Here's a typical example of Martin's style:
Martin has a new program coming up on Comedy Central called "Important Things," and yesterday's Hartford Advocate provided an intriguingly race-oriented review of the show's first few episodes. Brianna Snyder's assessment of "Important Things" and of Martin's comedy in general is mostly critical, but I'm especially interested in her almost anthropological assessment of Martin, and his primary audience, as a certain kind of white people. Hipsters, to be exact.
Synder's review is entitled "Stuff White People Like," but the subtitle is more specific: "Demetri Martin is funny, if you're a white hipster male who loves Wes Anderson movies, the Moldy Peaches and T-shirts."
Snyder further describes Martin and his humor in the following ways. What is it that's "white," or maybe "common among white people," about all this?
Martin is boyish and handsome, with a shaggy bowl cut (those must be ironically OK now) and deadpan delivery that might be his "signature" now, or will be eventually. He manages to be likeable, despite not being uniquely funny. His comedy is derivative, blandly simplistic, generally unsuccessful in fulfilling its ambition, and very tame. . . .
Martin's ironic, indie, self-referential, smartass-white-boy-in-a-T-shirt gig has made him fairly successful in the comedy underground league, alongside guys like David Cross (who sort of just barely fits in that category anymore, but still manages to retain the association), Todd Barry, Eugene Mirman, Michael Showalter, Jon Benjamin and others. He's best known for his role as a correspondent on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," but if you remember him there, you've likely already noticed him elsewhere. (Fans of this genre of comedy are all over his cameo in an episode of "Flight of the Conchords.")
"Important Things" is an indie variety show of sorts; it has the grainy, diffused look of a Wes Anderson movie and I suspect its musical interludes (the ones that aren't performed by him) might be sung by that dude from the Moldy Peaches. Its comic tone echoes Mitch Hedberg (or, for earlier generations, Stephen [sic] Wright).
I suspect that in addition to providing a white form of humor, Martin has a fan-base that's mostly white as well. If so, why? What about it makes it funnier to white people?
I'll take a tentative stab at isolating one element of Martin's humor that might be especially white: his deadpan delivery. Snyder compares Martin to a white comedian from awhile back who was especially deadpan, Steven Wright. Here's an example of his style:
As with Martin, when Wright delivers a punchline amidst his abstract meanderings, there's little or no indication in his face or body language that he's told a joke--which is of course what "deadpan" means. As a result, the audience has to pay more attention to the words themselves to catch the joke. Sometimes, the audience is slow to figure out that what it's just heard is a punchline (as with Martin's joke in the clip above about how oranges must have been named before carrots).
This element of Martin's style, his deadpan delivery, stands out to me because I tend to like it, and also because I sometimes do that too. In daily interactions, I sometimes say things to others in the hopes of making them laugh or smile, without at first laughing or smiling myself. This sometimes causes a delayed reaction, until the listener realizes that despite my deadpan expression and delivery, what I just said was supposed to be humorous. (I wish I could provide a good example, but these are spontaneous and ephemeral moments, and the humor is usually the "you had to be there" sort.)
Of course, some non-white comedians, and some non-white ordinary people, deliver deadpan humor too, and laugh it. Maybe that's even far more common than I realize, and deadpan humor isn't a particularly white thing at all.
But then, it may be worth noting here how, when the idea of a "white race" was still a new idea, white people partially defined themselves in relation to supposed qualities in other races. Native Americans and Africans, for instance, were basically perceived by Europeans in bodily terms, and European "whites," especially white men, in more cerebral terms. All cultural groups have their own ways of restraining their bodies, but one reason whites thought they were superior was because they thought they had better control over their bodies, as well as a generally higher level of intelligence, than the supposedly oversexualized, less restrained, and less thoughtful darker races.
I hope my own predilection for deadpan, seemingly cerebral humor is not, in this sense, a racial inheritance. But at this point, in my continual effort to come to terms with common white tendencies in both myself and others, I think it might be.
What do you think? And do you see anything else in Demetri Martin's performance style that's particularly white?
There's one other white thing that might be worth saying here, or rather asking about, since I'm feeling speculative today. Brianna Snyder also writes in her review of Martin's show that when it airs, "I predict his fanbase will quadruple, he'll star in his own cutesy indie rom-com and he'll release no fewer than three full-length records of him, his guitar, his harmonica and his bells." She then writes, "The hipsters are taking over."
But I wonder about that last claim. Hipsters are indeed taking over in another, geographic sense, as they fill up inner-city areas, drive up rental rates, and thereby drive out other residents. But then, as I read the rest of Snyder's review, it registers a certain weariness with hipster humor (if that's what Martin and his ilk really represent). Isn't hipster humor, and white hipsterdom in general, getting kind of tired by now? Kind of played out?
If so, maybe one reason is that it's so nearly, purely white. Maybe we're entering a new racial era, one where racism certainly isn't over, because it's again taking on new forms, but also one where non-white people and cultural forms are more prominent than ever before. For Brianne Snyder, there's something about Martin, his new show, and his brand of entertainment in general, that's very white. And something rather tiresome too. Maybe those two qualities go together.