Demetri Martin conquers a new medium

If you don’t watch cable television, rarely frequent comedy clubs or have great difficulty accessing YouTube, I suppose it’s possible you have no idea who Demetri Martin is. If that’s the case, here’s the skinny: Demetri Martin is one very funny fellow. He’s a cerebral comedian, a Yale graduate who dropped out of law school a decade ago to put his agile mind to work making wisecracks. This Is a Book (Grand Central Publishing, $25), his deliciously loopy literary debut, is a collection of nearly 60 short pieces designed to make you snicker, snort, giggle and guffaw.

This is a Book is filled with a lot of high-concept hilarity. There’s “Robot Test,” a short questionnaire to help determine if you’re actually human or just a sophisticated cyborg; “Bee Sting,” an apian attack, considered from all angles; and “Protagonists’ Hospital,” where doctors and nurses treat the superficial wounds of action heroes. In “Eulogy,” Martin pays tribute to Rod, an unbelievable tool; in “Honors and Awards (for Which I would Qualify),” he reaches a new high in self-deprecating humor. Elsewhere, Martin riffs on genies, statistics, cat calendars, vegans, voice mail, a cappella groups and the occupational hazards associated with being a human cannonball.

There’s also a generous helping of Martin’s drawings and charts, a popular component of his stage act, all punctuated by Martin’s (mostly) witty punchlines. In one, a Venn diagram explains the peculiar intersection of “falling” and “fun” that is extreme sports; in another, a pie chart compares the popularity of toddler nicknames.

To be totally fair, hip, ironic humor usually elicits more appreciation (nodding smiles, knowing glances) than uncontrollable belly laughs. Onstage, Martin usually strums a guitar or plays piano, and the musical accompaniment probably elevates some of his weaker material. I love to laugh, but admit I’m an especially tough audience. Not every piece in This Is a Book caused me to squirt a beverage out of my nose, but an unusually high percentage made me laugh, and almost all of them made me smile. I was charmed by This Is a Book, and totally entertained.

If you’re already a fan of Martin and fear you’ll miss his deadpan delivery, or you’re just too lazy to read and insist on having your comedy handed to you, seek out the audio version, appropriately titled This Is an Audiobook (Hachette Audio).

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