’s doing it at that very moment. Compared to 2015’s more stripped-down, straightforward Live (at the Time), The Overthinker is somewhat of a return to form for Martin as he reintroduces signature gimmicks like his large sketch pad and acoustic guitar, along with new tricks like voice-overs and split-screen drawings that literally serve to illustrate his points.
In an hour that deftly pairs surrealist humor with wordplay challenging the logic of human language, it’s also refreshing to see Martin get a little more personal by crafting a few bits based on his actual day-to-day interactions (complete with “based on a true story” onscreen captions) and anecdotes about his wife and kids. Below are the five best jokes that prove that Demetri Martin is indeed an overthinker.
I think my favorite holiday is Halloween. That’s a good holiday because you don’t have to celebrate that one with your family. You never hear, “What are you doing for Halloween?” “I’ve got to fly back east and go trick-or-treating with my parents. It sucks. They got a divorce so I’ve got to bring two different costumes this year.”
The mere mention of Halloween gives a few fun-loving adults in the crowd reason to cheer, but Martin’s reason for liking the holiday isn’t about candy, costumes, and parties. Rather, Halloween is great because it’s not Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday that carries the obligation of dealing with family. The bit is heightened with a reference to divided families, who often have to choose between festivities, or bounce around frantically from place to place in an attempt to please everyone. In his two-costume scenario, Halloween is scarier than ever.
“Doughnut hole” is the most disgusting sounding thing that tastes the best to me. A doughnut hole is kind of interesting because the thing we call a doughnut hole is the thing we took out of the doughnut. And then the hole that was left, itself, the absence of the doughnut hole, is also a doughnut hole. It’s kind of a paradox. It’s like it is and is not at the same time. It’s impossible, the doughnut hole.
This bit is less of a joke and more of an exposed riddle, but its power lies in the fact that after hearing it, you’ll never look at doughnuts the same way again. There’s an art in taking an everyday object or popular assumption and examining it in a way that challenges the status quo. Much like his influencers Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, Martin has proven himself to be a master of presenting a quirky thought in a way that makes us go, “Why didn’t I think of that? That’s genius.”
Improved Memory Aids
[Martin stands next to a hand-drawn picture of a treble clef.] If you’re trying to learn how to read music you might know this. There are mnemonic devices to learn where the notes are on the clef, you know, “Every Good Boy Does Fine” is something they tell you. I think we can do better. I think there are more memorable ways. Maybe, “Elephants Go Bald Daily. Fuck.” “Eating Gas? Bad Diarrhea Farts.” “Entire Generation Blows. Damnit Facebook.” Or tell them to spell the word “egg,” but don’t finish. “E, G, But Don’t Finish.”
This is classic Demetri Martin. By utilizing a large sketch pad and pointing out each letter as he goes, he assumes the role of a grade-school teacher who decided to go off book and teach the class something from his own lesson plan. By offering four possible options, Martin supplies something for everyone, whether they be fans of the silly, gross, relevant, or heady. The Facebook reference gets the biggest laugh, but judging by its order in the lineup, the look on his face, and the quiet whisper of, “smart,” it’s clear that his favorite is the egg joke.
I like sports bars. Sports bars are great because they collect all the people I don’t want to hang out with and put them in one room. I’m not against sports. I don’t have a problem with sports. I’m just not good at them. I’m not coordinated. I’m not drawn to sports. I don’t even look like someone who could spend time in a sports bar. I have a very punchable face in a sports bar. This is not a good look. This is not a sports nose. I know what I look like. Maybe for swimming this is a good nose. Just keep my face down in the water like kind of a rudder.
It’s dangerous to speak negatively of sports and its fans, especially if you are relatively soft-spoken and carry a diminutive stature. But comedy is about speaking your truth, and in this bit Martin uses a misdirect to reveal that he simply can’t stand some people. This is him at his snarkiest, professing to love something before quickly explaining that it’s not for the reason you might think. Then, in classic nerd fashion, he shifts to a self-deprecating, apologetic tone where he overexplains his position and then makes fun of himself. Even when Martin tries punching up, he can’t help but punch himself down.
I wonder if robots will ever be such a regular part of our daily lives that it would be considered offensive to do the robot. You’re at a party [dancing] like, “Hey man, check me out.” “Whoa, what are you doing?” “Freaking robis, I don’t give a shit.” “Did you say ‘robis’? Those are Technical Americans.”
This joke is about as political as Martin gets onstage, but it actually speaks to a greater point. In a constantly evolving world where what is and isn’t acceptable is updated almost daily, even the most well-meaning person can find themselves in the middle of a preferred pronoun or personal identity gaffe. At the same time, there are those who intentionally refuse to grow and progress whether it be for fear, ignorance, or bigotry. This is tough territory for a middle-aged, straight white guy to tread in search of jokes. So instead of talking about actual people and groups that are being affected today, Martin takes us to the future to imagine a world where a dance that we currently consider harmless might be offensive to a growing population who in the past was limited, marginalized, or overlooked. This is smart joke-writing — not only in structure, but also in sensitivity. He takes a tricky scenario and gives it a sci-fi reboot while simultaneously making it funny and thought-provoking.